Today is the United Nations International Day for Disaster Reduction. This year’s theme is Women and Girls – the [in]Visible Force of Resilience.
The rural poor suffer greatly from disasters of all kinds every year. It is because of their poverty and often precarious living conditions that they are particularly vulnerable. In many of Heifer International’s projects, we provide training and support in Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) Efforts.
Gender roles vary widely between cultures. Although women’s social, economic and cultural position in many societies makes them more vulnerable to natural hazards, they are important agents for change, development and advocacy. For more than four years, Heifer Philippines has worked hard to incorporate women in disaster reduction efforts.
Students perform a disaster drill as part of their Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction Plan. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.
Evelyn Martinez, 39, is a mother, wife, village leader, educator and ardent advocate of CMDRR in Lamba, a coastal village in Legazpi City, Albay. Lamba is a quaint village of 1,286 residents who have suffered countless typhoons, floods, landslides and the fury of the most active volcano in the country, Mayon Volcano. Mayon’s eruptions in December 2009 displaced 12,000 people, causing serious, longterm damage.
“We lacked knowledge and skills, we just left everything to fate, we were scared and helpless, we just looked at these hazards face on and admitted to ourselves that there was nothing we could do to help ourselves. Looking back, our community just realized that lack of knowledge is vulnerability, and vulnerability kills. When Heifer came to our community and extensively trained us on CMDRR, life was never again the same. We are no longer vulnerable, because we understand everything that needs to be done before, during and after hazard events.”
Evelyn became very active in all disaster reduction trainings. In fact, she was chosen to be the CMDRR committee chairwoman in their barangay (village). She is one of the most knowledgeable resource speakers on disaster reduction in Lamba. She trains other project members, other communities, academics and anybody who wants to learn from Lamba’s disaster reduction experience.
Evelyn shares the risk and capacity map, indicating families living in high-risk areas and where families should go for safety during a disaster. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.
Heifer Philippines’ view on gender roles in disaster reduction is elaborately explained in one of the United Nations documentation on Women and DRR, to wit:
Women and children are particularly affected by disasters, accounting for more than seventy five percent of displaced persons. In addition to the general effects of natural disaster and lack of health care, women are vulnerable to reproductive and sexual health problems, and increased rates of sexual and domestic violence. Moreover, gender roles dictate that women become the primary caretakers for those affected by disasters – including children, the injured and sick, and the elderly – substantially increasing their emotional and material work load. Women’s vulnerability is further increased by the loss of men and/or livelihoods, especially when a male head of household has died and the women must provide for their families. Post disaster stress symptoms are often but not universally reported more frequently by women than men.
With this reality, the Heifer project families of Lamba took specific gender roles in relation to disaster reduction to heart. Before and during typhoons, Evelyn and the women in the community:
- Secure family assets, clothing and important documents
- Prepare food, medicine and first aid kits
- Prepare other members of the family, especially children, pregnant or nursing mothers, the disabled and the elderly, to evacuate if needed
Older children are tasked with assisting their mothers in food preparation, taking care of younger siblings, running needed errands ensuring their own safety.
These roles are clearly defined and well explained to all families. When facilitating trainings, Evelyn ensures nobody is left out. Everyone has a role to play and can contribute, no matter their conditions.
These roles were put to the test when a strong typhoon hit the community in 2010. Everyone remained safe.
In addition to specific disaster risk reduction trainings from Heifer, the overall improvements in families’ livelihoods has dramatically increased their resilience. Self-help groups form savings groups to ensure that no matter what happens, after each hazard event, the community can easily bounce back. They also plant climate-resistant crops such as sweet potatoes and other root crops to have a secure food supply. They have planted mangroves along coastal areas near their community, which act as windbreakers, protecting the village from destructive winds.
Heifer project participants plant mangroves in Lamba as part of the community's Disaster Risk Reduction efforts. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.
“Preparedness is the key. We cannot be complacent. Hazards can come anytime. We are prepared, and we know what to do”, Evelyn proudly shared.
“We used to lack knowledge and skills on how to deal with hazards and were always scared out of our wits whenever the typhoon season came, leaving our livelihoods and our very lives to fate. Damage from typhoons caused more hardships to our already poor community. Through the Heifer project, we learned a lot from the Cornerstones and through trainings such as CMDRR. We learned how to take care of our livelihoods and safeguard our lives against disasters and avoid suffering the indignity of just waiting for relief. We have become a disaster resilient community.”