Serve women’s specific needs, involve women in disaster management

Lead agency for women calls attention to the specific needs of women and girls in evacuation sites, and involvement of independent women’s groups in disaster management and preparedness 

The torrential rains are gone but this one question remains on my mind: How can we better serve the differential needs of women and men, and girls and boys, in evacuation sites?” asks Remedios I. Rikken, Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW).

The sensitivity of local governments, rescue teams, civil society organizations and individual volunteers to the specific needs of women and girls matters even more now after disaster has struck, says Rikken.

PCW Executive Director Emmeline L. Verzosa emphasizes women’s needs, particularly those of “pregnant women and their children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. Relief good donations should include women’s personal hygiene needs such as sanitary napkins and underwear. Evacuation centers should prioritize privacy for women’s comfort rooms and safety against gender-based violence.

Verzosa calls on local officials to find permanent evacuation sites for those living in disaster prone areas and explains that “even in relocation, planners should involve women and really listen to them.”

“What could we have all done to better prepare ourselves to cope with disasters? In the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 (RA 10121), local governments are to set aside not less than five percent (5%) of their budget for disaster risk management activities,” Rikken adds. She points to the law’s mandate strengthening national and local government capacity and providing funds for a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan. One of the law’s main features is decentralizing authority and responsibilities for implementing disaster risk reduction measures to local governments.

Rikken identifies a crucial link between disaster management and women’s involvement. “When the torrential rains come, we know flooding occurs and then, we see the familiar scenes again. Families stranded on the rooftops; people needing clean water and food. A key to disaster management and preparedness is involving women in all aspects. We know women are adept in securing safe water and food for the family. They usually know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of household concerns,” Rikken continues, “In turn, independent women’s groups should seek involvement and help ensure that disaster funds are properly allocated.

Research over the years by the Global Gender Climate Alliance (GGCA) reveals more women die during natural disasters.  GGCA’s estimate: 4 females for every 1 male.  According to Rikken and Verzosa, the key to creating climate resilient communities is the two-pronged approach of involvement of women and other vulnerable groups, and the local governments’ willingness to share accountability, which includes transparency in the availability and use of funds.