GET-19 - INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY
Friday 8 March 2019
Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau
International Telecommunication Union
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for joining us today for this International Women's Day lunch, where we can take the opportunity to celebrate the many important achievements of the women's movement over the past 100 years, and maintain the global call to action around SDG5 – the Sustainable Development Goal promoting Gender Empowerment.
It's usual at these kinds of events to cite an example or two of outstanding women who've excelled in their chosen field, with a view to inspiring other women and overturn conservative paradigms about women's roles.
But today, in keeping with the focus of the Global Forum on Emergency Telecommunications, I'd like us to reflect a little on the plight of women when disasters strike. Because surprisingly, perhaps, even disaster management has a gender dimension.
Studies reveal that when a natural disaster strikes, women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die.
In the 1991 cyclones that hit Bangladesh, 90% of the 140,000 victims were women.
During the Hurricane Katrina emergency in New Orleans in 2005, most of the victims trapped by the storm were Afro-American women and their children, who represented the poorest socio-economic demographic in that part of the US.
In the heat waves that hit France in 2003, most of the deaths were elderly women.
In the aftermath of a disaster, women also suffer more. They are more likely to be victims of violence or sexual assault – a fact that cuts many women off from the benefits of using the emergency shelters set up by humanitarian agencies.
Entrenched gender inequalities in many countries mean women are significantly more likely to be suffering from malnutrition, making them more vulnerable the food shortages and infectious disease outbreaks that often follow close on the heels of natural disasters.
Behind all these facts and figures lies one simple problem: inequality. The simple truth is that in societies where women enjoy equal rights, there is no real difference in the toll that disasters take on men and women. Women's unequal status is what makes them vulnerable.
At ITU, the EQUALS Global Partnership of 90 organizations around the world is working to help women gain the access, skills and leadership roles we need them to have if we are to truly achieve SDG 5. The EQUALS Research Group is also working on scaling up the collection of global statistics on issues related to women and ICTs.
As a multi-stakeholder partnership, EQUALS brings together the best thinking from all sectors—governments, NGOs, academia and private companies—to make a real difference to the digital future for everyone. International Women's Day reminds us that we must redouble our efforts to bring digital access, skills and opportunities to all.
For all of us here at GET, our take-away today is that we need to factor gender considerations into our disaster preparedness and disaster response planning. Women have particular needs, and these needs must be recognized if our planning is to respond effectively to the needs of the communities that count on us.
So let's use this International Women's Day to cultivate the reflex of integrating the special needs of women into national disaster response strategies. Including women in disaster planning teams and involving women in strategic consultations on disaster response would be an important first step in the right direction.