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Women's leadership key to reducing disaster mortality

Source(s):  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

(L-R): Saber Hossain, Member of Parliament, Bangladesh; Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank; Tarja Halonen, former President of Finland; Mami Mizutori, SRSG for DRR; Minata Samate Cessouma, Commissioner for Political Affairs, African Union; and Dolores Devesi, OXFAM, Solomon Islands

By Omar H. Amach

GENEVA, 16 May 2019 - The large-scale drop in disaster mortality in Bangladesh in recent times was due to a deliberate policy of promoting women's leadership in all sectors, a Special Session on Women Leadership was told yesterday at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a Member of Parliament in Bangladesh, credited the reduction in disaster mortality to promoting women leadership and empowerment in all sectors - a move that he says helped propel Bangladesh’s ascension from a low income to middle income country:

“Whether it is the reduction of poverty, child mortality, or primary education, when looking at women’s empowerment, it can’t be selective. There has to be a whole of society approach,” said Mr. Chowdhury

Bangladesh has made its cyclone preparedness programme more inclusive of women. Women are involved in the design of early warning systems, the building of cyclone shelters, and in raising community awareness. This has managed to lower the ratio of female to male deaths by almost two-thirds.

When disaster strikes, women are disproportionately impacted compared to men. In April 1991, when Bangladesh was hit by a powerful cyclone, 90% of those killed were women, and four times more women were killed in India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami than men. In Europe, more women died as a result of the 2003 heatwave than men.

The central message of the Special Session was that committing to a strong focus on gender in disaster risk reduction, ensuring women’s leadership at all levels and recognizing their contribution to disaster risk governance is critical to achieving the ambitious targets set out in the Sendai Framework.

In Malaysia, empowering women is a national priority for reducing the country’s disaster risk, according to Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail:

“Currently 30% of the senior positions in the Government of Malaysia are filled by women. Our goal is to have 50% of the disaster risk management positions filled by women.”

Women are powerful influencers of change in their families and communities, and when given leadership positions, can bring about transformational change, according to Ms. Mami Mizutori, Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

She spoke in particular about the leadership of Ms. Doris Ombara, a City Manager in the Kenyan city of Kisumu which she has transformed into a role model for inclusive disaster risk reduction. Ms. Ombara mobilizes the women of the city to become active participants in their city’s resilience:

“She talks to the women in the city. They know what the issues are and show them to the City Manager. She in turns fixes them. This is leadership at the top and leadership at the bottom.”

The Special Session concluded that more must be done to ensure women are at the centre of decision-making and implementation of DRR strategies. Such an approach is more likely to create solutions that are sustainable, inclusive and transformational.

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  • Publication date 16 May 2019

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