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August 30, 2016

Workshop in Sri Lanka
"Gender and Diversity towards Disaster Resilient Communities"

The contents and degree of damage caused by natural disasters become different due to factors such as gender, age, or disabilities. Particularly in developing countries, death tolls are higher for women than for men, and the unemployment rates after disasters tend to become higher in women than in men. Thus, disasters do not impact all people in the same way, but people in more vulnerable positions, such as women, children, or elderly, are more seriously affected.[1]

For instance, a survey has revealed the following facts: due to at the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the tsunami that occurred off the coast of Sumatra, out of the total number of dead and missing persons 65% were women, and, female mortality rate revealed highest at 79% in the age group from 19–29 years[2]. This may relate to the fact that disaster prevention is considered to be a men's job in the community and women do not have sufficient knowledge concerning disasters and cannot make an evacuation decision alone.

A similar situation was observed at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. There was a climate in the disaster-struck area that men should make decisions, as and men perform distribution of relief supplies at evacuation shelters. Therefore, many cases have been reported in which women have had hard time obtaining underwear. In addition, due to the deep-rooted social norm that men should work outside the home and women should stay at home, many cases were observed where job creation for men was prioritized and women, particularly in female-headed households, face difficulties in the recovery of their livelihood.

Based on these experiences, the Japanese government announced the "Sendai Cooperation Initiative for Disaster Risk Reduction" in March 2015, during the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. In this Initiative, the importance of the participation of women in all stages of disaster prevention, disaster relief, and restoration and reconstruction is pointed out, and it proposes to provide support to promote women's leadership.[3]

Based on the above situations, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) implemented an invitation program on "Gender and Diversity in Disaster Risk Reduction" in March 2016. The participants in this invitation program have created an action plan for utilizing the results of the program in Japan. The Disaster Management Centre of Sri Lanka also planned this seminar, based on said action plan.

The Disaster Management Centre of Sri Lanka held a workshop on "Gender and Diversity towards Disaster Resilient Communities" for two days from July 27th to 28th, 2016, in Hotel Taj Samudra in Colombo, in collaboration with Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Affairs and Japan International Cooperation Agency , in order to adopt the perspective of gender and diversity in the National Disaster Management Plan that is currently being formulated.

In this workshop, not only the Ministry of Disaster Management, the Disaster management Centre, and the Ministry Ministry of Women and Child Affairs, but of governmental organizations including the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources Management, the Ministry of Finance, the Department of Census and Statistics, the Army, and the Navy (those involved in rescue), international organizations including the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), the World Bank, and the United Nations Children's Fund, University of Colombo, and NGOs participated. The number of participants was 107 (49 males, 58 females) for the first day, and 69 (30 males, 39 females) for the second day.

This is much more than the 50 participants that were originally expected by the Disaster Management Centre, indicating the high level of interest of the people of Sri Lanka in incorporating the perspective of gender and diversity in disaster risk reduction.

At the beginning of the first day of the seminar, the Minister of Disaster Management, the Minister of Women and Child Affairs, and Mr. Kenichi Suganuma the Ambassador for Japan in Sri Lanka, mentioned the importance of incorporating the perspective of gender and diversity into disaster risk reduction. Next, experts in gender and disaster risk reduction presented international discussions concerning the perspective of gender and diversity in disaster risk reduction and approaches related to gender and disaster risk reduction in Sri Lanka. In addition, Assistant Director-General Satoru Mimura of the Global Environment Department of JICA introduced the history of disasters in Japan and the approaches of JICA. During the panel discussion following the presentations by experts on women's leadership in disaster risk reduction, there was a remark from the audience echoing the importance of women's leadership, i.e., On the occasion of evacuation, men go to help people in the villages to evacuate, but Muslim women go into the houses. In such situation, women's role to lead other women to evacuate is important, either they are Muslim or in other religion.

During the second day of the workshop, the participants were divided into five groups and had a discussion about specific actions based on the problems or efforts in the actual disaster scenes. The following suggestions were made by the participants, not as policy level suggestions, but as actions that can actually be performed:

  1. Ministry of Disaster Management staff provides Ministry of Women and Child Affairs staff to be deployed to local communities with information related to disaster risk reduction, which is utilized for local disaster prevention.
  2. Utilize schools as places for disaster risk reduction education, not only for children but also for their parents and people in the community.
  3. Promote the improvement of media's knowledge and its ethics concerning disaster risk reduction reporting, and utilize the media for spreading disaster risk reduction information.
  4. Consider the participation of female military veterans in local Disaster Risk Reduction activities.

In the group discussion, there were specific and active remarks not only from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Ministry of Women and Child Affairs but also from the Department of Census and Statistics, researchers, the Navy (those involved in rescue),etc. In this workshop, participants from all walks of life spoke out based on their experiences, and active discussion was performed on issues and specific contributions concerning gender and diversity and disaster prevention. This workshop has not only contributed to the incorporation of the perspective of gender and diversity into the Disaster Risk Reduction plan of Sri Lanka, but has also become a place for learning not only for Sri Lanka but also for Japan.

PhotoThe number of participants that far exceeded expectations

PhotoA scene of a heated group discussion



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