Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction

SI advocates for women’s leadership in the planning and implementation of disaster risk reduction plans worldwide.

This month, SI United Nations Representatives Kristin Reynisdottir, Stacy Ciulik and Berthe De Vos attended the ‘Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)’ Session at the 6th Global Platform of DRR, Geneva. This session was a dynamic talk-show, moderated by Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland. A mixture of short presentations and answers around the effective engagement and empowerment of women and girls in DRR.

“Members of the panel came from Europe, Africa, North America and Asia (the audience expressed concern that Latin America was not presented). The DRR session discussed methods of reducing disaster risks through efforts to analyse and reduce their causes.

Gender inequalities often increase the vulnerability of women and girls due to the fact that their access to information and resources are limited. Gender-responsive DRR therefore requires analysing these needs, opportunities, roles and relationship between genders.  The active engagement of empowered female leaders is essential because when women are at the center of decision-making and implementation, the approach is more likely to be gender neutral and more likely to offer effective and transformative resilience to disaster risk.

Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Deputy Prime Minister, Malaysia, noted the vulnerability of women in disasters is much bigger. She cited,as an example, that four times as many women than men died during the 2004 tsunami. One simple explanation could be that boys are taught to swim and girls are often denied this opportunity. She described Malaysia’s efforts to remove gender-discriminatory policies and empower women in DRR.

Co-Chair Ms. Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for DRR, recounted her experience witnessing female leadership in creating resilient cities in Kenya, and said the role of women was essential in achieving The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 which outlines seven clear targets and four priorities for action to prevent new and reduce existing disaster risks.

Laura Tuck, World Bank, said international organisations should make it a requirement to integrate a gender perspective in all investments and programmes.  Women’s knowledge and skills should be recognised and included in all risk management. Economic growth depends on the participation of women and when they are empowered to participate in social, political and economic life, it can only improve difficult economic situations. We need women at all levels and in all positions.

Minata Samate Cessouma, Commissioner for Political Affairs, African Union, spoke of her organisation’s efforts to promote gender parity in DRR, despite sometimes facing cultural hurdles. Women have been working together for centuries, in villages all over the world, and they know or can find ways of how to alert the whole village, how to reduce the inequalities and how to be more resilient. They have knowledge and skills and they just need to be harnessed, trained and included.

Dolores Devesi, Oxfam, Solomon Islands, called for addressing structural inequalities that disadvantage women, and for better tracking of gender indicators in DRR. She stated that “women are often seen as victims. But in a crisis, they are the first to respond and they need to receive the opportunity to play their role.”

Kristin, Stacy and Berthe’s attendance at the ‘6th Global Platform for DRR’ is a continuation of the international work of SI in advocating for women’s inclusion in DRR management, planning and implementation.

Earlier this year, at the Commission for Social Development

Earlier this year,  SI President Elect, Sharon Fisher and SI UN Representative, Betty Levy attended several high level panels at the Commission for Social Development and were awarded the opportunity to intervene in the panel discussion. Sharon asked whether disaster risk reduction and management plans are keeping up with shifts in the population and are reflecting the needs of those with health, mobility, intellectual or psychosocial disabilities? Are the needs of those facing evacuation or shelter included in planning? For example, are trained sign language interpreters available? Facilities to charge wheelchair batteries? Are instructions written and posted at levels people can read and understand, with diagrams? Sharon framed her intervention in factual statistics provided by Betty and used her own examples of DRR gained from her longstanding involvement in SI’s grassroots projects. You can Read the full intervention here

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