"For too long, women have been more particularly affected by disasters due to social roles, discrimination and poverty. Furthermore, their role and capacities in disaster risk reduction are not sufficiently recognized. Yet, UNESCO believes that all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender are violations of human rights and recognizes women and girls as powerful agents of change," said Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General.
Loss of lives, suffering and damage due to disasters in many parts of the world are a constant reminder of our vulnerability to natural hazards. Yet much of these tragic consequences could be avoided through risk awareness and assessment, improved environmental management and urban planning, preparedness and education, to name a few. Disaster risk reduction is about understanding our personal and environmental risks of a hazard and finding ways to reduce this risk so that we are not affected by them, or are able to recover quickly.
On 13 October, we celebrate the International Day for Disaster Reduction as a reminder that disaster resilience must be a development priority in all parts of the world. This year’s celebration focuses on the role of women and girls in reducing disasters risks, drawing attention to the fact that their efforts to protect and rebuild their communities before and after disasters are often unrecognized and that 'invisibility' is a socio-cultural construct. This must be an opportunity to celebrate achievements made by women and girls in disaster resilience and mobilize against the challenges that still prevent them from playing an even greater role in disaster risk reduction and against the future risks which make them particularly vulnerable.
A resilient community is a gender-sensitive community
Gender equality is a red thread weaving through all UNESCO activities to promote international cooperation in education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. The Outcome Document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development -- Rio+20 – highlights the need for a sharper focus on disaster risk reduction and building resilience to disasters. It recognizes the need to integrate a gender perspective into the design and implementation of all phases of disaster risk management.
Gender inequality puts women, children and entire communities in danger when natural hazards strike. Gender inequality is a weak link - strengthening that link strengthens resilience. Equality begins with education and women’s education and empowerment, especially, is an accelerator for vulnerability reduction. Unless we invest in strengthening the role of women and girls in disaster resilience, natural disasters will be expected to increase in terms of frequency, complexity, scope and destructive capacity.
Women and Girls are the pillars of resilience - they are the first to prepare their families for a disaster and the first to put communities back together in the aftermath.