|Post-Tsunami: Seizing the Moment|
|Wednesday, 03 January 2007 20:43|
Post-Tsunami: Seizing the Moment
How APWW and the AP NGO Forum used the "Review of the BPFA" to strengthen the response of the international community to the needs of women and children affected by the tsunami
On December 26, 2004, one of the greatest tragedies of modern times occurred. A gigantic earthquake off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra caused giant tidal waves to smash into coastlines around the Indian Ocean. A tsunami struck eight countries in Asia and five in Africa. The final death toll might never be known but is estimated to be over 300,000, with up to one million displaced from their homes. Women and children were the worst affected by the force of the tsunami.
For many months prior to this disaster, women's groups around the world had been working towards their participation in the tenth anniversary review of the commitments made in the 1995 "Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA)." The review took place at the 49th Session of the UN Commission for the Status of Women (UNCSW) in New York, March 2005, three months after the tsunami. The meeting was popularly called "Beijing Plus Ten (B+10)." Women from across the Asia-Pacific region attended the meeting as part of the Asia Pacific Women's Watch (APWW) and the Asia Pacific Non-Government Organization Forum (AP NGO Forum). Many of these women came from countries affected by the tsunami.
Women activists who attend UN meetings are often questioned about the purpose of what they do and the value of the documents for which they work so hard to influence, such as the BPFA. At B+10, women from the APWW and AP NGO Forum used the opportunity to fight for the rights of the women and children affected by the 2004 tsunami. They linked the needs of the women to commitments made in the BPFA and successfully argued for governments to commit to ensuring that these commitments are respected in all aspects of disaster response. One of the important results that they achieved was a new Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Resolution drafted by the NGOs from APWW, proposed by the Philippine government, and adopted unanimously by the member-states.1 The Resolution provides for the integration of gender perspective in post-disaster relief, especially in the tsunami-hit areas. It is a major step forward and an example of the power of civil society to use the UN process to fight for the rights of marginalised groups. But this is going ahead of the story of the women's work at the BPFA review.
How the Women Seized the Moment at the B+10
By March 2005, there were significant reports coming from tsunami-hit countries indicating serious gender-related concerns (see boxed article). Given the geographical location of the affected areas and the tsunami's impact on the women in the region, NGOs and women's groups acknowledged that it was also critical to raise gender issues in relation to the tsunami impact and response. At the UNCSW meeting in New York, APWW decided to host a "side event" for which it invited representatives from each tsunami-affected area to attend and present these issues in a panel forum. The UN Population Fund, New York, generously hosted the APWW seminar. The participation at the meeting by the women from the affected areas was financed by several international funders. This was one of three workshops focusing on women and the tsunami that were held at B+10. There was strong interest and support for the issues raised, both from NGOs and from the states represented at the meeting. The women in the workshops strongly advocated on behalf of the women back home.
Women Hurt…and Still Hurting from the Tsunami
A member of the Philippine delegation offered to propose a specific Resolution pertaining to the issues. The Philippine government then sponsored the "Resolution on Integrating a Gender Perspective in Post-Disaster Relief, especially in Response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami". The Thai government supported the proposal. Much of the background work was done by NGO members of government delegations. Members of APWW and women from the affected areas all had input into the draft and had lobbied to ensure that it reflected a human rights and community development approach. The Resolution was passed by consensus on the final day of the B+10, supported by the majority of governments present. This achievement was a major one because the Resolution reaffirmed all the commitments made in the BPFA as applicable to women in disaster situations, and additionally:
· "[Called] upon governments, among other things, to integrate a gender perspective into all disaster response and to include women in the decision-making processes (paragraph 1);
Where to from Here?
A first step is to engage communities in dialogue concerning the Resolution document. This action will help create an awareness of the Resolution's potential and how communities can use it to uphold their international rights to gender equality and access to engendered services that respond to improve the health of whole communities. A training kit on the Resolution and its potential is being planned, and a consortium of interested parties is preparing an information dissemination strategy.
This story highlights the power of an advocacy strategy where women activists used a UN meeting and UN documents (B+10 and the BPFA) in a positive and productive manner to strengthen the women's human rights framework. It illustrates the importance of having NGOs taking an active role on government delegations. A major aim for the Resolution is the establishment of a measured and tested gender response to be applied in every disaster situation. Too often, women have been forgotten and the gender difference ignored in the provision of disaster relief. Hopefully, one positive outcome of this dreadful disaster will be the application of rigorous interventions to prevent some of the same horrors from happening again.