Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Women should take lead reducing risk and managing natural hazards: UN

An estimated 200 million young people are affected by reported disasters each year and thousands of them are killed and injured, says United National Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message, marking the International Day for Disaster Reduction.

The theme of for this year's Day observed on October 13, 2012 is “Women and Girls: the [in] Visible Force of Resilience”. 

Ki-moon who was speaking on the eve of the International Day for Disaster Reduction called for women and girls to be at the forefront of reducing risk and managing the world's response to natural hazards.

He said women and girls must participate in poverty reduction, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction that will shape their future and those of their families and communities. 

“Across the world, women and girls are using their roles within families and communities to strengthen risk reduction,” the South Korean said.  

The UN General Assembly designated 13 October as the International Day for Disaster Reduction in 2009, replacing an earlier version of the Day. Its objective is to raise awareness of how people are taking action to reduce their risk to disasters.

In his message, Mr. Ban stressed that women's leadership in this area is increasingly valuable as climate change intensifies and the world struggles to cope with extreme weather.

“In Bangladesh, women organized themselves to prepare for and respond to floods by teaching other women how to build portable clay ovens and elevate houses,” Mr. Ban said. “In South Africa, marginalized adolescent girls have been empowered to help design plans to reduce the impact of drought and severe wind storms.”

The Secretary-General also noted that women and girls are a force of resilience and that encouraging them to take on leadership roles on disaster risk reduction will benefit entire communities.

“The best disaster recovery programmes in the world involve women who have survived such events. If we are to build true disaster resilience we need to put the emphasis on their greater involvement before disasters strike,” said Margareta Wahlström, the Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the part of the UN responsible for the issue, as well as the secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

Ms. Wahlström added that women's efforts to build resilience to disasters often go unrecognized, and the Day would help raise awareness of their key role in communities where they are many times in charge of decisions such as securing food, water and energy. 

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, emphasized that women are “disproportionately affected by disasters because of social roles, discrimination and poverty.” 

She recalled that a gender perspective had been integrated into the design and implementation of all disaster reduction policy in the “Rio+20 Outcome Document” of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this year.

“Discrimination is a violation of human rights – it is also a bad policy,” she argued. “Women should not be discriminated and instead must be “powerful agents of change” to ensure a sustainable future.”

“This is why we are committed to empowering girls and women through education, to allow them to take charge of their lives and those of their families and communities,” Ms. Bokova added. “Women must participate fully in planning and implementing all disaster risk reduction measures.”

To this end, UNESCO's Global Partnership on Women and Girls' Education has been training young women in disaster-prone countries such as Haiti, Myanmar, Pakistan and Indonesia on how to reduce their vulnerability to disasters and increase their resilience, the cultural agency's chief added.

A wide range of events are taking place around the world this week to mark the Day, including tsunami drills in Myanmar, a workshop on gender-based violence in Vanuatu, community work in Rwanda, a poster and essay contest in the Philippines, a panel discussion at George Washington University in the United States, an education seminar in Nicaragua, and a seismic risk discussion in Greece, among others.

However, during the 3rd annual Women in the World Summit held in New York in March 2012, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “Women have the power to shape our destinies in ways previous generations couldn’t imagine.” 

This observation about women and girls as a force to counter many of the problems ailing the world represents an idea whose time has come, and not a minute too soon, she said.

 According to the 2011 Global Assessment Report (GAR) on – Revealing Risk, Redefining Development, a large number of countries concur with Tanzania, which identifies the lack of appropriate knowledge of ‘how and where to implement gender matters’ as the main barrier.” The report finds that only 26% of countries reported significant ongoing commitment to gender as a driver of progress.

“In their vital but unsung roles, women rewove the fabric of their communities while men rebuilt the structure” – Helen Cox, Women in Bushfire Territory in Enarson and Morrow (eds.) said.  

She said Women and girls are invaluable in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation processes if real community resilience and significant reduction of disaster impacts are to be achieved. 

Cox stressed that women must always be part of policy, planning and implementation processes.

“Women and girls are 52% of the world’s population and are among the most affected by disasters,” she noted.

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