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OPINION: Gender-sensitive Disaster Risk Reduction: What opportunities exist after Sendai?

Mihir Bhatt, CDKN”s Senior Advisor for India and Virginie Le Masson, CDKN’s Gender Advisor, reflect on the possibilities for more gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction programmes offered by the Sendai Framework for DRR.

On our return from the Third United Nations Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, Japan, our assessment is that women, girls and other gender groups, received greater recognition for the specific roles they play in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

CDKN and ODI participated in both advocating gender-sensitive and inclusive DRR during the conference last March and shaping the new Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR). Now that the international policy has been agreed, the remaining challenge is the implementation of the SFDRR to reduce the impact of disasters at national and local levels.

Women’s involvement and leadership in reducing risk were repeatedly highlighted as a priority during the conference. After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2010, a Japanese government survey revealed that the number of female casualties, particularly older women, outnumbered male casualties by more than 1,000. In evacuation sites, a daily allowance was provided to those clearing rubble (mostly men) while no such compensation was provided for those working on food preparation (mostly women), thus perpetuating the lack of consideration for tasks for which women are primarily responsible. At the time of the disaster, there were only two women within the Sendai City Disaster Prevention Council out of 60 committee members, which meant that inadequate attention was given to women’s specific needs and perspectives in disaster preparedness and recovery. The Japanese Prime Minister notably declared during the World Conference that “the power of women is absolutely indispensable for restoring communities that have been devastated by disasters’.

Countless other examples from around the world, were discussed during the four day conference.  Following cyclone Hayan in the Philippines, local women explained how they took part in getting more relief goods and re-organizing their communities, especially when help didn’t arrive right away. Women have also shown leadership recently in Odisha, India, in standing up to loss and damage caused by cyclone Phailin and contributing to a more sustainable recovery. Community leaders from Bangladesh and Pakistan were invited as keynote speakers in a side event held by ActionAid, where they emphasized the need to include women in decision making processes and DRR implementation.

While evidence exists of women taking leadership roles in reducing risks, the implementation of gender-sensitive DRR has yet to become a standard practice.

How the Sendai framework can support actions on the ground

This is where linkages can be drawn between the WCDRR and CDKN’s recently concluded Gender Hub event in Delhi, India. This workshop facilitated by WOCAN brought together Indian partners from four CDKN-funded projects and focused on gender integrated planning within the project activities. It aimed to support participants develop a Gender Action Plan and raise their capacities to apply key gender concepts and methods to DRR and Climate Change Adaptation projects. Each supplier team worked on finding ways to mainstream gender in their work in order to address gender inequalities at both decision maker level as well as at local community level.

The Gender Hub in Delhi showed that gender mainstreaming in DRR is possible when adequate human and financial resources are allocated to build practitioners’ capacities. Participants indicated that they understood better the gender dimension of their activities and that they felt better equipped to make their project more gender-sensitive and inclusive.

By the same token, delivery of projects and policies related to floods and droughts were especially high on the agenda at Sendai as the impact of these two hazards on people’s lives and livelihoods is deep and transformative. The SFDRR offers key opportunities to develop this strategy further. SFDRR promotes women’s leadership as a new and more potent way of reducing risk particularly for reaching the world’s most vulnerable people.

One reason why delivery of gender is poor is the low levels of investment in money, actions, and thinking and as a result the lack of innovative ways to deliver. New focus on women’s leadership in reducing risks cannot be delivered in the old way. Innovation in government’s ways of delivering DRR projects and policies is important. One area where innovation is needed is on how risk, uncertainties, and transformation interact in the lives of poor women and men, not just in India, but across the globe. This implies engaging more with the perspective of different gender groups and grassroots organisations, while making those sitting in elite chairs more aware and open to promote gender equality.

SFDRR offers new and many ways to implement better and faster CDKN initiatives that will allow women to lead risk reduction in climate compatible development.


Image: Virginie Le Masson, CDKN.

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One response to “OPINION: Gender-sensitive Disaster Risk Reduction: What opportunities exist after Sendai?”

  1. Agbemedi Kossi Lebene says:

    Dear Coordinator,
    I would like to inform that the gender is an important element to consider in this topic. THE WOMEN AND THEIR CHILDREN AND OLD PERSONS ARE CONCERNED BY ANY DISASTER.

    I never took part in the workshop; We are all thinking.
    David Kossi Lebene

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