Make women agents for resilience

Head of UNISDR Office for Arab States, Amjad Abbashar, talking with keynote speaker on gender, Dr. Widad A. Rahman, Ahfad University, Sudan, and Brian Tisdall, International Committee of the Red Cross. (Photo: UNISDR)
 
By Denis McClean

SHARM EL SHEIKH, 16 September 2014 - There were calls today for gender to be mainstreamed into the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction in a major debate on the role of women as change agents for resilience at the 2nd Arab Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

UNISDR Head, Margareta Wahlström, observed that the reporting against the indicators for gender equality in disaster risk management as expressed in the current Hyogo Framework for Action, indicates that progress has been poor.

Acknowledging calls for greater inclusion of women in disaster risk management, she said there should be less emphasis on vulnerability reduction where women are concerned and more emphasis on empowerment and capacity building.

Dr. Wadid A. Rahman, from the first all-women’s college in the region, Sudan’s Ahfad University for Women, said: “women and their role as change agents in their societies is often overlooked in the disaster context where they are often categorized as vulnerable and helpless. “

Efforts to empower women in disaster risk reduction dated back at least to the International Decade for Disaster Reduction in the 1990’s but progress has been slow.

She recalled that the HFA recognises that women and men are differently at risk from disasters and their vulnerabilities differ, that women and men are equipped with different skills and capacities for disaster risk reduction. The HFA underscores gender integration as a core factor in its implementation.

Dr. Rahman pointed out that gender-based perceptions of women and girls as weak and inferior resulted in categorizing women as weak and incapacitated in all aspects of disasters and acts as a barrier that isolates them from planning and decision making processes.

Women and girls are often considered a ‘problem’, overlooking the fact they are an integral part of resilience building. This leads to the perpetuation of stereotypes as evident in overall disaster management activities, including in communications and media portrayal.

She observed that a critical limitation lies in the HFA progress review mechanism due to the fact that the 22 Core indicators of progress in the HFA Monitor do not include any for measuring progress in gender integration.

Remarking on the multiple areas of community life where women play critical roles in disaster scenarios, rescuing children and household goods, managing evacuations, disseminating early warnings, Dr. Rahman called for a change in approach under the revised post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction which will be adopted in March 2015, at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, in Sendai, Japan.

Women need to be engaged beyond token representation in committees and task forces and engaged in more substantive, meaningful and effective participation. This requires creating new spaces for women’s experiences, interests, practical and strategic needs to be reflected in the policies, planning and program implementation at every level.

Dr. Awatif Alshargabi, a gender specialist working on climate resilience, in Yemen, recalled how in the aftermath of the 2010 floods in Hadhramut, women and children suffered most. Women were exposed to sexual harassment in the displacement camps and food shortages.

Dr. Alshargabi’s project is focused on improving weather forecasting in Yemen linked to better early warning with important benefits for women working in agriculture and taking care of livestock, tasks overwhelmingly undertaken by women in Yemen.

She remarked on the low representation of women at the 2nd Arab Conference which reflected the overall low participation and exposure of women to international events and learning opportunities.

She advocated a quota of 30% for women’s participation in climate change programmes backed by the World Bank and UNDP. In Yemen, women were not financially independent, had little access to education and were restricted by societal norms and attitudes.

Dr. Alshargbi called for special attention to the needs of rural women who would benefit from better access to information and education on climate change. “Make women’s voices heard by decision-makers,” she urged.

Moderator, Dr. Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, Assistant Secretary-General, League of Arab States, said she hoped the participating Arab countries would take the discussion into account. Women need to have greater involvement in decision-making and disaster mitigation.

“There are things known only by women and should be taken into account developing policies for disaster risk mitigation,” she said.
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