24 June 2005 The United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has welcomed the efforts of women in the Indonesian province of Aceh, the area most devastated by last December’s Indian Ocean tsunami, to demand a greater role in the recovery process.
The first Acehnese women’s meeting since the disaster ended earlier this week and was attended by nearly 400 women. It was the largest such gathering in five years, representing a wide cross-section of society from farmers, fisherwomen, students and business women to religious leaders, government officials and academics.
Women’s participation has been lacking in the development and implementation of Aceh’s blueprint for reconstruction, despite their significant role in emergency and recovery efforts, and their concerns must be included in key decision-making processes, meeting participants declared.
Hailing the move, UNIFEM recalled the visit to Aceh earlier this year by its Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer. “Women must be at the heart of all recovery and reconstruction processes,” Ms. Heyzer said then.
“For decades, they have been the lifeline of their communities, leading survival systems and mutual-aid networks, including among the internally displaced and refugee communities. Women are not just victims, they are survivors and they need to be part of the solution,” she added.
“The reweaving of the social fabric of life is the foundation for reconstruction and a necessary part of the healing process. It is women, in their families and their communities, who are playing this role.”
Acehnese women identified four critical issues: the urgent need to re-establish livelihoods; the issue of land titles and ownership, including inheritance rights in the case of children who lost their entire family; creation of adequate settlements and housing, and the lack of gender sensitivity in planning and management of temporary barracks; and the need for more opportunities for women to interact with local and national authorities and participate in decision-making.
UNIFEM provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women's empowerment and gender equality, focusing on four strategic areas: reducing feminized poverty; ending violence against women; reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls; and achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war.
For its part the UN United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said today that re-establishing quality reproductive health services in the tsunami-affected countries was a top priority for it.
“In the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, it has been heartening that the international community recognized that survivors need reproductive health care along with food, water and shelter,” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya A. Obaid said. “We must make sure that these needs are not forgotten in the recovery period.”