Thai older women as village security guards? And what has it got to do with disaster risk reduction?
By Ines Smyth, Oxfam Gender Advisor (standing on the left)
I have just been the opening of a week of activities held in Bangkok as collaboration between ISDR and ASEAN (AADMER) to mark International Disaster Risk Reduction Day, with the theme: Women and Girls: the [in]Visible Force in DRR.
One of the most surprising encounters has been with a group of older women who add to their function as DRR volunteers that of security guards in their villages. Armed only with their distinctive red torches they patrol in groups their communities, to increase safety not only from natural but also very much from human risks (burglaries etc.). As one of them demonstrated a very effective arm lock, I came away convinced that people in such communities can sleep a lot better knowing that the volunteers watch against many different risks.
Exhibitions, speeches, presentations of research findings are all a reassuring sign of how much has changed since 2004, when John Twigg wrote in the Good Practice Review (of the Humanitarian Policy group):
‘..disaster mitigation and preparedness programmers have been slow to adopt a gender perspective, and their awareness of gender issues remains relatively limited’..…
The somewhat cryptic title of this year IDDR points to the fact that it is now obvious that doing DRR and doing it well is in a massive part about overcoming the tendency to look at women and girls as invisible and as ‘victims’ of disasters. This was brought home also by hearing about the work of the more than 600 medical assistants – 90% of whom are women – who operate in 500 villages in Chainat province as DRR volunteers and who in the recent floods provided intensive practical and physiological support to elderly people and many others.
As this and other many events being held across the world unfold (see www.oxfam.org.uk/IDDR) in the course of the week, we shall hear more and more the voices of the women and girls who are so active in preparing and responding to disasters. Women, men, boys and girls, all have the right to protection from disasters. Thus it is hoped that the current activities and events will mark the emergence of much more effective policies and measures to support women’s and girls’ contribution to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. This should include promoting their participation and leadership in relevant policy, planning and implementation processes and institutions, as well as international support to states to enable them to bring a gender focus into their DRR work.