Article by Melanie HiltonNatural disaster has once again tested Myanmar’s tenacity to cope. The worst since 2008s cyclone Nargis, flash floods in the Country have caused widespread devastation, affecting over 1 million people and their long-term livelihood security. In coordinating community-led response mechanisms, ActionAid has placed women at the centre of its work. Women are conducting village-level need assessments and leading the distribution of relief and aid.
Learning from Nargis, the need to work with women and girls emerged as crucial for Community Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) efforts as these groups were disproportionately impacted. A recent vulnerability analysis undertaken in Meikhtilar – presently unaffected; but prone to extreme weather conditions – underscored that an increase in migration for men from rural to urban settings (in search of more lucrative livelihood opportunities), has thrust women into a position of heading households and protecting community resources. This is a countrywide phenomenon.
The current situation has presented an opportunity to reverse social barriers for women’s leadership by giving them the platform to spearhead community response. Emergency task forces in ActionAid areas that were established post-Nargis comprise mostly of women.
To facilitate gender mainstreaming with an emphasis on the protection of most vulnerable groups (including persons with disabilities, pregnant women and the chronically ill), the organisation has developed a ‘Gender Checklist’ that has been translated into local language and circulated to all field staff and task forces.
In further nurturing community-based coping mechanisms, women volunteers have established ‘Women’s Information Centres’ in Sarlingyi township that will serve as safe-spaces, where peer-to-peer psychosocial support will be encouraged and through which ActionAid can address the specific needs of women and girls including the provision of sanitary items and awareness raising material on referral services in case of sexual and gender based violence.
Beyond the community level, ActionAid has been attending the Protection and Gender Based Violence cluster meetings coordinated by the UNHCR and UNFPA, and has been connecting communities to regional level coordination groups and service pathways.
In order to incorporate lessons learned from the recent floods into our programming around protection and livelihood security, ActionAid has undertaken a rapid needs assessment of women’s vulnerabilities in all Local Rights Program (LRP) areas. Particular concerns regarding livelihood-vulnerability induced sex trafficking have been shared at the Protection forum.
As we shift our efforts from response to relief and recovery, ActionAid through existing long-term project funding from the UN Trust Fund, DFID, Australian Aid and ECHO, will continue to nurture women’s leadership and the Community’s overall resilience to climate change and extreme weather conditions.