By Richard Waddington
Women from across Latin America and the Caribbean came together on October 13, the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), for the virtual launch of this regional network to unite in their efforts to reduce and mitigate risks and ultimately prevent disasters in the region.
Through the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Women for Disaster Risk Reduction, women and girls will come together to share experiences, ideas and innovative and transformative solutions to the challenges posed by disaster risk in one of the most hazard-prone areas of the world.
At the time of the official launch, more than 700 women from all age groups and from 28 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean had signed up for the network. They include representatives of national and local governments, United Nations system agencies, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, the media and civil society.
“It is so important that this network creates a space for the exchange of information, mutual support and knowledge that can influence disaster risk policies in the region,” said Raul Salazar, head of the Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
Disaster reduction is especially important in Latin America and the Caribbean, where one in four of the world’s disasters occur and where almost 300 million people have been affected by these catastrophic events in the past 20 years.
Panellists highlighted that even though they are frequently first responders when disasters strike, women continue to face regular discrimination in preparedness, prevention, response and recovery efforts.
Maria-Noel Vaeza, Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean of UN Women; Claudia Herrera, Executive Secretary of the Coordination Centre for Disaster Prevention in Central America and the Dominican Republic (CEPREDENAC); and Tania Triminio Quintanilla, Director of the Honduran Green Cross; through their different perspectives, stressed the need to foster the leadership roles of women in disaster risk reduction.
Although particularly vulnerable in times of disaster, women have demonstrated time and again to be highly effective protagonists when it comes to prevention. Women in local communities bring to the equation invaluable insight for effective disaster risk reduction action, yet far too often they are ignored when decisions are being taken, panellists said. “The only effective response to disaster risk is to recognise that women must take a central part in decisions,” said Maria-Noel Vaeza.
Increased knowledge sharing through this network will undoubtedly strengthen the role of women and their ability to exert influence.
Participants in the launch also highlighted the opportunity for sharing of knowledge within the upcoming VII Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas and the Caribbean. This important virtual four-day conference, which starts on November 1st, is being hosted by the Government of Jamaica under the theme – Building Resilient Economies.
COVID-19 has in many cases worsened the situation for women. Not only have they often suffered more economically from the crisis, but restrictions placed in response to the pandemic have triggered a rise in domestic violence against women and girls as well as their disparate access to essential services in many countries, the panellists added.
The particular vulnerability of women and girls but perhaps, more importantly, their role as agents of change is highlighted in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the global roadmap for disaster risk reduction adopted in 2015.
Among the key aims of this new network are the promotion of women-led and women-centred synergies and collaboration as well as in the fostering of national and regional collaboration on disaster risk. To substantially enhance international cooperation to developing countries through adequate and sustainable support is the theme of this year’s international day for disaster risk reduction. This focus along with the remarkable transformative potential of women for enhancing cooperation was inherently evident throughout today’s launch.
“Women may have borne the brunt of the global pandemic in many ways, but this has only sharpened their understanding of disaster risk and accentuated their importance as drivers of change. Whether as heads of household or heads of State, women have excelled in their response to the global pandemic” Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said in her video address.
This virtual launch event was organized jointly by the regional offices and representatives of the Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR), UN Women and UNDRR. The network itself presents a unique opportunity in the Americas and the Caribbean for a gender-sensitive and truly transformative disaster risk informed sustainable development agenda.