As ActionAid, we work towards a world free of poverty and injustice, and strive to ensure resilience for the most marginalised – particularly for the poor, women and girls – in a disaster-affected world.

The World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction currently being held in Sendai, Japan, has a special implication globally in this regard. An ActionAid delegation is here, in Japan, doing all we can to influence the agenda and the outcomes of the conference to ensure adequate support for women’s resilience.

As part of this, on the 15th March we facilitated a side event emphasising women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction (DRR), titled

Beyond Inclusion: Empowering Women as Leaders in Disaster Risk Reduction.

Women from grassroots community groups and members of civil society came together at the event to deepen their understanding of the concepts of resilience as well as try to together establish an alternative to existing practices and politics that struggle to be inclusive of women and of marginalised groups.

Women and the poor are hit hardest when disaster strikes, yet the investment in their preparedness and initiatives to support their resilience have been found inadequate. Women are entrusted with all that is valuable to a family, community or society, and yet there is incredible hesitation to invest in them.

Which begs the question, why? And how do we turn this hesitation around and encourage communities to support women’s leadership?

We believe that a critical first step is changing the narrative and recognising that women are not inherently vulnerable. They have been made vulnerable due to prevalent gender inequalities in society and yet, despite these inequalities, undertake leadership roles in ensuring that their families and communities are safe – both before and after disaster.

In his speech at the inauguration of WCDRR, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke of social cohesion critical for resilience. We would push further on this to say that resilience is the bond among and beyond communities. Women build this social bond that contributes toward developing relationships and measures within communities enabling them to bounce back and move on.

Shobita Rani, a community leader from Bangladesh, while speaking at ActionAid’s event, stressed the critical role of women in DRR, and emergency response. She pushed the inter-connectedness of DRR with climate change. Rafat from Pakistan shared her experience of the floods in Pakistan in 2010 and how the community and the local authorities were not prepared to address the needs of women in the aftermath of the disaster.

No development will be sustainable if it is not able to endure shock and stresses, and to survive. Women are the first responders in any disaster; if responsiveness is a key indicator of resilience, women play a critical role in it. Women need to be brought to the forefront of any resilience discourse, discussion, agreement and action. Women must be included in the decision making and lead on implementation.

This will only be possible when the global mindset changes, and when serious allocations of resources are made with clear intent to invest in women.  

The political will for gender equality is essential to realise all of the above and the world is looking at WCDRR in Sendai to make such commitment.