Ms. Vasiti Soko is the Director of the National Disaster Management Office for the Government of Fiji. She is the first woman to hold this position, and also a recipient of the inaugural 2021 Women’s International Network for Disaster Risk Reduction (WIN DRR) Leadership Award. We asked her about the vital role women's leadership has for effective disaster risk reduction and resilience.
What is your role in building disaster risk resilience?
As the custodian of the Fiji National Disaster Risk Reduction policy, the Office is responsible for mainstreaming disaster risk reduction (DRR) activities across governments, decision making, and projects. So what we do is work with other Ministries and introduce the concept of DRR and make sure that the government objectives and goals are embedded into their policies but also in the work that they do which includes project initiatives and anything to do with risk informing projects as well as development. So we work with our partners including NGOs and CSOs to advocate for DRR and application of a "risk lens" to all interventions, to reduce the need for our humanitarian work.
How can women’s leadership reduce vulnerability?
Women's leadership can be advanced by introducing platforms where they can contribute. But most importantly, those that are already in leadership roles should be further supported. Winning the WIN DRR 2021 Leadership Award was a great platform where women are recognised for the roles that they play in disaster risk reduction.
Further to that, the importance of introducing policies that are inclusive, that take into account women’s contributions. This is important for anyone who's holding a leadership role - to ensure policies are inclusive. Simple things like when you're announcing early warnings. You have an interpreter beside you so that they can also communicate those key messages out to those who need it. Supporting a community emergency committee for response at the community level – making sure that this is representative of women in those communities. So it's these small changes that influence the bigger picture. So for me personally, when it comes to DRR and women's leadership, it's about making changes where the impact is more meaningful.
How have women reduced risks and increased resilience?
Women are really leading the space that we are working in. What’s important for me personally is partnerships. No one is an island. You can't do this work on this field that we're in on your own. Therefore, it is important to have those that are already working in the field with you build relationships and also share lessons learned. It's very critical.
These lessons learned are also critical for any work that we do at the community level. Usually for the Fijian Government, after we conduct a response we do an after action review where we see what happened – what was successful, what didn't go so well – to find ways that we can improve. Through this after action review, we identify the flaws, we go back and try and improve it in our next response.
Now what I've personally done, is worked with colleagues of mine to set up a group of women who are already leaders in their own fields of disaster management. Just having a sit down and sharing lessons learned and sharing ideas on how we can improve the work that we do. So this women's resilient group is a network of women. We do this on our own free time. We discuss how we can improve our leadership skills and building resilience – or in this case risk informing our community development.
What advice do you have for women entering the disaster risk reduction field?
I believe for us women there's a lot of preconceived ideas, before you even say yes. So my message to women is take the risk, come out of your comfort zone, and lead in these different fields that we're in. I always say even though I'm the first woman to hold the position of Director of NDMO, I should not be the last. So I have to set the standard to ensure that I don't spoil it for those that will come after me. Systems and processes are very critical to ensuring that the policies are comprehensive enough that they cover the presence of women, the presence of inclusivity, and most importantly having an influence on the younger generation. If I can do it, anyone – any woman, any girl – can also do the same thing. My message to women, or young girls who are listening in, is simply: come out of your comfort zone and try something different.
How can we increase women’s leadership in disaster risk reduction?
I think there's a lot of policies that still need to have the integration of gender and inclusivity. The sectors where DRR is relevant are many and so ensuring that these thematic areas of DRR capture the importance of gender inclusivity is important. That would be my message. Ensuring that cross-cutting all thematic areas where DRR is involved, that there’s always a gender lens – training policies, during projects, and initiatives – so that it gives an enabling environment for women to participate.