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OPINION: Women’s involvement is key part of India disaster management puzzle

The team from Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), Uttar Pradesh, India, reflects on the gender dimensions of their climate-related disaster risk reduction project in celebration of International Women’s Day. The project’s gender aspects emerged naturally in the interests of project effectiveness, rather than by design. This article first appeared on the GEAG blog.

Disasters have a greater impact on women undoubtedly. However, integrating gender concerns was not an integral part of the objectives of Phase I of our Project ‘Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood Risk and Resilience in Eastern India’. Nevertheless, as we moved ahead, gender dimension became a natural, but not too visible part of the study. Without focusing specifically on gender issues, we still managed to pull off a few objectives, which in itself was an achievement.

Traditionally, rural women in flood prone districts of Gorakhpur have always adapted strategies to reduce risk. With a little help from us they switched to flood and heat resistant seed varieties, revitalised traditional seeds and adopted low input sustainable agricultural practices. They created fodder banks in attics in their homes, and also started their own informal ‘chit’ fund for better financial fluidity [Ed: solvency]. In some places they have lobbied with the Gram Panchayat and government to build embankments. Compared to them the risk reduction and adaptation strategies adopted by marginalised urban women were minimal.

An assessment of the project illustrates that women were very much a part of the disaster risk resilience-climate change adaptation picture and their concerns were a part of the discussion, albeit incidently, during the following phases:

Vulnerability analysis
When we assessed the community’s vulnerability, the safety of women staff engaged during relief work, inadequate emphasis by the government, provision of light on roads, safe location and maintenance of services and exposure to new risks and unfamiliar dangers due to migration were all discussed.

District Disaster Management Plan
Here not just a disaster relief plan was discussed, as is normally the case, but a risk reduction and post disaster recovery phase were also included. Through the process the team realised that women were simply not a part of the shared learning dialogues. To counter this, front line workers ie. Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs), who are women, were invited; and we realised that the whole process could be strengthened by the presence of women in a larger force.

Through the talks and discussions held, various gender-specific issues came to fore. Some of the problems that women face during disasters intensify, especially the ones governing their safety, separate toilets in shelters and the specific needs of pregnant women.

Practised, but not in the District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP)
Certain norms were already incorporated on ground, though not a part of the [official] disaster plans. These include the facts that at least 30-40% participants in the village disaster management committee were women; priority was given to pregnant and lactating women; protection of adolescent girls was a priority during floods; ASHA workers had a medicine kit and received early warning information; and hand pumps were installed at elevated levels for the safety of women who come to collect water.

Training Manual design
During the field testing of the manual, 3 of the 14 participants were women. The manual mentions that women’s representation must be there during the training, though no specific number is mentioned. It also notes that the local women’s group engaged in processing activities added value to the resilient strategies. ‘Gender intensified’ strategies that benefit women are elaborated, too.

Knowledge products
The project documents the introduction of an early-maturing 60 day paddy crop. By maturing early, the crop helps farmers cope with delayed rains. From a gender lens, it demands less weeding than high yielding varieties, generates more crop waste that can be used for fuel and fodder, and permits saving of seeds and multiple cropping. Also, project interventions with women on nutritious gardening have strengthened the nutrition and food security of the households and expanded their incomes.

Staff capacities discussion
The project team identified the need for a gender workshop which included a field visit to listen the voices of women and girls’ and also for gender to be a cross cutting issue across sectors.

Were we looking at gender issues here? Certainly not! But the specific needs of women during disaster and rehabilitation came up and were incorporated seamlessly, thus laying the basic framework to build upon. Lessons from the Phase I project can be incorporated to strengthen gender integration in the future. The work ahead lies in integrating the learnings from this experience and acting locally and at state/national levels to engender policies, plans, guidelines and meet the needs and interests of women and men in the three districts where the project operated.

This blog is based on the research project “Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood risk and Resilience in eastern India”, undertaken by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) in collaboration with Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET), USA and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

CDKN’s 10 things to know: Gender equality and achieving climate goals summarises the importance of gender-sensitive approaches in climate compatible development. Visit the collection of research reports on how gender sensitivity during project design, implementation and evaluation can make a big difference.




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