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Fighting inequality for a resilient future

October 13 marks the international day for Disaster Risk Reduction, held every year since 1989, after a call by the United Nations General Assembly for a day to promote a global culture of risk-awareness and disaster reduction. The day is meant to acknowledge how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters and raising awareness about the risks we face. This year’s theme is Fighting inequality for a resilient future, which aligns with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Disasters affect people in the society differently. Women, girls, boys and men, youth, elderly, people with disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities all have different needs, vulnerabilities and priorities in disasters. The ability to prepare for, withstand and cope with disasters are therefore not equal for all.

- At the core, a gender and human rights perspective in Disaster Risk Management is about making sure that we, as DRM actors, carry out our work in a way respond to the needs and realities of the people we seek to serve, that we include them and listen to them. If we think about the diversity of needs, experiences, and priorities that we find in a population, it’s quite easy to see that a one-size-fits-all approach is likely to fail, says Jenny Molin, Gender Advisor at the Resilient Building Section at MSB.

Marginalized groups in a society already experience a challenging situation before a disaster. When disasters strike, their situation typically gets worse and they are disproportionately at risk and vulnerable. To address how existing social inequalities shapes the impacts of disasters and to make sure no one is left behind in DRM efforts, a gender and human rights perspective is a the centre of all work in the EU funded LACER project.

The LACER Project has always considered issues of gender and inclusiveness as quite central to its objective of capacity development. The Project was explicitly designed to enhance gender awareness and inclusiveness in disaster risk management across ASEAN. Through mainstreaming with a particular focus on the vulnerabilities of women, children and PWDs, cross-cutting issues such as gender and diversity could be integrated into LACER activities and covered during specific thematic sessions.

At the outset of the project, LACER’s cross-cutting activities were focussed on desktop reviews of AHA Centre policy documents from the perspective of gender, making recommendations on how to mainstream gender into the workplace and strengthen gender awareness in the day-to-day procedures of the organisation. This more limited approach was in large measure obliged by the Covid pandemic which restricted travel and in-person meetings with counterparts in Southeast Asia. Gender Advisor Olga Bezbozhna joined the LACER team at a propitious moment. The pandemic was reaching an end, creating the environment for a quantitative and qualitative leap in the type of gender and inclusion activities in which the LACER Project could engage. This became quickly apparent, as it was soon possible to visit the ASEAN region and observe live exercises and trainings; LACER also began initiating and leading capacity development activities dedicated to gender.

A second factor which contributed to the boost in LACER impact in the area of gender was the launch of the ASEAN Regional Framework on Protection, Gender, and Inclusion in Disaster Management 2021-2025. This policy framework articulates a common vision for promoting PGI in disaster management across the region, as well as improving the implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER). ASEAN thus made a significant commitment to PGI but there was clearly much work ahead to realise this objective and it required broad support from other actors to integrate PGI into disaster management. Two particular themes emerged where contributions were necessary: finding entry points for collaboration between National Disaster Management Organizations and organizations working on gender and inclusion issues; and secondly, supporting ASEAN Member States in setting priorities, indicators, and targets for measuring progress in PGI at both the national and regional level.

LACER’s Olga Bezbozhna was able to capitalise at this point, designing and implementing activities that could aptly address these needs. In 2022, Olga completed a review of the Course Curriculum for ASEAN-ERAT Level 1, providing feedback and recommendations on how PGI can be further integrated into the program of the training for deployable field staff. Based on these strong results, Olga was invited by ASEAN in to facilitate and co-lead an ASEAN Exchange Forum on the collection and use of disaggregated data in disaster response. The event, held in February in Vietnam, generated awareness on existing regional commitments relevant to data disaggregation, while also facilitating the exchange of challenges and best practises for collecting, analysing, and utilising disaggregated data by sex, age, disability, and other socio-cultural and economic characteristics.

In August of 2023, Olga was invited to observe the large ASEAN regional disaster response exercise (ARDEX) providing recommendations on how to optimise integration of PGI into exercise planning and development. Once again the LACER expert was able to draw attention to exercise conditions and circumstances that do not fully take into account the different roles and vulnerabilities of women, men, girls, boys and PWDs. This holds the potential for greatly improved exercise planning in future, if the recommendations are addressed.

- Biological factors play a role in determining who is affected. For example, we may experience a specific vulnerability due to our age. But more importantly, we see that social norms and pre-existing inequalities in the society, and especially gender inequality, strongly shapes who is affected and in what way, says Jenny Molin. - -If we think about the diversity of needs, experiences, and priorities that we find in a population, it’s quite easy to see that a one-size-fits-all approach is likely to fail.