Role of Women in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management

June 5, 2014


“Role of Women in Disaster Risk Reduction and Management”

ASEM Manila Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management

5 June 2014 – Manila


Women: Leaders of Change for Resilience


First of all, I wish to extend my thanks to the ASEM leadership for this opportunity to share our country’s experiences on the role of women in disaster risk reduction and management.


More women perish


As disaster risks abound amid our fast changing environment, disasters affect yearly about 200 million people all over the world, half of them women or girls.[1]


Although disasters do not discriminate between the young and old, the rich and poor, they impact on individuals and families disproportionately — with the strong and capable surviving and coping better, while the weak and vulnerable losing lives and suffering more. And in settings where gender inequality pervades, the situation becomes even worse for women.


The World Bank reports that in Asia women perish in disasters more than men: 61% in the 2008 Myanmar cyclone; 67% in the Indian Ocean Tsunami in Banda, Aceh; and 95% in the Cyclone Gorky in Bangladesh.[2]


Making DRR gender-sensitive


This appalling reality can change.


It can change if disaster risk reduction efforts effectively deliver women from persistent vulnerability and gender inequality, and empower them fully to make their families, homes and community livelihoods disaster-resilient.

It can change if we do not miss or ignore gender issues in designing and implementing disaster risk reduction and management programs.


It can change if we are not gender-blind in our development actions or insensitive to the potential contributions of women in building resilience.


Haiyan impacts on women


More than six months ago, the world’s strongest typhoon hit our country.


The world witnessed the massive destruction Typhoon Haiyan or Yolanda wrought in Central Philippines – how the City of Tacloban, the economic center of Eastern Visayas, was brutally washed away by its storm surge that left more than 6,000 people dead and countless missing in its aftermath.


Haiyan has revealed how vulnerable women are to disasters.


More than 3.5 million women and girls were affected, 250,000 of them were pregnant and 169,000 were breastfeeding.[3] Their distinct nutritional needs, when unmet, make coping with disasters even tougher for them.  Also, their displacement from their homes put them at greater risk of sexual violence and of falling prey to human traffickers.


Haiyan also caused the loss of income sources for almost six million workers, 40% of whom are female workers.[4]


These disaster impacts on women convey to us the importance of making development policies, plans and programmes gender-sensitive.  This the government must ensure always.


In the face of increasing disaster and climate risks, national and local development processes must involve women actively, particularly in planning and integrating gender perspectives in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures and actions.


Women leadership in DRRM


In the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, among the first day responders were Filipino women doctors, nurses, paramedics and civilian volunteers. The secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross is a woman and so is the head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Countless Filipino women responded with almost total disregard of their own safety, operating in what was traditionally viewed as the province of man.


We need to capacitate women not only as primary caregivers in times of disaster and economic distress, but also as part of the overall strategy on disaster risk reduction and management. To empower women is to reduce their vulnerability to disasters.


A number of Haiyan recovery efforts led by women truly inspire.


An international organization, ActionAid, provided support to communities in Leyte, Northern Cebu and Eastern Samar with women leading the activities from planning, procuring, distributing and monitoring of aid, including food packages, hygiene kits, shelter repair kits and livelihood support. To date, the program has provided support to more than 163,000 survivors of Haiyan.[5]


Wilma Paloma, a village chief in the Province of Aklan, led her community of 600 families towards recovery. Having survived a strong storm 30 years before Haiyan, she prioritized setting up the village health center because providing health care is crucial after a disaster.[6]


Wilma also mobilized her fellow villagers for cash-for-work projects provided by World Vision. With the help of the village council, she encouraged the entire community to join the recovery efforts and enjoined everyone to do their part to make the village whole again.


Women also proved themselves effective DRR managers.


In the Municipality of San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu, 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 municipality is a 2011 UN Sasakawa Awardee for Disaster Reduction because of their Purok System, which focuses on addressing the vulnerability of every village in the municipality by mobilizing local resources in creating local and practical solutions based on the unique needs of every community.


Not too far away from here, the Sapinit Watershed Settlers Association, composed of women residents of the area, established a nursery filled with narra and mahogany seedlings, in coordination with the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation. The women members tilled the land, prepared the watershed, and planted the seedlings. This effort is aimed at helping to restore the devastated Marikina watershed.[7]


In the coastal Barangay of Talokgangan in the Province of Iloilo, women are at the forefront of rehabilitation efforts covering 3.5 hectares of mangrove forests.  What initially started as a male-dominated organization in 1996, the Talokgangan Concerned Citizen Association has become, by 2010, a mostly-female organization with the mission of restoring, preserving and creating opportunities to save Banate-Barotac Bay from further deterioration.  The association was organized through the assistance of the Banate-Barotac Bay Resource Management Council Inc. (BBBRMCI), an inter-local government unit (LGU) alliance among the municipalities of Barotac Nuevo, Anilao, Banate and Barotac Viejo, in the Province of Iloilo.[8]


The Fellowship for Organizing Endeavors, Inc. (FORGE) initiated DRR projects in Cebu City. These include a riprapping project in Brgy. Kalunasan, tree-planting initiative in Bulacao, and household based solid waste management in Brgy. Apas. In all of these projects, women were not contented with just being supporters. They were also involved in the project management committee for the riprap construction. The women outnumbered the men in the tree planting activities and women were more zealous in the planning workshops on waste management.


I am sure similar inspiring stories abound in other countries.


All of these stories convey the message: Women are no longer willing to stay on the sidelines.  Stereotyped gendered roles have no place in the critical fight against disaster risk and climate change.


Women leading change for resilience

The potential contribution as well as effective leadership role of women in reducing disaster risk and building community resilience must be recognized, encouraged and supported.


Let us provide and ensure the pathways for the inclusion of women in disaster risk reduction and management efforts as active participants, leaders and decision makers.


To harness the strength of women in reducing social vulnerability and increasing local capacity is to ensure the sustainability, inclusivity and resiliency of local and national development pursuits.


To this end, let us align the institutional mechanisms for DRRM with the policies that address gender issues, including livelihood development, women’s welfare and development, protection from violence, anti-trafficking in women, just to name a few.


Let us also ensure that designated sectoral agencies for the welfare and development of women, children, the aged and persons with disabilities work closely and constructively with disaster management authorities.


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


These let us pursue altogether to achieve the meaningful change the Filipino people truly deserve.


Thank you.***




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


[2] The World Bank, East Asia and Pacific Region Sustainable Development, Gender and Disaster Risk Management Guidance Note 1.


[4] Ibid.

[5] Typhoon Haiyan 6 months on – Women-led activities support 163,000 people, ActionAid

[6] Women leaders rise from Haiyan woes, World Vision Philippines

[8] University of the Philippines, IPA Awardees 2012,