Women regional disaster response staff help communities in Nepal

Published: 1 September 2015 4:55 CET

By Rosemarie North, IFRC

There was something odd about the people coming to pick up tarpaulins and other earthquake aid items from the Nepal Red Cross Society distribution point.

Farzana Akther noticed they were mostly men.

But her list of eligible recipients showed that many women in Purana Jhanga Jholi, in Sindhuli district in southern Nepal, were entitled to collect supplies. Where were they?

Farzana, who came from her human resources post at the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society to join a regional disaster response team (RDRT) after the earthquakes, decided to find out. She began door-knocking.

“I heard about their social system, that women are not allowed to go outside the house,” she said. “So I told them that I am from the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, working as an RDRT, and I am a woman. I told them that I feel secure and that they should go to the distribution point. That it is their right to claim their things.”

Farzana’s welcome worked. “After that I saw a lot of women at the distribution point,” she added. “I did it from my heart for them. That’s my achievement.”

After years of training, this was Farzana’s first deployment to a disaster outside her native Bangladesh. “I feel pride as a female regional disaster response team member. I’m grateful that the Red Cross Red Crescent used me in the Nepal operation. I love the Red Cross Red Crescent because everyone works for humanity.”

Muhammad Zubair Khan, the team leader for regional disaster response teams in the Nepal earthquake said that the Red Cross Red Crescent network is the largest community-based network of disaster responders in the world. “Our job is to reach the most vulnerable people in our communities,” he said. “Our diverse teams help us do that by reaching more people. We need to better understand the specific cultural context and distinct relations between men and women and other groups. Then we can be alert to the specific needs and impacts that disasters create.”

Sally Chapman, a regional disaster response team member from Australia, and the protection, gender and inclusion advisor for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), emphasized the importance of reaching everyone after a disaster strikes.  

“The Red Cross has a responsibility to have our assessment teams and field teams with a good gender balance so they can facilitate sensitive conversations,” she said. “RDRT members like Farzana can do this with a high degree of cultural sensitivity and effectiveness. It is important to see strong and equal participation of women in disaster response.”

Farzana is one of 58 Red Cross or Red Crescent staff trained in regional disaster response from 17 countries in Asia Pacific who supported the Nepal Red Cross Society in the areas of relief and assessment, health, water and sanitation, shelter, IT and telecommunications, gender and protection, logistics, human resources and finance. They joined colleagues from around the world in other teams such as emergency response units and field assessment and coordination teams.

Tara Bhattarai, head of the gender and inclusion department at the Nepal Red Cross Society said the National Society’s policies give priority to gender and diversity in disaster management.

“Gender diversity and social inclusion aren’t optional add-ons but a necessary part of programmes that lead to more equitable access to services,” Tara explained. “The next step is to monitor our activities to make sure the earthquake operation does not cause any harm. We are placing great emphasis and focus on planning for, implementing and monitoring dignity, access, participation and safety in our efforts here in Nepal.”