Women’s participation for disaster risk reduction of vulnerable communities
By Aditi Hastak
In September 2015, United Nations (UN) member countries accepted the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) put forth by UN. Ending poverty is one of the important priorities of the UN SDGs, which expresses poverty as not only lack of income and resources but also as the lack of participation in decision-making. Another goal about gender equality talks of providing equal opportunity to women through representation in decision-making processes. The current status vis-à-vis women’s participation in decision-making is minimal or negligible, with India ranking 132 out of 187 countries on the gender inequality index. The situation exacerbates with vulnerable populations like informal urban settlements/slums.
Slums are universally considered to be vulnerable places characterized by overcrowding, marginalization, harmful environmental exposure, poverty, social disadvantage, insecurity, lack of access to amenities, and poor health staying in inhabitable locations like quarry pits, tank beds, along railway lines, etc. and hence are at maximum risk.
With this in mind, International Center of EQUIT at All India Institute of Local Self Government (AIILSG) initiated a unique program called "Community Self-assessment and Planning with Women’s Participation for Disaster Risk Reduction of Vulnerable Communities," recognizing the role played by women and pre-disaster planning. The program was launched three years back with three slums in Pune and two slums in Thane, in the state of Maharashtra, India.
"Transformation becomes a key word," says Dr. Mukesh Kanaskar, Director of the Center. "Problems of urban poverty prolong and they need a holistic solution," he adds. Pune city in India is among the most multi-hazard-prone districts in the country. The population in Pune’s 564 slums faces similar problems as mentioned above. Women and children are the weakest and most heavily affected.
The program follows a two-pronged approach in which the first phase is of community self-assessment followed by planning for mitigation. In the self-assessment phase, the community identifies perceived disaster risks with women’s participation and then categorizes them into red and green based on their perception. It is a challenge to make the community understand the risks associated with its environment and possible disasters; these parameters always end up at the lower end of the priority ladder of problems to be addressed. Further, the engagement is problematic because of the conservative traditional societal norms that hinder women’s participation.
The planning phase includes formation of local community organizations for disaster risk reduction with equal representation of women and men, developing a cadre of community volunteers for disaster risk reduction and environmental up-gradation, intensive capacity building inputs, as well as first aid kits and fire fighting kits to be installed at all sensitive locations (e.g. those frequented by children).
The program which started with three slums in Pune and two slums in Thane now runs in 12 slums in Pune and three slums in Thane. The initiative has recently received the Global RISK Award, which is a joint initiative of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Global Risk Forum, Davos and Munich Re Foundation, Germany. The program was ranked first among 145 entries from 62 countries.
After three years of engagement with the community, the results show that the women have started to participate proactively. And, there is improved knowledge and skills vis-à-vis disaster risk reduction within the community. "This impact is very crucial for us as usually the environment and disaster discourses remain limited only to macro-level with lack of outreach towards the grassroots," echoes Shweta Gupta, assistant director and head of the Women in Deprivation Center. The program has a long way to go when the situation itself will decide its success.