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CEDAW Holds general discussion on gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination            
  against Women 

29 February 2016

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning held a general discussion on gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change. 

Yoko Hayashi, Committee Chairperson,  stated that Article 21 of the Convention provided the legal basis for the elaboration of general recommendations by the Committee.  Today’s consultation was the first step in the process of elaborating a general recommendation on gender-based dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change.

Nahla Haidar, Chair of the Committee’s Working Group on gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change, said that the Committee had over the previous two decades come across numerous instances of disasters disproportionately affecting women.  An important milestone included a Committee statement on climate change issued in 2009, in which it had called for all responses to disaster risk reduction to be gender-sensitive.

Ibrahim Salama, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that it was now recognized that the disproportionate impact that climate change would have on women and girls could be addressed through women’s empowerment and by achieving gender equality.  Robert Glasser, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, stated that the Sendai Framework stressed the importance of human rights and placed emphasis on each State’s responsibility to take actions to protect its own citizens.  Hubert Schillinger, Director of the Geneva Office of Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, said that responding to the gender dynamics present in each individual context provided the greatest chance of avoiding gender stereotyping and increasing resilience.

Margareta Wahlström, Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, emphasized that the Sendai Framework was a succinct and logical document, whose three key concepts were prevention, reduction and resilience.  Disaster risk reduction should not be confused with poverty reduction, as the former was not a substitute for the latter.  Elena Manaenkova, Assistant Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, said that national climate and weather services and disaster risk authorities should improve their understanding of the gender-specific impact of weather the produce and communicate gender-sensitive information in a comprehensive and effective manner.  Keiko Ikeda, expert on earthquake disasters and gender at the Shizuoka University, noted that the system, institutions and concept of disaster management should change in order to be ready to accept the idea of gender and diversity perspectives.

Palash Mondal, technical expert as CARE Bangladesh, gave examples of good practices which included having women volunteers for floods on board, sending flood alerts through mobile phones and including women in social mobilization. Asha Kambon, researcher and public policy expert, stressed that gender-blind policies for medium and long term recovery seemed to have become the norm, not the least because of the lack of adequate disaggregated data.

The following States parties took the floor: Japan, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Chile, France, Colombia and Gabon.  Non-governmental organizations which also spoke were Amnesty International, the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Disability Alliance and Sightsavers.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined eighth to ninth periodic reports of Haiti (CEDAW/C/HTI/8-9).  

Opening Remarks
 
YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairperson, stated that Article 21 of the Convention provided the legal basis for the elaboration of general recommendations by the Committee.  The Committee had thus far adopted 33 general recommendations.  Today’s consultation was the first step in the process of elaborating a general recommendation on gender-based dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change, and provided the Committee an opportunity to receive both oral and written inputs to assist in the drafting of the general recommendations.  The Committee anticipated a series of consultations; and interested stakeholders were welcome to initiate discussions.

IBRAHIM SALAMA, Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that disasters and the debilitating impacts of climate change were costly for human development; in the previous 20 years, disasters had cost the lives of over one million people and affected more than four billion individuals.  Disasters and the very negative impact of climate change disproportionately affected women and girls, but it was now recognized that the disproportionate impact that climate change would have on women and girls could be addressed through women’s empowerment and by achieving gender equality.  The major task would remain with ensuring compliance with the standards set by the Convention, ensuring that States parties could consistently apply a gender perspective in addressing disaster risk factors.

ROBERT GLASSER, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said that the Sendai Framework marked an important shift from managing disasters to managing risks.  Women were greatly affected by disasters, and more precise information and disaggregated data were needed for more concrete measures to be taken.  In the recognition of the need to do more, the Sendai Framework stressed the importance of human rights, placing emphasis on each State’s responsibility to take actions to protect its own citizens, and women leadership ought to be promoted.  There was an intrinsic connection between disaster risk reduction and human rights.  Preventing and reducing risk were on their own means to protecting and promoting human rights by protecting their livelihoods.  The work of the Committee through its forthcoming work on the general recommendation would provide an important catalyst of action. 

HUBERT SCHILLINGER, Director of the Geneva Office of Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, stated that climate change would affect people differently depending on their economic, environmental, cultural and social situations.  Essentially, climate change was an issue of justice, and its consequences were more far-reaching and accompanied by immense effects in the social sector, health, education and agriculture.  Agriculture was a fundamental part of women’s livelihoods globally, most markedly in least developed countries, where four-fifths of economically active women reported agriculture as their primary economic activity. Lasting solutions would only work with gender equality, inclusive dialogue and promoting more resilient communities in the context of climate change and disaster. Responding to the gender dynamics present in each individual context provided the greatest chance of avoiding gender stereotyping and increasing resilience. 

Introduction of the General Recommendation
 
NAHLA HAIDAR, Chair of the CEDAW Working Group on gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change, said that the purpose of today’s discussion was to kick off the process of deliberations on the general recommendation.  The Committee had over the previous two decades come across numerous instances of disasters disproportionately affecting women.  An important milestone included a Committee statement on climate change issued in 2009, in which it had called for
all responses to disaster risk reduction to be gender-sensitive.  Many women experienced disproportionate risks of disasters and climate change, largely because of the inter-sectoral discrimination to which they were exposed.  Women with disabilities and women living in extreme poverty, for example, were particularly affected.  Limited participation of women in politics, unequal share of unpaid work done by women and many other factors contributed to the lack of recognition of women as key actors.  The fact that the Committee had two main pillars – development and rights – made it a very good avenue for formulating the message and building bridges.  The Convention, which was all-encompassing, could help break the existing silos and create synergy on key issues. 
 
Keynote Statements
 
MARGARETA WAHLSTRÖM, Former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction,  stated that in 2013 and 2014 the international community had been very enthusiastic about coherence, which was supposed to help countries and communities implement policies.  The four main international agreements adopted in 2015 consequently spoke to each other in a very coherent manner; development was an overall objective, and disaster risk reduction, climate and financing were all integral parts of it.  Over the previous decade, disaster risk had become ever more dangerous for the humanity, partly due to the demographic profiles of various countries and the ageing populations, urbanization, destruction and utilization of eco-systems.  Cities could be built differently and societies could be adjusted to the changing demographics.

The Sendai Framework was a succinct and logical document, whose three key concepts were prevention, reduction and resilience.  Disaster risk reduction should not be confused with poverty reduction, as the former was not a substitute for the latter.  Sendai offered four priorities for action, which aimed to plug the existing gaps: 1) understanding risks, especially those that fell in between the sectors; 2) governance and institutional capability, including coordination, policy coherence, political representation; 3) resilience; and 4) strengthening capabilities on preparedness and response.  The Sendai Framework placed primary responsibility on States.  Ms. Wahlström stressed that mobilization of women was critical for Sendai as much as for the Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement.  Disaster risk reduction was a multisectoral issue; gender balance in other sectors would affect the balance in that field.  Inclusion and participation ought to be relentlessly driven, and economic empowerment could break through cultural barriers.  The Sendai Framework had a strong local focus. 

ELENA MANAENKOVA, Assistant Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization,  said that a year after the Sendai Conference, the moment was ripe for action, and the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was starting.  In 2015, the Paris Agreement had been adopted - a huge success of the international community, but that year was also the hottest year on record and  the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere had reached 400 particles/million.  In 2014, the World Meteorological Organization had hosted a conference on the gender dimensions of weather and climate services, the key outcome of which was the formulation of actions and mechanisms on how to equally empower women and men in four climate-sensitive sectors of the economy – agriculture, water resources management, public health and disaster risk reduction.  It had been concluded that the effects of weather and climate were not gender-neutral because of men’s and women’s distinct social roles and multiple vulnerabilities due to existing inequalities.  For example, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami had cause many more female casualties because they were less likely to know how to swim and were wearing longer clothing. 

Climate and disaster risk strategies had to consider assessing gender-specific risk and investing in national meteorological and hydrological services to deliver gender-sensitive services and scale up good practices.  Women and men had to participate in decision-making on equal footing and have the value of their contribution recognized.  Closer collaboration was needed between the meteorological and medical and public health disciplines.  National climate and weather services and disaster risk authorities should improve their understanding of the gender-specific impact of weather the produce and communicate gender-sensitive information in a comprehensive and effective manner.

KEIKO IKEDA, expert on earthquake disasters and gender, Shizuoka University, stated that the Japan earthquake of 2011 had once again revealed that disasters affected people differently.  Women, as well any group of people with certain attributes, were not essentially vulnerable nor could they be attributed distinct properties of vulnerability.  Vulnerabilities were constructed socially, economically, and culturally through distribution of power, wealth and resources.  In some earthquake areas in Japan, for example, higher mortality was observed among aged women living alone, who tended to rent old apartment house which were less earthquake resistant.  Lack of emergency response to specific needs aggravated the damage not only of women, but also of the family members they cared for.  Under-representation of women in decision-making was a common problem in Japan, and the bad economic situation among women workers before the disaster had been among the root causes of the disproportionate damage.  Basic information had to be collected on disaster experiences of people in specific vulnerable situations.  The system, institutions and concept of disaster management should change in order to be ready to accept the idea of gender and diversity perspectives.  Policy makers of all socio-economic sectors should be informed about different disaster risks, damages and experiences of women and men, while the capacity of professional women in key sectors ought to be built.  Activities under disaster risk management should be changed to practically cover all disaster phases, from preparedness to emergency response, to recovery and mitigation.

PALASH MONDAL, technical expert at CARE Bangladesh, said that Bangladesh was a highly populated country with limited resources for disaster risk reduction.  In the 1991 cyclone which had killed 140,000 people in Bangladesh, 90 percent of victims had been women and girls.  Women were more vulnerable because of biological, social and economic distresses, while their livelihoods heavily relied on natural resources, which were highly dependent on natural hazards.  Early warning systems were oriented towards males, while, following disasters, women were more likely to become victims of sexual violence.  While Bangladesh had a number of plans in place to reduce women’s vulnerabilities, those policies had a little impact on practice and there was a long way to go in that regard.  Involvement of women in climate and disaster resilience had been found to be a key factor because they could respond to disasters and play decision-making roles on disaster issues.  Good practices included having women volunteers for floods on board, sending flood alerts through mobile phones and including women in social mobilization.  Women and men ought to be consulted differently, which was critical prioritization of hazards and development actions.  Engaging men in household chores, such as fresh water management, was also of importance for promoting an equitable approach.

ASHA KAMBON, researcher and public policy expert, stressed that for small island developing States of the Caribbean the most dangerous hazard was the rise in the sea level, which was predicted to go up by 0.6. meters by 2100.  There were several key areas in which women and girls were impacted as a result of disasters and climate change, including the negative impact which migration might have on women and girls, the inadequate collection of fata regarding the social dimensions of the impact of disasters and disempowerment of women from the decision making processes following disasters.  Women in the Caribbean, while they had suffered from the ill effects of the disasters, were very resilient and sought access to resources, both financial and technical, and a greater voice in the decision-making on disaster risk management.  Women working in agriculture and tourism were the most likely to lose their livelihoods following a disaster and were not able to move as quickly as men to re-enter the labour market.   They were also not able to move freely from one part of the country to another to seek new income opportunities. Women’s voices continued to be ignored by inter-ministerial committees and task forces in the wake of disasters.  External and internal migration as a result of disaster and climate change carried along numerous risks for women and girls.  Gender-blind policies for medium and long term recovery seemed to have become the norm, not the least because of the lack of adequate disaggregated data. 
 
Statements by States Parties
 
Japan said that the 2011 earthquake had left over 18,000 people dead or missing.  A large number of women had played significant roles in the areas affected by the earthquake, but they had also encountered challenges while living as evacuees in shelters. The Sendai Framework promoted, inter alia, the role of women leaders in disaster preparedness.  Disaster cycles ought to be considered in their entireties.

Argentina believed that disasters increased vulnerabilities of women, whose particular concerns ought to be considered.  States needed to focus on reducing gender inequalities, while gender ought to be incorporated in disaster preparedness.  The general recommendation should stress the link of climate change and development, and encourage more active participation of women in negotiations on climate change.

Peru stated that women continued to be an immense minority struck by special problems and violence.  Peru was aware of the importance of the rights-based approach in promoting public policies; on the national level, Peru was developing Gender and Climate Change Action Plan.  Climate actions needed to take into consideration gender equality, broadening to the maximum degree participation of all.

Brazil was committed to combating climate change and defending mainstreaming gender in debates on climate change and disaster risk reduction.  Women’s role in providing food security had to be highlighted.  There was evidence that women were affected by disasters more than men, which was why Brazil reaffirmed the crucial importance of empowering women and girls in order to build resilient communities.

Chile said that if often happened that those affected natural disasters were exposed to human rights abuses, including gender-based violence.  When Chile had been struck by heavy rains in 2015, measures had been taken to contain the crisis, prevent violence against women and provide socio-economic assistance.  The main lesson learned was on the necessity to strengthen the participation of women in such contexts. 

France stated that the Paris Agreement was the first universal climate agreement which explicitly mentioned the need to respect gender equality.  The language adopted on equality had indeed constituted historic progress.  The trend had to tangibly continue so that the Agreement was put into practice while respecting gender equality.  Women were a key factor in the solution and had to be at the forefront of combating climate change. 

Colombia noted that practical and flexible tools were necessary to address different effects of climate change and disasters on women and men.  Colombia recognized that the climate change was a common concern of humanity, and it was important to acknowledge that women needed to play critical roles in addressing issues raised by the climate change.  High quality of data and statistics in that regard was necessary.

Gabon said that climate change and natural disasters had specific effects on women, who were often exposed to gender-based violence afterwards.  In Gabon, climate change was a considerable concern regarding the effect on rural women.  Gabon stressed the importance of Norwegian help for the programme on rural women and climate change in Central Africa.

Statements by Non-governmental Organizations
 
Amnesty International welcomed the fact that the Committee was the first United Nations human rights treaty body to substantially engage on the issue of climate change.  Climate change was likely to hamper progress towards achieving substantial gender equality.  All prevention, relief, recovery and reconstruction efforts should include a gender analysis to ensure that the rights of women and girls were protected and received appropriate support.  Health needs of women ought to be considered.

Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated that women’s land rights were threatened directly by climate change through desertification and soil degradation.  Rural women were at a particular risk because of their substantial reliance on land.  A critical missing piece in climate change strategies was the importance of women’s land rights.  States should address multiple threats posed to women’s land rights and ensure that their land rights would not be undermined by climate change strategies.

Human Rights Watch noted that the impact of the climate change was increasingly recognized, leading Governments around the world to prepare response strategies.  The Committee should push for the participation of women and girls in all relevant processes.  The Committee had a unique opportunity to interact with States parties by asking tough questions and inquiring how issues were being dealt with at national and local levels.   

International Disability Alliance stated that the destruction in Fiji by the cyclone the previous week had led to a number of horrendous cases, including for women with disabilities.  Women and girls with disabilities ought to be included in the prevention, reconstruction and rehabilitation services.  Accessibility and inclusive standards concerning all information on resilience and preparedness were of critical importance. 

Sightsavers stressed the importance of addressing the rights of women and girls with disabilities during disasters, and regarding risks associated with climate change.  The Committee was called upon to prioritize the rights of women and girls with disabilities in its general recommendation, and emphasize disability-inclusive participatory assessments to identify risks.

Concluding Remarks
 
NAHLA HAIDAR, Chair of the Committee’s Working Group on gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction and climate change, stressed the importance of coherence, with the multitude of instruments which already existed.  There was no question that vulnerability was constructed socially and economically, and that there was a big gap between policies and practice.  Reconstruction and recovery were both important in the aftermath of disasters.  The issues of capacity building and inclusiveness came up over and over again.  The ”tyranny of the urgent” was an important issue to look into. There was a general feeling on the inadequacy of data, stressed Ms. Haidar.

YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairperson, thanked all the keynote speakers and others who had contributed to the rich and deep discussion this morning.  She was convinced that today’s discussion provided the Committee with a strong foundation upon which to build its general recommendation on gender-related dimensions of disaster-risk reduction and climate change. 
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