UN International Day for Disaster Reduction

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Published 12th October 2012, 10:24am

Message from the Deputy Governor, the Hon. Franz Manderson

In the Cayman Islands women and girls have a critical and integral role in the nation’s development. On October 13 we recognize “International Day of Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDR)” and focus on the invaluable contribution Women and Girls have made and are making in the building and maintaining of the Cayman Islands resilience, we want to put them forefront and celebrate their contributions.   In the Cayman Islands, women and girls are active and leading participants in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Women such as Dr. Gina Ebanks Petrie, Director of the Department of the Environment, Miss. Jen Dixon, Director of Children and Family Services, Dr. Gelia Frederick-Van Genderen, Director of the Water Authority, Mrs. Lizette Yearwood, CEO of the Health Services Authority and Mrs. Jondo Obi, Director of the Red Cross are presently shaping the future and the community in which we live. There have been stalwarts that have blazed the trail before: Mrs. Diana Look Loy, Miss. Ella Connolly, Miss. Lucille Seymour, Honourable Edna Moyle, Honourable Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Honourable Sybil McLaughlin all have paved the way empowering their gender and making significant contributions to the Cayman Islands to build its resilience for the future. 

In their vital but often unsung roles, our Caymanian women and girls are very often the pillars of resilience - they are the first to prepare their families for a disaster, and as we saw in both Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Paloma, they are the first to put their communities back together in the aftermath. The women and girls in the Cayman Islands are powerful agents of change. They have unique knowledge and skills which are crucial when addressing and managing disaster risks and they are invaluable partners in preparing for and preventing disasters. Our women are activists, law makers, social workers, role models, community leaders, doctors, teachers, nurses, mothers, daughters and also comforters in those stressful times. They are fully contributing to sustainable development through disaster risk reduction, particularly in the areas of environmental and natural resource management; governance; land use planning and social and economic planning - the key drivers of disaster risk management.

If real community resilience and significant reduction of disaster impacts are to be achieved, women must always be part of our policy, planning and implementation processes. They have vital experiences and wisdom to share – The leading role of women in the Cayman Islands is not a recent development, it is a historical fact. Perhaps it came about because for many years, most of the men were away from home for long periods on turtle schooners and then on merchant ships. As a result, the women bore the majority of the day to day responsibilities. They built and protected their communities.

More recently, Hazard Management Cayman Islands and the Cayman Islands Red Cross have been building disaster resilience at the community level with establishment of Community Emergency Response Teams. Out of the four teams that have been established so far, or which are in active development, half of them are led by women. Within the other teams women have senior coordinating roles helping to maintain community cohesiveness and building resilience.

The theme for IDDR 2012 does not imply that women and girls are invisible. It is about highlighting that their ability to contribute is hindered by lack of inclusion and poor understanding of gender inequality. It is about celebrating the contribution women and girls are making before, during and after a disaster. It is about moving beyond the tendency to view and portray women and girls as victims, even though women and girls feature disproportionately among the casualties of disasters. No longer must women and girls only be looked upon as vulnerable but as vital capacity building tools for the community and the country.

Evidence of women and girls from all walks of life who are making a difference here in the Cayman Islands continues to emerge. In many instances they are leading the efforts in their communities. Though seldom recognized, their work saves lives. Long after we think events like Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Paloma are over and done with, women whose jobs and professions in teaching, health care, mental health, crisis work, and community advocacy bring them into direct contact with affected families. Even in the immediate aftermath of these hurricanes women led the way in shelter management especially in the preparation of meals, comforting of children and just putting the home back together.

 While we still struggle with negative elements in gender abuse in the aftermath of a disaster event, we must continue to strive as a nation to stamp out these occurrences through greater public education and awareness programmes. It is paramount we protect this valuable resource – our women and girls.

Following a disaster it is typical that normal schedules are disrupted– and we saw this after Hurricane Ivan; many homes were damaged, cars were destroyed, children had no school to go to for between 20 to 40 days, there was no television or electricity. A significant percentage of households in Cayman are headed up by women and nearly 50 percent of the workforce is comprised of women. With the schools not being available after Hurricane Ivan, this put a tremendous strain on working mothers. It is important for us to acknowledge and recognize these issues so we can have the appropriate mechanisms in place to support women and children before the next disaster strikes. We are trying to achieve this goal.

Here in the Cayman Islands children and young people have benefited from an education programme that has included disaster risk reduction (DRR) and this is now well established in the schools. We have increased the levels of counseling services that are available for people who are struggling with disaster related depression and post-traumatic stress. Our schools are now more resilient and better able to withstand a major hurricane; however HMCI continues to foster a collaborated effort being made by Government, non-government organisations and others for ways to provide additional child care / social support mechanisms in the aftermath of disasters. Risk reduction and adequate response mechanisms are a central part of the national development process and the building of resilience; as such, elements of risk reduction programme have been included in new disaster management legislation currently awaiting approval.

As Hillary Clinton noted during the Women in the World Summit: “What does it mean to be a woman in the world? … It means never giving up … It means getting up, working hard and putting a country or a community on your back.” During the 3rd annual Women in the World Summit held in New York in March 2012, Mrs. Clinton also said “women have the power to shape our destinies in ways previous generations couldn’t imagine.” This observation about women and girls as a force to counter many of the problems ailing the world represents an idea whose time has come, and not a minute too soon.

It's not gender but gender inequality that puts women and girls in harm's way when disasters strike. We must continue to empower the women and girls in the Cayman Islands for a safer tomorrow. Gender equality begins with education. Women and girls must be included in public life. This begins with the education of boys and girls through to adulthood.