Women’s role in Disaster Risk Reduction
Gender, like governance, is a key cross cutting issue that underlies
all aspects of development. It is worthy of our serious and sustained
attention. Gender equality does not merely mean equal rights for men and
women and non-discrimination based on gender. It also requires
empowerment and the achievement of parity of status in participating in
and contributing to development.
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe
We have now come to recognize that Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is a
critical component of development planning. I therefore see gender
issues, governance, sustainable development and Disaster Risk Reduction
as inextricably linked facets of any national policy framework. It is by
recognizing the importance and value of affording men and women equal
opportunities to contribute to DRR, governance and development that we
can ensure that the global goals enunciated in the Millennium
Development Goals and the Hyogo Framework can be fully met.
It is especially gratifying that this forum is convened in the
People’s Republic of China. Since 1949, China has made great strides in
working towards the full equality of men and women. Not merely limiting
itself to the precept in your Constitution:
“Women in the People’s Republic of China enjoy equal rights with men
in all spheres of life, political, economic, cultural, and social,
including family life,” successive Governments have made the achievement
of equality an integral part of national policy. In 1949, China set up
the All-China Women’s Federation, our co-host, which has evolved into
the leading organization for safeguarding women’s rights and interests.
Through a series of executive and legislative measures starting with
the first piece of legislation - the Marriage Law - China’s women have
been empowered to play a more active and productive role in national
development. In working towards a gendered approach to DRR, we can all
draw from the experiences of China, and through this forum and others
like it, exchange views on key themes and best practices which will be
of benefit to all countries.
Evolving a strategy
The United Nations International Secretariat for Disaster Reduction
(UN-ISDR), has drawn on a number of country-specific best practices
which provide examples of possible measures that are instructive and
useful. These good practices form the basis for evolving a strategy for
a better understanding of gender-based volunerabilities.
This understanding will enable us to develop and implement
initiatives that will enable us draw on the combined strengths of men
and women to not only address vulnerabilities but also to assist in
relief and recovery.
This is why this event is of such special significance. We are
members of a common human family and can, through this forum, bring our
collective wisdom to bear on a matter of extreme importance which is a
challenge we must overcome for our present and future generations’
In Sri Lanka our immediate focus is on DRR which encompasses
prevention, preparedness and mitigation within a broad context of
development. Every investment in effective DRR can potentially save
millions expended on relief, recovery and reconstruction. In this
effort, we must ensure inclusiveness and participation of all segments
of our societies in DRR. This is why decentralization, subsidiarity and
The role of women in peace-building, conflict resolution and
reconstruction was recognized in 2000 by UN
Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) forms the core of my country,
Sri Lanka’s, national framework on disaster risk management which is
contained in a 10-year ‘road map’ which we devised after broad national
This road map was developed in close cooperation with our
international partners - notably the United Nations Development Program.
One fundamental aspect of our national strategy is to evolve
institutional mechanisms from village-level committees to district
committees and national level bodies mandated to address issues
connected with disaster risk management.
A particular feature of the village-level committees is the
participation of women. There is room for improvement, but we are
greatly encouraged by the initial outcomes we have accomplished.
Secondly, we must pay sufficient attention to the macro-level legal
and policy framework with regard to the participation of women in
matters of public and national importance. Although, like China, Sri
Lanka has a constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law,
non-discrimination based on sex and even a provision that supports
special measures to uplift women in our Constitution, although we have a
detailed Women’s Charter, we have yet to achieve the levels of women’s
participation in governance and development that we would wish to see.
Despite having a dedicated Government Ministry for Women’s Affairs
and Empowerment for decades, the achievement of MDG Goal number three:
“Promote gender equality and empower women”,remains a challenge for Sri
Lanka which we are working hard to overcome.
Our advances in other key areas which means that we are largely on
track to achieving the MDGs, must inspire us to greater effort in
dealing with this issue. Speaking as the Minister for Human Rights, the
Ministry is including gender issues in our national planning processes
and we hope to make a positive impact in this area.
We have also included specific proposals relating to
gender-sensitivity of DRM initiatives in our road map that adverted to
earlier. Thirdly, we must not only focus on women’s role in relation to
natural disasters but also draw on both men and women in dealing with
The tsunami of 2004 brought disaster management to the fore as a key
national priority. Despite our legal framework recognizing both
categories of disasters, natural disasters have occupied most of our
attention. Conflict, terrorism and civil strife are sociological
disasters which, together with technological diasters, form a vital
challenge which threatens not only individual nations but the entire
The role of women
The role of women in peace-building, conflict resolution and
reconstruction was recognized in 2000 by the UN Security Council when it
adopted the landmark Resolution 1325. It is my view that greater
attention need to be paid to women’s potential role in human-made
disaster risk reductions especially in relation to sociological
Community, regional and national level dispute resolution and ethnic
integration efforts would benefit enormously from greater participation
by women. As Sri Lanka emerges from its long battle with terrorism which
we have finally been able to overcome, the role of women in building
peace and reconstructing our nation is of vital importance.
The principal driver that will enable all these positive developments
that we all wish for, is attitudinal change. The broad understanding
that gender does not mean merely women’s rights but, rather, a better
understanding of vulnerabilities and strengths and the maximization of
potential and opportunities for both men and women with collective
benefits in mind, must be fostered. Sensitization, capacity building and
advocacy must take precedence, particularly in dealing with these issues
in an Asian context.
As we engage in what is sure to be a candid, cordial and fruitful
dialogue over the next two days I am sure that we will be able to concur
on structured, practical and productive measures that we can implement
nationally for the benefit of all our peoples.