The growing role of women in disaster risk management


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Women Community Leaders
Women community leaders. Photo Credit: World Bank

Women are seen in their traditional role of home-makers, but might their ability to take on managerial roles in disaster risk management be underestimated?
As part of the India Disaster Risk Management team, I travelled on the “Road2Resilience” bus journey along the entire coast of India. Along with the team’s mission to provide implementation support to the six coastal disaster management projects, I also focused on women’s participation in the mitigation activities of these projects.
Women’s participation in Disaster Risk Management in India has been sporadic. However, my interactions with the community - especially women - highlighted how women in coastal India are seriously taking disaster risk management into their own hands. 

Among the coastal states, I found that Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have made significant progress in women’s inclusion and participation. The sheer numbers of men, women and children that gathered wherever our bus visited was heartwarming, and gave a sense of the community ownership among the local population.
This has been one of the desired outcomes of the World Bank and Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery supported projects on National Cyclone Risk Mitigation, as well as Coastal Disaster Risk Reduction, which aims at reducing the vulnerability of coastal communities and augmenting the capability of the State and its communities to be able to plan and respond to disasters.
Periodical consultation, suggestions and monitoring by women and community, led to change in location of women toilets in the cyclone shelter”. - Jyotsnamoyi a member of the newly constituted Cyclone Shelter Management and Maintenance in Jagatsingpur district of Odisha. This change in structural design is applied to all cyclone shelters constructed in coastal Odisha today
The coastal communities are well exposed to ‘living with risk’. Building on this experience and knowledge, the States through the coastal projects, have not only invested in improving critical infrastructure but also have reached out to the communities to show the relevance of preparedness, through continuous information sharing, mock drills and informal discussions to increase the communities awareness of what to do and where to go in the event of a disaster.
“I lost my husband and home in the night of October 1999 Super cyclone. When strong winds started again (Cyclone Phailin 2013), I  shifted my family members to the nearby shelter” recalls Radha Swain, a grandmother in Nardia village of Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha; who was a part of the community mobilization activities on disaster risk management

Multi-purpose shelter task force
Multi-purpose shelter task force. Photo Credit: World Bank
These three coastal states have demonstrated effective models of community partnership and ownership around Multi-purpose Cyclone Shelters through the creation of Cyclone Shelter Management and Maintenance Committees that comprise of a collaboration of both local government and the community members in running the shelters during normal times.
We charge a fee of 1000 rupees for girl’s marriages and 2000 rupees for boy’s marriages when conducted in the shelter. We use this money for shelter maintenance”, K. Laxmi, secretary of the Velugu women self-help group and member of the multi-purpose cyclone shelter committee in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh
In addition, each of these states have also created task forces for search, rescue and first aid attached to each shelter and have also ensured a 50% participation of women in these groups.
In the event of a cyclone, we make an announcement in the villages. We gather everyone – with attention to elderly, differently abled, women and children – in the shelter. First aid is administered to the injured Dhanalakshmi, Search and Rescue Task Force volunteer, Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu.
Ensuring equal access to information and skills, strengthens women’s individual capacities and the capacity of the community to meet challenges that emerge from disasters – to be more resilient in the face of recurring hazards and to help ensure that hazards do not turn into disasters.  This was well demonstrated in Odisha’s success in evacuating 1 million people, prior to the landfall of Cyclone Phailin in 2013, and ensured minimal causalities.
If I was not trained as part of the Search and Rescue [Village Disaster Risk Management Team], I would have thought that there are certain things that only men can do during a disaster, but not nowPadmaja, Task-force volunteer, Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu
As the Road2Resilience coastal mission came to an end, my interactions revealed that women are increasingly taking on the initiative to lead in managing disasters. This is certainly a departure from the traditional view of women as just home-makers. However, there are challenges in breaking traditional stereotypes and developing the capacities of women.  One clear message from the journey is that by creating the space needed for including women in decision making not only builds on the women’s individual capacities to respond during disasters, but also gives an opportunity (for communities and States alike) to utilize women’s potential as sources of mitigating and managing disasters.
Eilia Jafar
March 10, 2016

Thanks for this blog. Well captured role of women in taking a lead role in managing disasters. It would be interesting to know the sustainability of such models. When did the project get over? There are many examples found and documented immediately after a project gets over. Unless and until, there is a strengthening and inclusion at local governance level, such interventions fail to sustain.
Experience has shown that such committees, in order to be sustainable, should have a purpose that goes beyond disaster preparedness. It should be of relevance to them in their day to day activities and development agenda.

Malini Nambiar
April 11, 2017

Thank you Eilia for taking the time to read the blog. You are right that "unless there is inclusion in the local government, such efforts are not sustainable". It is a rare occasion that during the project cycle itself (National Cyclone Mitigation Project -I) in Odisha, these committees/ groups were put to test in 2013 cyclone where they were able to evacuate close to a million people to safety and achieve minimal casualties, unlike the experience of super cyclone of 1999. Today, in Odisha, the coastal communities and committees at the village level themselves are confident that they can meet any hazard, their voices resound "Let the cyclone come, We are prepared". While in the state of Tamil Nadu, committees and the communities are involved in participating in the village level disaster plans and linking them to development plans as well as schemes. Sustainability is a challenge, no doubt, but there are visible impacts and success stories within the coastal states of India.

semina kafle
December 21, 2016

I am writing on behalf of Flood Resilience portal
Thanks for effective write-up and bringing together the importance of leadership of women in disaster management.
Flood Resilience portal is an effort to bring together the knowledge on flood resilience from every corner. We are looking forward to use your blog in our blog section giving link to the original source. You can visit the blog section of Flood Resilience Portal to view how it works. Please let us know the possibility of using the blog as we find it very effective for the implementer audience Flood Resilience Portal is targeted on.

Malini Nambiar
April 11, 2017

Thank you Semina for taking the time to read the blog. Please also view the impact stories featuring in GFDRR portal

Muthukrishnan TNSDMA
March 09, 2017

I am happy to see this blog. All visuals are in self explanatory to find inner thoughts of women in taking a lead role in managing disasters and strengthening to facing the disaster situation. It will be prior initiatives by WB people. coz, the power of changing the world (Bank)

Malini Nambiar
April 11, 2017

Thank you Muthukrishnan for taking the time to read and respond to my blog. Women leadership in disaster preparedness and mitigation is visible due to a large role played by the State as well as the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA). It would be good to hear from you the role of women in the Chennai Floods (Tamil Nadu).