The Division for the Advancement of Women is organizing, in collaboration with the Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), an Expert Group Meeting on "Environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters: a gender perspective", which will take place in Ankara, Turkey from 6 to 9 November 2001.
The Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) recognized that the impact of environmental disasters on women needed to be further investigated. Five years later, the review and appraisal of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (2000) identified natural disasters and epidemics as emerging issues which deserved greater attention. It was noted that the social and economic impact of natural disasters and epidemics remained relatively invisible as a policy issue, in particular their impact on the status of women and the achievement of gender equality.
The twenty-third special session of the General Assembly entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century" acknowledged an increase in casualties and damage caused by natural disasters and raised awareness of the inefficiencies and inadequacies of existing approaches and intervention methods in responding to such emergency situations from a gender perspective. It suggested that a gender perspective be incorporated into disaster prevention, mitigation and recovery strategies. The special session also recommended that the United Nations system and international and regional organizations should assist governments in developing gender-sensitive strategies for the delivery of assistance and responses to humanitarian crises resulting from natural disasters.
The Commission on the Status of Women, in its multi-year programme of work for 2002-2006, decided to consider the topic "Environmental management and mitigation of natural disasters: a gender perspective" as a priority theme at its up-coming session in 2002 and a possible contribution to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002).
The incidence of natural as well as related environmental disasters has increased in the 1990s. In 1999 alone, there were more than 700 disasters with widespread economic and social damage killing approximately 100,000 people. When disaster strikes, the poor and socially disadvantaged suffer the most and are least equipped to cope with the impact of natural disasters. The particular vulnerability of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to natural disasters has come to the forefront at the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (Brussels, May 2001).
Due to the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters in the world, the General Assembly, in 1989, formally proclaimed the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The objective of the decade was to reduce casualties, property and environmental damage and social and economic disruption caused by natural hazards. While it was first believed that technological and engineering solutions were needed for the mitigation of natural disasters, sociological studies documented that disaster vulnerability was primarily based on social forces. This encouraged a shift in focus from technical disaster preparedness to socio-economic disaster reduction which has since become part of the United Nations system strategy in support of sustainable development and remains an indispensable part of humanitarian assistance, response and rehabilitation.
The Yokohama Conference (1994), a mid-term review of the Decade, placed greater emphasis on the role of social sciences in research, policy development and implementation and strongly emphasized the links between disaster reduction and sustainable development. It also recognized the need to stimulate community involvement and empowerment of women at all stages of disaster management programmes in order to facilitate capacity building, which is an essential precondition for reducing vulnerability of communities to natural disasters. However, gender differences in disaster mitigation have been addressed mainly in the context of vulnerability or community involvement. Women's ability to prevent or cope with and recover from disaster has not sufficiently been taken into account.
There is a direct link from disaster mitigation to environmental management, as natural disasters have a long lasting adverse impact on the environment and are often a result of or are exacerbated by environmental degradation and mismanagement. Decisions on environmental management are taken by a few without community involvement. The lack of sustainable urban planning and enforcement of safety codes may lead to increased casualties in natural disaster prone areas. Women's absence from all levels of decision-making positions (science, public administration and planning, relief efforts, reconstruction, elaboration of policies and strategies for the future) leaves void the potential contribution they could make in environmental management and disaster mitigation.
Women have the potential to be key actors in environmental management and natural disasters mitigation because of their very proactive behaviour in the protection and well-being of their household, their involvement in daily community-based activities, and neighbourhood and school education and disaster preparedness programmes. They could also play an important role in disaster communication in order to assess and share hazard information on the basis of their extended social networks. Due to their contribution to education, health and social services, women could play a key role in preparing the emergency relief assistance provoked by a natural disaster and take over responsibilities in recovery. Furthermore, women as caregivers face the task of organizing the daily routine life under the trying conditions encountered when a natural disaster occurs. Effective intervention methods can empower women to better respond to this challenge.
The expert group meeting will consider the gender aspects of environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters, in all phases of disaster emergency (before, during and in the recovery phase). It will also explore the relationship between natural disasters and sustainable development (globalization, unsustainable development and climate change) from a gender perspective. The expert group meeting will produce gender-specific policy recommendations to address the problems associated with natural disasters (before, during and after) and to empower women and enhance their capacity to play an active role in their communities, in policy-making and for achieving sustainable development. It will address in particular institutional capacity-building such as the integration of a gender perspective into community based disaster mitigation and women's role in environmental decision-making at all levels.
The objectives of the meeting will be to assess the link between environmental management and natural disasters from a gender perspective with a focus on the specific phases of natural disaster mitigation:
Prevention phase: To assess and analyse capacities of women and girls in natural disaster prevention, including information network and interactive information system (early warning systems, disaster preparedness, community involvement); women's representation in the decision-making process at all levels; capacity and vulnerability assessment and capacity-building (logistics, infrastructure, early warning);
Response phase: To analyse and develop methodologies for gender-sensitive interventions, including full enjoyment of women's human rights, protection from violence and abuse; ensuring food security and delivery of public health services (post-traumatic stress, reproductive health, disease prevention including HIV/AIDS prevention);
Reconstruction / recovery phase: To analyse and suggest measures for gender-sensitive reconstruction and long-term sustainable development programmes, including through the use of the "window of opportunity" for social change and environmental management after a natural disaster; access to resources (land, water, credit, income generation); and risk reduction.
The recommendations of the expert group meeting will be directed to governments, the United Nations system, intergovernmental and regional bodies, the private sector and civil society. They will aim to refine and expand the agenda set in the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as the further actions identified in the outcome document adopted by the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly (Beijing+5). The findings and conclusions will provide a comprehensive contribution to the preparation of the work of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2002 and feed into the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
III. Methods of Work
The expert group meeting will discuss the suggested topics based on background papers prepared by the organizers, consultants and experts. The Expert Group Meeting will work in plenary session and in smaller working groups based on the major issues identified.
IV. Profile of Participants
The expert group meeting will be attended by 8 - 10 experts appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as well as observers from governments, entities of the United Nations system, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. The United Nations will provide travel and daily subsistence allowance to the experts and consultants. In selecting the experts, the criteria of geographical and gender balance will be respected. The participants will be drawn from a variety of fields and expertise.
The documentation for the meeting will include background papers commissioned by the Division for the Advancement of Women and prepared by the consultants, which will outline the major issues to be discussed. It will also include inputs prepared by experts on specific issues or case studies in line with their expertise. Observers will be invited to contribute inputs from their own perspectives. The expert group meeting will be conducted in English only. The documentation will also be in English.
All relevant correspondence should be addressed to:
Ms. Dorota Gierycz, Chief, Gender Analysis Section, Division for the Advancement of Women,
Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, DC2-1244, New York, NY 10017 U.S.A.,
Tel: (212) 963-5913, Fax: (212) 963-3463, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org