By Jonathan Fowler
GENEVA, 29 February 2016 – Women and girls need to be at the core of disaster risk reduction, given that they often bear the brunt of climate change and hazards such as storms and floods, a United Nations human rights body heard today.
In a special session on disasters and climate change, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) assessed the scale of the problem and efforts to overcome it.
“More women than men died in the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 because they were less likely to know how to swim and long clothing hampered their movement. In Bangladesh, of the 140,000 people who died from the flood-related effects of Cyclone Gorky in 1991, women outnumbered men by 14 to 1, partially due to insufficient access to information and early warnings,” said Ms. Elena Manaenkova, Assistant Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization.
“Sixty to seventy percent of women in developing countries are active in agriculture. However, in a project in India where weather information was given over mobile phones, it turned out that only 11 percent of the users were women. We also found out that there were 300 million women in the world without a mobile phone,” she added.
The Sendai Framework Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction -- a 15-year international blueprint adopted in March last year with the aim of saving lives and curbing the economic impact of natural and man-made hazards – puts the issue of gender squarely in the spotlight.
“The Sendai Framework places significant importance on human rights, gender equality and climate change adaptation,” Mr. Robert Glasser, head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), told the CEDAW session.
He underlined that gender was a key component of the Sendai Framework’s shift from managing disasters to managing risk and to address the underlying causes and drivers of disasters, which lie in ill-conceived development policies, practices and investments.
Among the gender equality gaps that need addressing, he said, are participation in decision making, in resource management, access to social protection measures, education, and health as well as access to early warning.
“Women are greatly affected by disasters, and more precise information and disaggregated data on the impact of disasters are needed to take better correction measures. Furthermore, climate change exacerbates weather-related hazards and at least ninety per cent of disasters are linked to natural hazards,” Mr. Glasser added.
Disasters affect men and women, and boys and girls, differently for a range of reasons.
For example, gender inequalities can constrain the influence and control of women and girls over decisions governing their lives as well as their access to resources, thus sidelining them from planning on how to curb disaster risk.
Due to socio-economic conditions, cultural beliefs and traditional practices, women and girls are more likely to be affected if a hazard strikes, facing increased loss of livelihoods, gender-based violence, and even loss of life during, and in the aftermath of, disasters. That makes empowerment a critical ingredient in building disaster resilience.
Ms. Nahla Haidar, who heads CEDAW’s work on disasters and climate change, pointed to an additional problem.
“These disadvantages are exacerbated by viewing women as victims, as simply vulnerable, when they should be acknowledged as actors,” she said.