Reflections from the GPDRR fourth session: Making the voices of women heard

"I attended five different seminars and heard 31 panellists in total share their views and experiences. What was shocking to me was that only five of them were women."

By Ylva J Strömberg, Head of Disaster management and Policy unit, Swedish Red Cross

22/05/2013: To enter into a space where over 4,000 people are discussing, debating, sharing and pressing forward the same ideologies and issues is inspiring. Today I have spent my day in such a space; today I have talked, discussed and tried to advance the issue of disaster risk reduction (DRR). I take a moment at the end of the day to reflect on the day’s sessions.

There are many concerns still that we need to think about - the lack of reliable funding for all the great DRR initiatives around the globe, the sluggish action by all parties to live up to the commitments made to reduce disaster risks and build stronger communities, as well as the collective actions that are required to ensure that DRR and resilience building are included in the next framework for action post the current Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). 

However, one issue kept returning to my mind. It occurred to me that as the day progressed, my heart grew heavier, I became sadder, upset. I attended five different seminars and heard 31 panellists in total share their views and experiences. What was shocking to me was that only five of them were women. During the five sessions I attended, the need to have a special or different focus on women was mentioned only once. I looked around and wondered, “Was I really attending a global meeting in the year 2013 and not 1913?” Or is it just the reality that there is no woman with the relevant knowledge, experience and ideas on the topic of DRR? 

I refuse to believe that.

Women make up for at least 50 per cent of the world’s population and their voices are not only relevant, but critical to building stronger communities. We know that more women die in a disaster because they are not allowed to go out or they can’t read the alert messages or can’t swim, or because they put for their children and family members’ well-being first before they care for themselves. Or to put it simply, just because they are women.

Women know what they need to do to reduce their risks, they know what is needed for them to become more resilient and they know what kind of support they need. The global DRR community needs to ensure that their voices are heard and that women have access not only to make remarks from the floor but to be sitting up there in the driving seat.

After today I am even more convinced that the Swedish Red Cross took a step in the right direction when we decided to seriously take up the baton on gender. Through all of its efforts around the globe to support and empower vulnerable communities including women and other marginalized groups, I am certain that we will not only be spearhead discussions on DRR and gender at the next forum, but in time, we will also be seen as the organization that moved the humanitarian community forward in regard to this agenda.

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