Dr. Riyanti Djalante is the Assistant Director for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, at the ASEAN Secretariat in Indonesia. We asked her about the vital role women's leadership has in effective disaster risk reduction.
I am Riyanti Djalante, Assistant Director/Head of the Division of Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance of the ASEAN Secretariat.
How can women’s leadership reduce vulnerability?
Women are half of the population and we know globally there continues to be significantly more men than women at the most senior level of humanitarian leadership. During my 10 years working in the field and working with women leaders at all levels – from community to regional to international levels – I have seen how having diverse leadership in DRR can reduce vulnerability to disasters and climate change. They are critical actors in effectively managing risks and in designing and implementing programmes that build the resilience of all of their communities. Having women as leaders on a disaster risk assessment team, for example, can draw out different voices that highlight different dimensions of disaster risk and adaptive capacity.
At the community level, doing risk assessment, time is very important. To be able to get the perspective of women, we need to do it at the time while they are working at home or even returning from work in the afternoon. So this issue is very important. Moreover, at the national/regional level, women leaders are effective in fostering cooperation across sectors to reduce risk, and often bringing sectors such as social welfare and health into the critical disaster risk agenda. One of example of this is the ASEAN establishment of the technical working group on protection, gender and inclusion, which brings in not only a CDM but the health sectors and social development sectors.
How have you, as a woman leader, reduced risks and increased resilience?
I started my journey in disaster management and disaster risk reduction following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. At that time i was working for the local government in Indonesia. A lot of local government members died in Aceh, the region most affected. So at that time, I asked myself: What if that happens in other regions in Indonesia? How would local leaders, or including women leaders, help to reduce these risks? This is when I realized that we need greater involvement of women leaders in disaster risk reduction. Also, from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, we know that a lot more women and girls died from the disaster. So this must be something that we understand.
Also, I have been involved in research on disaster risk reduction. I want to make sure that the gender considerations of the impacts of disasters are known, but also the potential active role of women and girls to contribute to disaster risk management. One small thing that I made sure of during my time doing research is quoting female authors within my academic journal that I wrote. So now, even in our current roles as a practitioners working for the ASEAN Secretariat, we want to ensure that female leaders from different Member States and DMOs are contributing actively in the room – that their roles are being recognized – and also ensuring that female officers who are working are on the way up, and are being recognized and being part of the conversation.
What are the barriers to women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction?
Of course, there are still a lot of barriers to women leadership in DRR. But we also see a lot of opportunities. Society needs to ensure that women take those opportunities – deal with the barriers, but also work with the opportunities. So, although we have seen stronger representation of women in management and leadership in recent years, many women are still working against rigid gender norms. They may not see themselves as leaders and that makes it harder for them to reach higher leadership positions. Often in Search and Rescue, or the response side of disaster management, male roles are more feasible and they are also perceived as a man's job, even if there are qualified women working in these roles. Moreover, we see the need for targeted strategies to support and retain women in workplaces; For example, providing dedicated mentorship, leadership training, career development opportunities.
Of course, in the time of COVID, we know that women, while still working at home, also contributed to a lot more household work. So a different understanding of office systems is needed. Working from home may differ between male and women staff. So operationally, we also see how disaster management careers are not always built to accommodate care responsibility in the household. And we see this a lot during COVID 19 time. It's often harder for women to leave children and elderly parents that they have to care for, for extended missions in emergency response. It is something that not only has to be dealt with, but also we need to ensure that all these household needs are taken care of.
How can we enable and accelerate women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction?
First of all, I would like to highlight the need for a paradigm shift from seeing women as victims of disasters, to seeing them as active agents of change, and as leaders. At the regional level, there's an excellent platform to share what works for women leadership. Last year, the ASEAN Secretariat with UN Women, UNDRR and IFRC organized a roundtable that showcased the enablers for leadership of women, youth, persons with disabilities, in disaster management. So I want to underscore the importance of high level political will, commitment, and recognition of women leadership and the critical role it plays.
For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed this commitment in many ways. We had the ASEAN Women's Leadership Summit in 2020. During this time, our leaders committed to place women's leadership and contributions at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery, also highlighting significant roles in building a more cohesive, dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive ASEAN.
Secondly, we advocate for adopting targets in DRR related to women's leadership at ASEAN – for example, in its regional framework on protection, gender and inclusion in disaster management. The framework adopted a target action on institutionalizing leadership of women, children, youth, the elderly, the poor, people with disabilities in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and promotes their full and equal participation in decision-making.
Thirdly, on the note of monitoring progress towards such targets, and putting in place dedicated strategies to accelerate progress towards their achievement.
And finally, I would like to highlight the importance of establishing accessible opportunities and pathways for young women in DRR for career development, skill-building and mentorship.