Leave No Woman Behind: the vital role women play in disaster planning and responses

stone_sharman_thumb By Hon Dr Sharman Stone, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls

Over the past year, a few simple words like “#TimesUp” and “#MeToo” have inspired tens of thousands of women around the world to share their stories and advocate their rights.

As the movement continues in 2018, I’m keen to use my role as Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls to ensure that women living in Australia’s Pacific region have their own unique experiences heard.

This International Women’s Day, it is the powerful voices of Pacific women that I’d like to share and amplify.

It is also one of the reasons why UN Women Australia’s theme for this International Women’s Day, “Leave No Woman Behind”, is right for our time.

Australia is committed to placing the needs of women and girls at the centre of our disaster responses.

In order to ‘leave no woman behind’ in the Pacific, we must seek to address the distinct needs of women and girls in humanitarian contexts, who are often disproportionately impacted by crises.

Women are often the first responders to a crisis, and they play a central role in the survival and resilience of communities. But existing inequalities can be compounded by disasters.

A photograph of two women
Vea Aniseko from the National Emergency Management Office (right) and Akesiu Leua Kautoke from Climate Change owrked tirelessly after Cyclone Gita to get aid where it was needed most

Globally, women are at far greater risk than men of dying or being injured in a disaster.  Women also face increased risks of sexual and gender-based violence, and unequal access to food, water and medical assistance.

In the Pacific, the risk to women and girls is enhanced by the frequency of natural disasters and the difficultly of providing critical services for women in remote locations.

At the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, Australia committed to increase our funding to build community resilience, with the full and effective participation of women.

This commitment is now a reality, through a new AUD 50 million initiative under the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, Disaster READY, which is working to strengthen disaster preparedness across the Pacific and Timor Leste for the next five years.

This new program recognises and responds to the differences in how women and men prepare for, and are affected by, disasters. It will increase women’s participation in disaster planning, as well as safeguard the basic rights of women and girls.

Though smaller in scale, I’m equally proud of the work we are funding through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program to help groups like femLINKpacific run important programs like Women’s Weather Watch.

Led by Pacific women, this community radio network uses mobile radio to amplify voices and connect with diverse women across Fiji.  During Cyclone Winston, Women’s Weather Watch helped thousands of rural communities understand what was to come and prepare for their response and their recovery.

Funding reproductive health services during humanitarian crises is another area where Australia is helping women recover and rebuild their lives. To Australia, this is a critical part of any humanitarian response.

These health services are often underfunded during crises, leaving women and girls vulnerable to preventable illness and death.

Since 2007, Australia has committed $26.3 million to International Planned Parenthood Federation’s SPRINT initiative, which has responded to 67 humanitarian crises, reaching over one million people.

We also support the United Nations Population Fund to preposition reproductive health supplies in countries across our region. These supplies were recently used to ensure the specific health and safety needs of Tongan women were met following tropical cyclone Gita.

At this historic time for women’s rights globally, I can’t think of a more relevant time to reflect on the vital role women play in disaster response and recovery than this International Women’s Day in 2018.

A photograph of a group of people

As Australia takes up its seat on the UN Human Rights Council in 2018, we will work tirelessly to ensure that no one is left behind in global discussions on women’s rights, and that Pacific women too have their experiences heard.

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