The power of women when disaster strikes
In the wake of climate change, natural disasters are increasing. In Sri Lanka, it is traditionally men who lead the relief work. Diakonia wants to change that. When women are involved in designing the relief efforts, children’s needs also come into sharper focus. Priority is given to hygiene, healthcare and safety.
Hard to get help
Sri Lanka has been hard hit by natural disasters. After the 2004 tsunami, a new authority was created to deal with disasters, but there are still major shortcomings. Often there is no knowledge of what reality looks like at local level. For people outside the cities, it is difficult to get help if and when a natural disaster strikes.
Men make the plans
Traditionally, relief is primarily planned and designed by men. So women’s needs become invisible and they become particularly vulnerable when disaster occurs. The same applies to children, the elderly and people with disabilities.
Hygiene, healthcare and safety issues are often not prioritised. Political loyalties often come into play when aid is distributed.
The project that Diakonia is working on together with its partner organization Women’s Development Centre, WDC, is to give women the opportunity to play a bigger role in the relief work while preparing communities for disasters to reduce risks and make efforts more effective.
Women have power
The weather changes quickly and unpredictably, so it is important that everyone is aware, that women are also prepared to act and that decision-making is in the hands of the local community.
“Through the training, women have begun to understand that their decisions weigh heavily, even outside the family,” says Sashi Stephen at Diakonia’s office in Sri Lanka.
The project will also work with composting and recycling. The compost can be used to improve the soil for the participants’ crops. In this way, resource-efficient farming methods are also learned.
“It’s important because most of the participants are farmers,” says Sashi Stephen.
The project will also show others how, by generating awareness at the local level, disasters caused by climate change can be handled and how this can be achieved in a gender-equal way.
“Through the project, the participants have also become more aware of their consumption habits, and this has resulted in saving water and making a major effort to pollute less.”
The project is being run in Anuradhapura, which is in an area that is normally dry, but has now been hit by heavy rainfall. The area has alternately suffered from flooding and severe drought. And this has led them to change their way of utilising water resources.
Within the scope of the project, old water reservoirs are reviewed. Several of them are in poor condition, and the water stored in them is not potable. The locals have not even been able to wash clothes in the water without them being discoloured. If you use the water to wash in, you get an itchy rash. Old, poor-quality water reservoirs are cleaned.
Through the project, both men and women become more aware of climate change and how it affects men and women in different ways.
Local and national authorities are positive towards the project.