Gender-smart action on disaster risk reduction

Women can help lead efforts to reduce losses in disasters – if they get a chance. The impacts of disaster and climate change discriminate: women, men, girls and boys are all affected differently.

It is women and girls who are more likely to suffer due to existing inequalities, vulnerabilities and negative gender norms which lead to higher rates of mortality, morbidity and economic damage to their livelihoods. They are often hit hardest during crises and take longer to recover due to unequal power relations, gender inequalities and discrimination, and are 14 times more likely to die from disasters than men (Peterson 2007).

Active agents of change

It is imperative that disaster risk reduction and management strategies are gender-responsive, considering gender-based vulnerabilities. While women and girls are suffering disproportionately, they also bring unique experiences and skills to disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation as active agents of change.

It is essential to recognize women’s contributions to disaster risk reduction and their leadership as first responders; their central role in community resilience is largely untapped in disaster risk reduction, climate change and resilience-building strategies.

Gender inequality shapes women’s and girls’ lack of access to timely information and adequate resources to anticipate, respond, recover and transform from disasters and to effectively contribute to resilience building. Women must be empowered to effectively participate in disaster risk reduction and climate change decision-making at all levels.

Taking a lead role

Civil society and public partners, such as CARE, Partners for Resilience, and UN Women Kenya, are committing to driving policies and programmes with gender at the center. For example, Partners for Resilience in Indonesia effectively promotes female leadership in policy development for disaster risk reduction. Women in Indonesia have taken a lead role in the response to the recent earthquake and tsunami in Palu.

The Pacific region is also highly at risk to disasters and the impacts of climate change. In this region, CARE has implemented a climate-based approach focusing on gender, and it’s working. Women in Vanuatu have taken on leadership roles for the first time in community disaster and climate change committees. These communities responded quicker to prepare for Cyclone Pam and suffered fewer effects when it hit the islands.

Ignoring is unacceptable

At the government level, UN Women Kenya’s disaster risk reduction work seeks to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment through support in the development and implementation of gender-responsive policies at the national and county level.

Strategies and programmes to promote women’s leadership and participation is key to strengthening and decision making and strategic partnerships and coordination platforms. Ignoring the necessities for action is unacceptable.

In the closing of the Africa Arab Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction and the lead up to the COP24 climate change negotiations and the sixth Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in May 2019, it is essential that those involved at all levels do the following:

  1. Increase gender-responsive financial commitments to disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and ecosystem management to enhance resilience at all levels.
  2. Adopt a gender-sensitive integrated risk management approach that links disaster risk reduction to climate change adaptation and ecosystem management.
  3. Take stronger and more rapid action to reduce fossil fuel consumption and shift to clean renewable energies, which can bring multiple benefits for the lives of people, particularly women and girls
  4. Ensure policy decision-making spaces in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation are gender-equitable and keep communities at the center.
  5. Foster strategic and innovative partnerships with private sector and foundations to make gender-responsive and climate-friendly financial commitments and provide technical assistance to address disaster risk reduction.

Together, we must commit to a coordinated process of building the capacity, knowledge and confidence of women to strategically position themselves in governance and coordination platforms on disaster risk reduction and climate change.

A call to action

If we fail to come together at all levels, then we fail to protect and empower over half of the population. Let this day be a call to action, not a day to mourn our loss. The time for gender-responsive action on disaster risk reduction is now.

by Zebib Kavuma & Camilla Schramek | UN Women

Zebib Kavuma is the Kenya country director for UN Women; Camilla Ann Schramek is a CARE communications specialist.

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