Disability Inclusion and Rights Vital in Tropical Cyclone Yasa Preparedness and Response


Since 2015, the annual Pacific cyclone season has brought more intensifying cyclones with several reaching category five level. And while women as first responders have led preparedness and response strategies even when they are not resourced or included in disaster management committees, being classified as vulnerable groups and the lack of awareness on disability inclusion are some of the additional barriers faced by women with disabilities during these crises.

That must change say Lanieta Tuimabu of the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation (FDPF) and Nelly Caleb of the Vanuatu Disability Promotion and Advocacy Association (VDPA) who are the gender and disability focal points of the Shifting the Power Coalition contributing to shifting the power in disaster management to enable women of all diversities to lead in localised humanitarian action.

“The majority of persons with disabilities advocating for more inclusive disaster management systems are women,” said Tuimabu explaining the work of the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation which has included research, capacity development and advocacy.

As first responders they have shown how from preparedness to response women with disabilities are tackling the gender barriers in disaster management to ensure there are inclusive safety and protection standards in evacuation centres as well as claiming a space at the decision making table of the cluster systems – there are multiple barriers which increase the risk during humanitarian emergencies.

During TC Sarai just under a year ago (December 2019) and TC Harold (April 2020) Tuimabu as the Office Manager of the FDPF coordinated national operations of a disability inclusive response based at the FDPF centre. Caleb has been documenting the impact of TC Harold on members of her network.

Tuimabu and Caleb are active members of the Shifting the Power Coalition since the Pacific Disability Forum supported the formation of the Coalition in 2016 following TC Pam and TC Winston.

Caleb and Tuimabu both say it has taken determination and persistent advocacy to engage in the Humanitarian and DRR system. Collaboration through the Coalition is a way to ensure full inclusion of disability rights within the work to progress gender equality and women’s rights within disaster management and humanitarian systems.

A further barrier is access to information and communication said Caleb: “We need to share information and communication to women with disabilities.”

Accessible formats including word versions and powerpoints as well as relying on radio and text – it depends on the disability explained Tuimabu.

“Research in 2016 found in Vanuatu that most women are illiterate and so we have to encourage their families to share information with women and the elderly” explained Caleb adding that in a country that has many disasters including active volcanoes there needs to be better early warning systems to work, there needs to be better telecommunication coverage because information has to reach across the island communities quickly.

This is one of the reasons why ActionAid Vanuatu (AAV) the coordination hub of Woman Wetem Weta (WWW) continues to ensure disability inclusion is integrated into all their updates:

“WWW reminds the network about the toll-free number that they can reach the Vanuatu disaster management office on. We also promoted the new toll-free number 161 to report incidents of violence. This number was launched during the recent 16 days campaign against gender based violence,” explains Flora Vano the Programme Manager of AAV.

Meanwhile while TC Zazu no longer poses a threat, communities including in Samoa are facing the impact of damage and Taimalelagi Ramona Tugaga of the YWCA of Samoa says the response and recovery strategy can be an important opportunity for inter-generational leadership: “Young women are on the frontline on climate change. Their voices must be heard, especially for disaster preparedness and response.”

“The approach that the Coalition has taken has been inclusive, making sure women with disabilities are included and hearing our perspective in the design and programming. This is how disability rights is mainstreamed in activities and women with disabilities are heard” said Tuimabu

On the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction women leaders from across the Coalition had a clear message which is amplified as Fiji faces category 5 TC Yasa.

“Good disaster risk governance” is gender and disability inclusive and accountable to policy commitments and human rights treaty obligations. It supports the leadership and decision-making role of women of all diversities at all levels of disaster management.

The Shifting the Power Coalition continues to call on national disaster management officials and allies to:

  • Support women’s participation in policy spaces at all levels;
  • Resource women’s networks as key platforms for women’s collective influence;
  • Value women’s localized and accumulated knowledge alongside scientific knowledge;
  • Work with us to shift gender norms across all domains.

It is time to redesign the disaster management table and that is why we are working to shift the power together.