For many of the women ActionAid works with, natural disasters have become a disturbingly common occurrence that threatens their lives, their communities and their traditional way of life. Changes in climate are making these disasters even more concerning. The cyclones are getting stronger and more frequent, and the droughts more profound.
Despite this, women are not prepared to wait around for someone else to help. They are taking action and working together to bring about positive change in their communities that will enable them to be ready when the next disaster strikes.
Last week, ActionAid Australia, with funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, supported eight women leaders from Cambodia, Kenya and Vanuatu to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, where they brought their voices to the global stage at the United Nations Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction (GPDRR).
They spent two days sharing their experiences with each other and similar community women leaders from around the world at the Grassroots Academy, supported by the Huairou Commission. Together, they sharpened their advocacy messages and learnt new skills to communicate their concerns and their aspirations for truly transformational disaster risk reduction.
For women like Stella Rutto from Baringo County in Kenya, travelling to Geneva was a “once in a lifetime experience”. She is now ready to take every opportunity to see that Baringo Women and Small Scale Farmer’s Network receive the support they need as they face increasing disasters and conflict in the context of a changing climate. Stella has a good understanding of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, agreed to by governments in 2015 as the framework for progressing towards more inclusive and effective disaster preparedness. She understands that her government has targets to meet under the framework and that the women’s network has an opportunity to influence the government’s policy and planning towards these targets at both the local and national levels.
These women have taken their messages to the global stage. The catch cry of “Leave no one behind” has been a prominent theme in the GPDRR program, but the women have signalled that they are ready to flip this on its head.
Who is really being left behind? Based on the experiences of women in Kenya, Cambodia and Vanuatu, ActionAid Australia, in partnership with Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Centre, has conducted research that shows that women’s local and experiential knowledge on disasters, climate and conflict is undervalued and rarely incorporated in policy and planning at national and global levels. This research has also found that, despite this, women are intrinsically using their community networks to develop approaches for community resilience that consider the intersection of climate change, disasters, conflict and long-term sustainable development.
While bureaucrats and technocrats are the dominant representatives on panels and platforms at global conferences asking questions about how they can better integrate these issues, women at the grassroots level are walking the walk and leading by example. So, why isn’t their participation and knowledge incorporated being in these high-level discussions?
It seems that the global disaster risk reduction community is the one being left behind. As the glacial pace of change in global discussions continues to sideline the voices of grassroots women, we are seeing women creating change from the bottom up and demonstrating that the solutions to climate change and disaster risks must come from the people who are most affected.
For Stella and the grassroots women who have travelled all the way to Geneva from around the world, they have been clear about their demands for the government and donor institutions. Firstly, they want to be able to participate meaningfully in all decision-making spaces, from local to global level. Secondly, the approaches they have developed have required their own investment of time and resources, but it is now time for the global resilience and climate funding to be directed to grassroots women – with a minimum of 5% to be allocated to grassroots women’s organisations.
Until this is achieved, women will continue to move forward without recognition, and the global disaster risk reduction community will only fall further behind.