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International Day for Disaster Reduction 2012

October 15, 2012

Privilege Speech
International Day for Disaster Reduction 2012
Senate Session Hall
October 15, 2012

An African proverb says, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family.”

Last October 13, the world celebrated the International Day for Disaster Reduction. Allow me to highlight the theme of this year’s celebration: Women & Girls – The [in]Visible Force of Resilience.

This is not to say that women are invisible but instead are unrecognized stalwarts in the struggle towards disaster-resilient communities. It is time to usher a new phase where women and girls are no longer portrayed as victims but heroes.
Women and girls account for 52% of the world’s population. Over 100 million of which are affected by disasters annually [1].

As they bear the impact of disasters, it is important that we pay attention to their experience and knowledge.

A starving mother carrying her ailing child is often the public face of famines and food shortages.

In times of disaster and economic stress, women are the primary caregivers. They bear the burden of caring for the sick. They also carry out much of the household workload after a disaster.

Women have distinct nutritional needs that make coping with disasters tougher and harsher.

Even disaster rescue efforts discriminate against women. In the 2006 tsunami that killed scores in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, male survivors outnumbered its female counterparts in a 3 to 1 and 4 to 1 ratio.

Despite these, women have been silently and effectively at the frontline of disaster prevention and climate change adaptation efforts.

We take inspiration from the work of the late Professor Wangari Maathai, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2004. The Green Belt Movement, which she founded, has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya and empowered communities, especially women and girls, to promote environmental protection at the grassroots level.

The Philippines can be proud of similar initiatives that are based on local realities. A group of women farmers in Montalban, Rizal started to practice agroforestry to adapt to the prolonged wet season. A group of women fisherfolk in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur reforested over a hundred hectares of mangrove areas to protect their settlements from storm surges and secure an additional source of food for their families.

In the Municipality of San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu, which is one of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s 29 model communities worldwide that are exemplars in disaster risk reduction and management, 90% of officers in charge of environmental protection and disaster prevention programs in each and every purok are women, since most of the male residents are focused on making a living for their families. The Purok System focuses on mobilizing local resources in creating local and practical solutions based on the vulnerability and unique needs of every community. The program includes the “no trash segregation – no collection” policy.

I am certain that behind the success of other model LGUs such as Makati City, Albay, and Bulacan are thousands of women actively involved in community leadership and decision-making. Makati City and Albay also received international recognition for their best practices by the UN while Bulacan was recently awarded as the Best Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in the National Gawad Kalasag 2012.

Mr. President,

Let us fully engage women in vulnerability assessments, tap their knowledge of environmental resources, and work with women’s community organizations.

I echo the call of Margareta Wahlström, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, on the importance of putting “women and girls’ experience and knowledge to good use in designing disaster plans and identifying areas for improvement in urban planning and early warning systems”[2].

I fully agree that “countries that do not actively promote the full participation of women in education, politics, and the workforce will struggle more than most when it comes to reducing risk and adapting to climate change”[3].

Mr. President,

Let us recognize and empower women, who are agents of solutions, indispensable holders of valuable knowledge and skills, and able leaders from the grassroots level to the global stage.

Thank you, Mr. President.

[1] Wahlstrom, M. Project Syndicate: Women, Girls, and Disasters
[2] Wahlstrom, M. Project Syndicate: Women, Girls, and Disasters
[3] Wahlstrom, M. Project Syndicate: Women, Girls, and Disasters