Women at the table: how women leaders are driving pandemic recovery to achieve an inclusive and equal future for all
The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) Women’s International Network for Disaster Risk Reduction (WIN DRR), UN Women and UNDRR’s Regional Office for Asia and Pacific hosted an online discussion with some of the Asia-Pacific region's most accomplished women in the field. The event distilled decades of experience in governance and resilience building into a dialogue about the ways in which women’s leadership has reduced disaster risk, and how these lessons can shape a more equal post-pandemic future.
Ms. Mami Mizutori, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, underscored the centrality of disaster risk reduction plans.
“If you don't have a plan then that is a plan for failure,” Ms. Mizutori said. “COVID-19 has taught us the importance of good governance and risk reduction.”
One of the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 is the development of national and local disaster risk reduction strategies, also reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. Such strategies must take an inclusive, all-of-society approach, which draws upon the experience and leadership of women.
“Women and girls are disproportionately affected by disaster due to structural and gender inequalities that exist in all societies, without exception,” Ms. Mizutori said.
She emphasized the ways the pandemic has impacted women across the region.
“Women are experiencing growing unemployment rates, coupled with an increased burden of unpaid care work. At the same time, women are taking the lead in the pandemic response as frontline health workers.”
She said the lessons from the women leaders of the pandemic response should now be applied in disaster governance.
“These problems cannot be successfully addressed by excluding half of humanity from the efforts,” Ms. Mizutori said.
Ms. Adelina Kamal, Executive Director of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre), has been at the center of dozens of disasters in her career. “Crisis is the best training ground to build our leadership muscles,” she said. “Leadership can also be molded during a crisis.”
The AHA Centre is an intergovernmental organisation, set up by ASEAN Member States with the goal of facilitating cooperation in disaster management.
She said the frequency of disasters in her region gave her opportunities to work with inspiring women.
“One of the giant leaps in my career as a disaster manager was when I had the chance to learn and work closely from great leaders in one of the most catastrophic disasters in our region,” she said.
Ms. Kamal says women cannot sit on the sidelines. She called on women to speak up as leaders, even early on in their careers, using their education and their skills to help communities and countries be better prepared for future disasters.
Ms. Bandana Rana, co-founder of Saathi, an organisation that supports survivors of violence in Nepal and a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which in 2018 adopted its seminal General Recommendation No. 37 on the gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change.
Ms. Rana shared an experience from Nepal about the kind of decisions that happen when women are not involved. During the early days of the pandemic, women’s shelters for survivors of domestic violence were shut down as they were not deemed to be essential.
“The leadership and the decision makers were entirely men,” she said. "That is the reason women’s shelter services were not understood as essential services. We had to advocate for the women’s ministry to be included in the task force.”
Ms. Rana sees a gradual shifting of mentalities in Nepal.
“It needs to start from the home right to the topmost level of decision making,” Ms. Rana said. “We all need to work together. An equal future will benefit not just the women, but everyone.”
Ms. Emeline Siale Ilolahia from the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Government Organisation (PIANGO) shared her experiences from the Pacific. She said traditional gender roles and expectations continue to keep women out of leadership.
“Caring for the family and domestic responsibility limits the participation of women in decision-making at the community level and all the way up to the political sphere,” she said.
Even though there have been few COVID-19 cases in the Pacific, Ms. Ilolahia said that the pandemic has had multiple impacts on women. From increased household burdens, to loss of employment in the tourism sector, to nurses and care workers on the frontline, women in the Pacific have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“It has been challenging when you see the lack of women’s participation in the decision level.”
Ms. Marian Grace L. Ticzon, a youth advocate from the Philippines National Rural Women Coalition said that COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of services that reach rural areas.
“Most rural women and young women in particular are experiencing the lack of access to resources and basic services,” She said. “Especially their sexual and reproductive health.”
While the digital divide in information and services persists between rural and urban communities across the region, Ms. Michelle Chivunga N, CEO of Global Policy House, is optimistic that the digital economy and innovations in blockchain for women’s empowerment can transform decision making.
“There are many communities across the world that have leveraged these digital tools,” Ms. Chivunga N said. “The underlying technology, ‘blockchain’ can do so much more in terms of supporting and empowering communities, which is really exciting.”
UN Women’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Mr. Mohammad Naciri, spoke of the importance of inclusive and diverse leadership at the local, national and regional levels to mitigate gendered impacts of disasters.
“In order to bring about genuine inclusive and sustainable change women and girls must be the architects of preparedness, response and recovery plans,” he said.
During the event UN Women and the Humanitarian Advisory Group launched a new framework and tools for measuring women’s leadership and meaningful participation in COVID-19 responses.
UN Women and UNDRR, with its flagship WIN DRR initiative, co-hosted the forum to celebrate International Women’s Day and highlighted the experiences of women leaders during the pandemic. WIN DRR is supported by the Government of Australia to promote and support women’s leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction. To learn more about WIN DRR, click here: https://www.undrr.org/publication/booklet-womens-international-network-disaster-risk-reduction-win-drr
To watch the full event, click here: https://www.undrr.org/event/international-womens-day-women-leadership-achieving-equal-future-covid-19-world