The paper, Integrating Gender in Disaster Risk Management in Small Island Developing States
In particular, the guide suggests more inclusion and participation of women during consultation and in planning disaster projects and programs.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Karen Bernard, United Nations Development Program
BERNARD: In the case of many small islands out there in the Pacific, many women have different roles which are imposed by society, and this often means that men and women have different responsibilities or engage in different activities during the course of the day. And also that you would find men and women in different places, they're quite segregated. Disaster managers in the Pacific need to understand this in their particular community, because this actually does have a lot of impact in, ultimately the goal of disaster risk management is to preserve people's lives. So understanding the gender differences can actually be a life and death matter for disaster managers. In the Pacific people are starting to become aware of these issues but they need some guidance to really think that through and understand how to apply this to their work.
COUTTS: And have you actually come up with recommendations then? You mentioned that men and women do different work so when disasters strike they're in different locations. So what recommendations are you making now to deal with that?
BERNARD: Well we have a number of recommendations, and the guide is presented as a checklist, so that disaster managers can quickly look at what they need to take into account. It's very important that the women are involved in the consultations as well as men for planning disaster risk measures, and also involved in decision making, and that both men and women are able to use their capacities and their talents so that we can all have better disaster risk management. I'll give you one example from the Pacific; there was in 2009 when the Princess Ashika ferry sank in Tonga, that was one of the biggest disasters in the history of Tonga, and 74 people were killed, it was quite a tragedy. And in the Princess Ashika ferry, what happened was that all of the women on board and all of the children were killed, the survivors were only men. And if you do a gender analysis of what the differences were, you'll find that in that ferry the women and children were on the lower deck, because the women's role is to take care of the children, they were sleeping, it was in the evening, and the men were on the upper deck, they were fishing, drinking a bit, maybe smoking. And it was the gender differences which enabled the men to survive. And of course none of this was deliberate, no one wanted anyone to be killed, but the consequence of the different roles and the different places that men and women were occupying was that the women had no chance of survival as the boat sank quickly. Now ferries sinking are a common disaster in the Pacific. We had a recent case also in Papua New Guinea. So that's just one example of how you can actually save people's lives if you understand and anticipate the differences and what men and women will be doing at a particular point in time.
COUTTS: Well that's a really difficult one isn't it because the women's role is still going to be that they care for the children, so on ferry rides in the future they're still going to be on the lower decks?
BERNARD: Yes disaster risk involves planning, it involves anticipating how different people will be affected. So if you're aware of this when you do your planning, then you'll have a way of addressing that issue so that you can ensure that people's lives are saved. It was I think if we pay attention to these details there are always ways to solve those problems.
COUTTS: So it would be better evacuation drills?
BERNARD: Right there'll be contingency plans so that if you know that the ferry is sinking and that sinking can't be stopped, and you know where the women are, you know there's some kind of evacuation plan, it's all taken into account.
COUTTS: So that's what you're talking about, you're having a gender lens, so women really need to identify their own issues and find the solutions for it as well?
BERNARD: Well women and men need to be involved. There's also cases in which men's lives are at risk or men are injured more often because of the pressures on men to take on roles in rescuing people and in being very courageous. This is also one of the gender roles and expectations that society imposes. So in that case you'll find when there are floods, as in the case of Fiji there's been quite severe floods recently, men are more likely to have leptospirosis, which is transmitted by dirty flood waters, because there's a lot of pressure on men to go out and rescue people and show their bravery. So really both men and women are affected in negative ways, they're limited and affected in negative ways by these gender expectations.