Center-Staging Women's Efforts in Disaster Risk Reduction: GROOTS International's Participation in ProVention Consortium’s Annual Forum
April 8-10, 2008 | Panama City, Panama
Amidst academics, researchers, donors and development banks and NGOs at ProVention Consortium’s Annual Forum ‘From Grassroots to Global: People Centered Disaster Risk Reduction in Panama City’, Groots International’s team led by Latin American women made a strong case for the need for grassroots women and their communities to drive resilience-building programs. Affirming his support for the global efforts of the GROOTS’ network to empower women to shape DRR programs, Vinod Menon, member of the National Disaster Management Authority of the Government of India, publicly congratulated Groots and presented a plaque from the Government of India to the Groots network.
At the closing ceremony attended by the First Lady of Panama, Margaret Arnold, Head of the Provention Secretariat noted that Ana Lucy Bengochea, of the Comite de Emergencia Garifuna and GROOTS consistently highlighted that indigenous communities, drawing on their ancestral knowledge, have been practicing resilience for centuries, without naming it as such. She suggested that DRR needs to be turned upside down to reverse the fact that the field is too focused on language and context setting when it needs to be focused on changing the situation and the actors.
Reporting on the conclusions of the six workshops at the Forum, Arnold aggregated the insights to emphasize the need to:
GROOTS ran one of six official workshops on the Role and Power of Grassroots and Indigenous Women in Managing Disaster Risk, bringing the outcomes of the 50 person Pre-Forum Preparatory workshop in Guatemala. Chaired by Dan Lewis, Chief of UNHabitat’s Disaster Program, the workshop countered the imagery of grassroots and indigenous women’s initiatives being small, isolated, unsustainable and closed to new ideas and innovation. Panelists represented a range of innovative resilience strategies that have been sustained, diversified and scaled up over a ten-year period, and showed that grassroots and indigenous women have large organized constituencies and are eager to share information and technical skills and to transfer successful practices through learning exchanges.
Ana Lucy Bengochea leader of Comite de Emergencia Garifuna of Honduras opened the panel, speaking eloquently on the journey of the Comite which began with organizing emergency relief after Hurricane Mitch. She went on to describe how they restored indigenous food crops and reforested coastal areas, drawing on indigenous knowledge systems, to reduce the impact of future disasters. Through her participation in multiple community exchanges in region, Bengochea said that, “Across the region, resilience in poor communities is being accomplished because women are getting organized and working collectively to strengthen livelihoods, conserve natural resources.”
Haydee Rodriguez from Cooperativa Las Brumas, Nicaragua also emphasized the importance of community based structures and citizen’s platforms as key to sustained DRR activities. Highlighting the accomplishments of the Cooperatives –in protecting their natural resource base and making communities food secure, she named their organic coffee and cacao, indigenous seed banks, the promotion and use of organic insecticides. Rodriguez drew attention to the disconnect between these large scale community efforts and government policies and programs in the Central American region, many of which undermine risk reduction efforts by promoting genetically modified seeds, chemical insecticides which put food security and natural resource base and livelihoods at risk. “We need policies which are like birds flying above us to land on our reality,” she said.
Harvesting some of the lessons emerging from 15 years of work by federations of self-help groups linked to Swayam Shikshan Prayog in three disaster affected states of India, Prema Gopalan said that small investments for communities and women’s groups - in terms of organizing support - have led to big development and resilience outcomes for disaster prone communities. Pointing out that at least 30,000 women had got organized in self help groups after the tsunami, and across the three states there are now 200 women whose knowledge and skills are being mobilized to transfer effective recovery and resilience practices across communities.
SSP is also a founding member of the newly convened National Alliance on DRR in India, a civil society alliance whose purpose is to bridge community based resilience efforts to policymakers. This Alliance with the support of the National Disaster Management Authority, is poised to launch a series of community –led demonstration projects on DRR in partnership with ProVention Consortium, GROOTS International and the Huairou Commission.
Recognizing the public roles that women are playing as first responders to disasters as well as leaders of community recovery processes, Angel Marcos from the Agency for Spanish Cooperation saw the need to link grassroots networks to CEPREDENAC (Central American Coordination Center for National Disaster Prevention, comprising of national disaster management agencies) which is the major institution supported Spanish Cooperation in the field of DRR. Acknowledging that grassroots women bring their own innovations, knowledge and social investments, he stated that CEPREDENAC needed to identify mechanisms to collaborate with grassroots women’s networks in order to designing effective disaster prevention policies and programs that reach out to local communities and neighborhoods. Marcos also located his insights in the context of the Spanish Cooperation’s DRR policy which could be the basis for collaboration between CEPREDENAC and grassroots women’s networks in the region. Strategic opportunities named in the policy framework included the importance of addressing gender concerns, reviving indigenous knowledge and linking regional and national bodies to local actors.
Vinod Menon from India’s National Disaster Management Authority said the panelists’ presentations had served to counter the image of women as victims of disaster, presenting them instead as agents of resilience. But he pointed out that women were marginalized because of their inability to engage institutions and that there is a need to use the Hyogo Framework and the Millenium Development Goals to engage with local and national governments. Menon also mentioned the need to examine women’s household survival strategies, comparable to business continuity strategies, and aggregate the positive outcomes of women’s efforts to develop more evidence- based policies to scale up women’s efforts in DRR.
In addition to participating in the workshops GROOTS International screened two films: The first was Recipes for Resilience highlighted the approaches of grassroots and indigenous women who were part of the Pre-Forum meeting in Guatemala. The second film screened at the Forum’s DRR film festival From Chaos to Creativity highlighting the achievements and the on-going struggles of disaster affected communities in Turkey, Honduras and India.
Margaret Arnold’s comments focused on her insights from the Guatemala pre-forum workshop. She said the major opportunity opened by disaster risk management programs is the chance to promote women’s roles and rights. Arnold recalled indigenous and grassroots women’s call for recognition of women and their organizations’ contributions to DRR. She added that this would practically involve educating local and national governments some of whom are unwilling to work with the poor and others who are willing, but don’t know how.