Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Programme on Prevention, Preparedness and Response to Natural and Man-made Disasters (PPRD South) press release by Alessandro Candeloro

“Women are grounded in local socioeconomic and risk realities, they are able to mobilize their community to develop Disaster Risk Reduction solutions that are innovative and dynamic, and could better ensure that local authorities and civil society actors become partners in sustainable development” highlights the study “The Role of Women as a Factor of Social and Behavioral Change” commissioned by UNISDR for the Mid-Term Review of the Hyogo Framework for Action to be officially launched on 9 March 2011 in Rome. The UNISDR study addresses HFA's second strategic goal - the development and strengthening of institutions, mechanisms and capacities at all levels, particular the community level that can systemically contribute to building resilience to hazards. This goal requires a central role for women in prevention, preparedness and response to disaster, which, the study says, unfortunately is often overlooked.

According to a World Health Organization (WHO) research, women and children are particularly affected by disasters, accounting for more than seventy five percent of displaced persons. In addition to the general effects of natural disaster and lack of health care, women are vulnerable to reproductive and sexual health problems, and increased rates of sexual and domestic violence. Women’s vulnerability can be further increased by the loss of men and/or livelihoods, especially when a male head of household has died and the women must provide for their families. Moreover, gender roles dictate that women become the primary caretakers for those affected by disasters – including children, the injured and sick, and the elderly – substantially increasing their emotional and material work load. A woman’s pre-disaster familial responsibilities are magnified and expanded by the onset of a disaster or emergency, with significantly less support and resources.

Alg_cp_wIn addition, gender inequality in social, economic and political spheres often results in vast differences between men and women in many areas of disaster relief: emergency communication; household decisions about use of relief assets; voluntary relief and recovery work; access to evacuation shelter and relief goods.

WHO and UNISDR researches encourage policymakers, planners and practitioners to better incorporate gender issues into disaster management and particularly in disaster mitigation and response. This would require, among others, engaging women as full and equal partners in community-based disaster mitigation and planning, carrying out sex disaggregated vulnerability and capacity assessments to identify those women who are particularly at-risk, training women and setting up gender balanced emergency response teams, women-led peer exchanges to transfer and scale up risk reduction practices, integrating women at the highest levels of planning and decision making in camp environments and employing women as primary distributors of emergency rations and medical supplies.