Girls in Andhra Pradesh, India, practice rescue skills using a bamboo life-raft
Photo: Sanjit Das/ActionAid
Saturday 13th October 2012 is International Disaster Reduction Day. The day is celebrated annually to raise awareness of what we can all do to reduce our risk to disasters. With a number of major disasters hitting the headlines this year – including the drought and food crisis in West Africa and the Sahel – the message is more relevant than ever.
This year, the day is focusing on the role that women and girls can play in making their communities better prepared for disasters. Evidence shows that women living in poverty and exclusion are disproportionately affected by disasters – they are hardest hit and take longest to recover.
But ActionAid’s experience indicates that, given the opportunity, women and girls can make significant contributions to disaster reduction efforts.
We know that women and girls suffer the most during emergencies. Pre-existing discrimination and cultural norms mean that they are less able to protect themselves during emergencies, and are often excluded from the decision-making processes that guide the recovery phase of the response,
explains Bijay Kumar, Head of ActionAid’s International Emergencies and Crises Team.
“But women are also usually the first to respond to disasters – rescuing relatives and helping care for the injured. Supporting them to lead the response – by heading up relief distribution committees, engaging with local officials and learning new skills in disaster prevention – can help transform the power imbalances that put them at greater risk from disasters in the first place.”
ActionAid’s ground-breaking Disaster Risk Reduction through Schools project, implemented in 9 countries between 2005-2010, recognised the unique potential of children - particularly girls - to act as “agents of change”; children just like 7 year old Lamia Akter, who saved her family from Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh after participating in training at her school on what to do in the event of a disaster.
“This year, we are delighted to be commemorating International Disaster Reduction Day, and celebrating with people across the world the achievements of women and girls in making their communities safer,” concludes Kumar.