Learning to lead: Women take action for community-based disaster risk reduction in Cambodia

Creation date: 20 Aug 2019

Cambodia, 9 August 2019 - As part of the ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’ project funded by GEF-Least Developed Countries Fund, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and ActionAid have partnered to increase gender equality in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and early warning systems (EWS) across Cambodia. 

“Climate information is very important for women because if they know what the weather is going to be like, they know which crops they should grow to get more harvests,” says Ms. Somountha Mith, ActionAid Interim Team Leader for Disaster Risk Reduction/Climate Change. “If they know what the weather is going to be, they can prepare themselves and their family and protect their properties.”

When a disaster happens, its impacts are not equal for all involved. Certain groups experience higher levels of vulnerability for a multitude of reasons – children, the elderly, immigrants and refugees, and those with lower socio-economic statuses are all more likely to experience negative fallout from a disaster due to predispositions before, during and after disasters. Another group that are disproportionately affected is women.

A 2016 article by UNWomen outlined how not only are women in Asia-Pacific killed in higher frequencies by disasters, but they are more likely to be impacted by issues such as increased domestic violence in the wake of disasters and are less represented in DRR policies and government than their male counterparts. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the socially expected roles of women in the home and inequality in government positions.

While specific support of gender equality in disaster management is not outlined in the Kingdom of Cambodia’s Law on Disaster Management (which instead only states that attention must be paid to women as a vulnerable group post-disaster), the Royal Government of Cambodia’s Rectangular Strategy Phase VI recognises the importance of pursuing gender equality in all fields, particularly by building capacity and participation of women in national and subnational leadership roles. This is supported by a strategic goal to pre-emptively address the issues of climate change in the country.

As women make up just over half of the Cambodian population, it is important to consider not only how to reduce gender-based risks, but also support women in the inclusion of disaster management at all levels of government and community. “Sometimes it can be hard for women to stand up. We do this training to help build their capacity, so that each disaster management committee knows what they need to do,” says Ms. Somountha. “By doing the training, it is easier for the different levels of government to work together and to communicate, especially at the subnational level”.

To forward this notion of gender-equal disaster risk reduction, ActionAid recently led a training session, primarily aimed at members of various levels of government, in Srae Ambel, Koh Kong province. Srae Ambel is an area highly dependent on agriculture and fishing and is affected by floods and storms, therefore making DRR a highly relevant topic for those who took part. A total 34 participants engaged in the training with specific invitation to female participants, who made up almost half of the total group. The training aimed to equip local authority members from provincial, district, commune and village level to understand the role of and need for community-based disaster risk reduction.

Sessions included developing understandings of the disaster management cycle, disaster management structures of Cambodia, climate change, the Vulnerability Reduction Assessment Tool and engaging with the Early Warning System 1294, a text-based messaging system. “This training helps me to gain a lot of new knowledge, and I know what to do and help others when any of the disasters happen,” said participant Ms. Khan Sreymom,  an administration officer from Srae Ambel’s Women’s Affair department. “I will share what I learned from the training with other people who didn’t participate the training in order to avoid the dangers.”

Learning about the disaster management cycle, however, is only the first step. UNDP will next support ActionAid and local authorities to identify potential ‘gender DRR champions’ – women who can be empowered and mobilised to support DRR in their own contexts. ActionAid have successfully identified 25 of these individuals in Kampot and Pursat provinces previously and shown that this empowerment approach has led to significant differences in the leadership capacity of the women. Training for the grassroots ‘gender DRR champions’ of the Srae Ambel area will be conducted in August, where the women will be identified and equipped to complete their DRR action plans.

For updates on this project and UNDP Cambodia’s broader work, follow @UNDPCambodia on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Raising women up: UNDP and Action Aid Cambodia partner to empower women in climate action and disaster management’, July 2019

Participants of the training session held by ActionAid in Srae Albem district in August 2019. Photo credit: UNDP Cambodia/Manuth Buth

Ms. Somountha Mith, of ActionAid, leads participants in developing better understanding of the impacts of disasters in the Cambodian context. Photo credit: UNDP Cambodia/Manuth Buth

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