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Women’s leadership in the Pacific: trailblazer opens world of disaster management to women

Source(s):  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific (UNDRR AP)

By Yo Kunieda

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, women leaders in the Pacific have been able to carve a larger space to bring the voices and perspectives of women and girls to the policy tables and influence disaster preparedness and response.

Ms Agnes Titus, of the Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation in Bougainville, an autonomous region in Papua New Guinea, combined her experience and expertise in women’s empowerment, peace, and security with her mediation skills to influence the composition of the regional disaster management committee in Bougainville.

“We spoke for the need to include women at the design table of disaster management or disaster recovery. You could hear a pin drop because it was the first time for these men, who normally go to these meetings, to hear that. We stressed the fact that women’s needs are actually different from men’s and so we have to take these things into account when we are preparing for disaster and recovery. These things have come now to the table of the decision-makers,” Ms Titus said.

Her example is one of many being supported by the ‘Shifting the Power Coalition,’ which is a Pacific network of women leaders adapting their work to better support disaster prevention, preparedness, and advocacy.

Shifting the Power Coalition describes itself as a regional feminist alliance focused on strengthening the collective power, influence and leadership of diverse Pacific women in responding to disasters and climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted even further the need for more empowered leadership of women and girls at the community level across the six countries in which the Coalition is active: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu.

Experience from both the Samoa measles epidemic last year as well as the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has revealed significant gender inequality in terms of access to healthcare, resources, and information – all of which play a key role in prevention, early intervention, and treatment to lower disaster losses.

A new report from the Coalition says greater engagement with women and girls will help prevent and reduce pandemic risks across the Pacific. It said that local women – who know their communities best – can provide a more holistic and inclusive approach to guide effective policy and action.

“Women’s networks include trained community responders who can offer solutions on gender response and planning as well as needs-based recommendations for the security of LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (or: queer), intersex community) and survivors of violence,” the report says.

It urges Pacific leaders to address inequalities in the provision of health care, including through the work of the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway (PHP), which was established in April 2020 to expedite the provision of medical and humanitarian assistance to respond to COVID-19.

In particular, the report highlighted the importance of not leaving behind people living with a disability in terms of pandemic preparedness and response. Related to this, in 2018, the Pacific Forum Leaders adopted the Boe Declaration, which broadened the definition of security to include human security, humanitarian assistance, environmental security, and regional cooperation.

An assessment of women’s human security by the Shifting the Power Coalition in March 2020 found that both COVID19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold were significantly affecting economic, health and food security, as well as community and personal security.

The report’s findings are based on responses to an online questionnaire from communities across the Pacific.

UNDRR extends its appreciation to the member organisations of Shifting the Power Coalition for contributing the examples in this piece, specifically:

  1. ActionAid Vanuatu & Australia,
  2. FemLINKpacific,
  3. Fiji Disabled People’s Federation,
  4. Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation,
  5. Talitha Project,
  6. Transcend Oceania,
  7. Vanuatu Young Women for Change,
  8. Vanuatu Disability Promotion & Advocacy Association,
  9. Vois Blong Mere Solomon,
  10. YWCAs of PNG and Samoa, and
  11. Pacific Disability Forum

This story is part of a series that will be published by UNDRR Asia-Pacific highlighting the experiences of stakeholder groups during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  • Publication date 15 Sep 2020

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