TIMORESE WOMEN AS ACTIVE CHANGE-MAKERS IN DISASTER RISK REDUCTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION
13 October 2023
Dili — Timor-Leste is a small island developing state characterized by geophysical and hydrometeorological hazards compounded by existing socioeconomic vulnerabilities such as lack of coping capacities and poverty. Many populations residing in the coastal areas have been severely impacted due to sea level rise and climate change, forcing them to migrate in search of better places to live. Frequent flooding and landslides have also pushed people away from their homes.
"For many local authorities, considering women in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) planning means allocating budget for relief and response activities solely for women. However, the Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) training has shifted the paradigm to women’s empowerment in resilience and risk reduction agenda, transforming them from passive survivors to active change-makers," said Anita da Costa Soares, Youth representative of Batara village, Manatuto in Timor-Leste.
Disaster- and climate-induced displacements directly affect at-risk populations and disproportionately impact women and girls, as well as persons with disabilities and the LGBTQIA+ communities. During disasters, the risks of gender-based violence and trafficking in persons are further heightened due to inequality and vulnerabilities borne by the at-risk communities.
In 2021, tropical cyclone Seroja brought heavy rains that caused flooding, affecting over 178,000 individuals in 13 municipalities. Nearly half of the affected population (49 per cent) were women and girls. The pre-existing vulnerabilities of women, coupled with the flood risks, led to protection concerns, including gender-based violence and human trafficking.
Recognizing that inequality exacerbates vulnerability during emergencies, the community members residing in areas where they are prone and vulnerable to disasters recently participated in comprehensive workshops on community-based disaster risk management plan that underlined the importance of risk mapping and information management to ensure that marginalized groups, such as women, children and the elderly, have equal access to resources and are actively involved in decision-making processes.
The unique experiences women went through, especially at the local levels, provided them with powerful skills essential to active decision-making process in emergencies, as improving gender equality is crucial to strengthening national resilience to disasters. This includes the incorporation of protection risks into community-based disaster risk management, which addresses gender-based violence during disasters. The practice also challenges traditional gender norms and behaviour.
By prioritizing the needs of all community members, women established inclusive disaster preparedness initiatives. They also participated in formulating a community action plan that covers first aid, search and rescue, and evacuation procedures. Additionally, these efforts are complemented by livelihood trainings for economic empowerment, which challenge traditional gender roles and allow women to define their own aspirations. Equipping women with skills, knowledge and tools necessary to respond effectively in times of crisis therefore reduces their vulnerabilities, which may be compounded in emergency settings.
At the local levels, Village (Suco) Disaster Management Committees (SDMCs) play a substantial role in disaster risk reduction. SDMC leverage the essential contributions women make in information flow and exchange, with door-to-door awareness-raising campaigns being a crucial aspect of disaster risk reduction and prevention.
Through series of activities above, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) ensures that disaster risk reduction is gender-responsive, empowering women to have more active and participatory roles in the community they are part of. As such, gender-responsive disaster risk reduction can contribute to breaking the cycle of inequality.
“Thanks to the dedication of women towards fighting inequality and fostering resilience, communities in Timor-Leste have become a shining example of what can be achieved when we work collectively in one direction. The success done by these women demonstrates that, by prioritizing inclusivity and addressing inequalities in the disaster cycle, we can build a more resilient and sustainable future for all,” said Ihma Shareef, IOM Timor-Leste Chief of Mission.
The IOM’s emergency and post-crisis-related projects were made possible through the generous support of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) and the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).