Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction

March 14, 2015

Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

Opening Remarks of Senator Loren Legarda

High Level Multi-Stakeholder Partnership Dialogue

Mobilizing Women’s Leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction

14 March 2015 | Sendai, Japan


His Excellency Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,

Minister Sanae Takaichi,

Distinguished panelists,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon.


Ten years ago, the Hyogo Framework for Action was adopted by 168 countries at the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, effectively putting a spotlight on the need to shift our approach from disaster relief and response to building the resilience of communities to disasters.


Today, we come together to put focus on the leadership roles for women in national disaster risk reduction efforts.


Gender mainstreaming is already an agreed principle.  We need not just remain faithful to this belief, we also need to take action.


I speak not just as an advocate but as a person who shares the sad reality of a region that accounted for 41 percent of the world’s natural disasters over the past 10 years.   These disasters have been unforgiving, claiming an average of 70,000 lives each year from 2004 to 2013.[1]  Another 200 million are affected each year, half of them women and girls.[2]


Although disasters do not discriminate between men and women, the young and old, the rich and poor, they impact on individuals and families disproportionately — with the strong and capable surviving and coping better, and the weak and vulnerable suffering the most from loss of lives and property.


In times of disasters, women face greater risks.  The facts are glaring – In the 2004 Asian tsunami, women accounted for 70% of the death in Aceh, Indonesia and in parts of India; more women than men died during the 2003 European heatwave; most of the victims trapped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were African-American women and their children[3]. Even after disasters, women are at greater risk — pregnant and lactating women have special needs which are often neglected during disasters; women are more prone to sexual abuse, trafficking and other forms of violence in the aftermath of disasters.


These realities show that even in disaster impacts, there is no equality.


As women have a greater stake in disaster realities, it is time we take action by putting women at the forefront of disaster risk reduction efforts.


Women’s vulnerability in times of disasters is not a showcase of weakness, but rather highlights the inequality that exists —women have lesser access to resources and information; gendered social roles and cultural constraints on their actions continue to persist in many societies;[4] lower level of education among women prevent them from understanding disaster warnings, thus preventing them from taking precautionary measures.


The first step in addressing this vulnerability is to change the way we view the women in the context of disaster realities. Women are not victims.  They constitute a formidable “first line of defense” against disaster risks.


We must acknowledge the capacity of women to get involved, decide, take action, and lead. Our goal should be not only to reduce women’s vulnerability but to empower and allow them to become part of disaster risk reduction and management efforts, thereby addressing the risks they face.


We acknowledge that the HFA has become a tool in making DRR more participatory and inclusive, but there are continuing challenges as gender and social inequalities persist.


The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Report 2014, on Goal number 3, Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women cited that nations in developing regions have either achieved or were close to achieving gender equality in primary education. But in some regions, girls continue to face disadvantages in entering both primary and secondary school.


Meanwhile, more women hold paid jobs in non-agricultural sectors, but the increase is slow: from 35 percent in 1990, women’s access to paid employment in non-agricultural sectors increased to only 40 percent in 2012.


We cannot change these circumstances overnight, but these are factors we must consider in our approaches to make women effective agents of disaster risk reduction. How do we make uneducated girls part of the strategy while we strive to give them access to education? How do we make DRR leaders out of women even as we struggle to provide access to fair employment to them in some sectors of our society?  How can our women lead in DRR efforts when socio-cultural norms restrict their movements?  Unless we find solutions to these fundamental issues, our call for women leadership in DRR efforts will be futile.


The present task of reducing disaster risks in the context of a changing global climate and the prevailing gender imbalances and insensitivities in our societies has become synonymous to securing humanity and the future of our children and our grandchildren today.


The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) continue to remain relevant as we strive to make the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction gender-sensitive and inclusive.


In the face of increasing disaster and climate risks, national and local development processes must involve women actively. Stereotyped gender roles have no place in the critical fight against disaster risk and climate change.


Through this forum, we want to be able to contribute to making the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction a document that would not only urge nations to mobilize women’s leadership in DRR, but also guide them on how this commitment could be effectively carried out.


We want the HFA2 to be a tool towards a dramatic shift in the degree and scope of women’s involvement in climate change and disaster risk reduction efforts—from the quiet but steady work they perform at their communities, women should move into the frontlines of delivering decisive action towards a sustainable and resilient planet.


Thank you.


[1] UN News center. Asia-Pacific report: World’s most disaster prone region experiences three-fold rise in deaths. December 2014.

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

[3] Gender and Disasters, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, UNDP, October 2010.

[4] UNFPA: UNFPA champions recommendations for gender-responsive disaster risk reduction – See more at:

[i] References:

Background paper on gender inclusion in HFA2. Towards the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (HFA2), Women as a force in resilience building, gender equality in disaster risk reduction, April 2014

Final Statement at the Gender Dimensions of Weather and Climate Services Conference, November 2014

Women, Gender and the Hyogo Platform for ActionGender and Disaster Network, Gender Notes 1