© UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Women and Girls: the [in]Visible Force of Resilience

Loss of lives, suffering and damage due to disasters in many parts of the world are a constant reminder of our vulnerability to natural hazards. Yet much of these tragic consequences could be avoided through risk awareness and assessment, improved environmental management and urban planning, preparedeness and education, to name a few. Disaster risk reduction is about understanding our personal and environmental risks of a hazard and finding ways to reduce this risk so that we are not affected by them, or are able to recover quickly.

We must build the concerns of girls and women into all disaster reduction. Their empowerment is one of the key paths towards more resilient societies. As the number and impact of disasters increase, girls and women must be more than visible – they must be actors and leaders for resilience.    

       Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

On 13 October, we celebrate the International Day for Disaster Reduction as a reminder that disaster resilience must be a development priority in all parts of the world. This year’s celebration focuses on the role of women and girls in reducing disasters risks, drawing attention to the fact that their efforts to protect and rebuild their communities before and after disasters are often unrecognized and that 'invisibility' is a socio-cultural construct. This must be an opportunity to celebrate achievements made by women and girls in disaster resilience and mobilize against the challenges that still prevent them from playing an even greater role in disaster risk reduction and against the future risks which make them particularly vulnerable.

A resilient community is a gender-sensitive community

Gender equality is a red thread weaving through all UNESCO activities to promote international cooperation in education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. The Outcome Document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development -- Rio+20 – highlights the need for a sharper focus on disaster risk reduction and building resilience to disasters. It recognizes the need to integrate a gender perspective into the design and implementation of all phases of disaster risk management.

Gender inequality puts women, children and entire communities in danger when natural hazards strike. Gender inequality is a weak link - strengthening that link strengthens resilience. Equality begins with education and women’s education and empowerment, especially, is an accelerator for vulnerability reduction. Unless we invest in strengthening the role of women and girls in disaster resilience, natural disasters will be expected to increase in terms of frequency, complexity, scope and destructive capacity.

Women and Girls are the pillars of resilience - they are the first to prepare their families for a disaster and the first to put communities back together in the aftermath.

Facts and Figures

Gender inequality, including lack of education and empowerment, translates into increased vulnerability: women and children are 14 times more likely to die during a disaster than men.

More than 226 million people are affected by disasters every year. Over the last 40 years, most of the 3.3 million deaths caused by disasters occurred in poorer nations.

In 2000-2010, over 680,000 people died in earthquakes. Most of these deaths, due to poorly-built buildings, could have been prevented.

Less than 0.7 per cent of total relief aid goes to disaster risk reduction, although every dollar spent on preparedness saves 7 dollars in response.

Between 2002 and 2011, there were 4,130 recorded disasters from natural hazards around the world, in which more than 1.117 million people perished and a minimum of US$1,195 billion was recorded in losses.

In East Asia and the Pacific, the risks of dying from floods and cyclones have decreased by two thirds since 1980.

Photo gallery

Featured projects

Mobile Multimedia Units in Haiti
These units were used to train women journalists, allowing them to continue to report in crisis situations that often result in women falling victims of violence and discrimination.
- Institutional media development

Myanmar Education Recovery Programme
Over 1,500 female teachers were trained through this programme, which empowered women to reduce their vulnerability to disaster.

Rehabilitation of the Education System in Earthquake-affected Areas of Pakistan Administered Azad Jammu and Kashmir
Women took center stage in training activities on providing better and safer teaching and learning environments in earthquake-affected middle and secondary schools, focusing on roles and responsibilities, gender equality and girls in education.
- Final report

Combating drought in the Horn of Africa
UNESCO is using new remote-sensing technology to generate high-resolution groundwater potential maps. These will help to combat climate change in water-scarce areas of Africa by identifying emergency and sustainable water supplies and delivering measures to mitigate against long-term drought and famine.
- GRIDMAP project

Tsunami Early Warning Systems
UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is leading a global effort to establish ocean-based tsunami warning systems. These regional systems are created to evaluate risks, issue and transmit alert messages and educate the populations exposed to tsunami risks.
- Tsunamis: what to know