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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’ survival.

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 Community

Road map


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 consultation.

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 manmade disasters.

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 world.

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 disasters.

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.

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