In the times of disaster, it is easy for a variety of situations to arise in which women’s human rights are violated. In the Great East Japan Earthquake (2011), consideration for women’s needs was lacking at many evacuation centres, and conditions for women were harsh. It is important for women to participate in disaster prevention from the decision-making stage for such situations to improve. For this reason, we are undertaking initiatives to promote women’s participation in disaster-prevention activities in their communities.
Hyogo Framework for Action Priority
Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.
In Sendai City, after the disaster, a maximum of about 300 public school buildings and city-owned facilities were used as evacuation centres. At peak, they served over 100,000 evacuees. Under these circumstances, there were not enough women’s changing rooms or places where they could safely hang up their underwear to dry. Some even refrained from going to the bathroom at night due to fear about crime. Many situations arose in which women could not survive, live their daily lives, and protect their dignity.
While many women provided aid at evacuation centres, community groups managed by men largely operated the sites. Under these circumstances, it was difficult for women’s perspectives to be reflected.
All areas of Sendai City
Addressing the Problem
The needs of women and girls are different to those of men. We also must consider their needs in an emergency situation from the perspective of human rights. To accomplish this, women must participate in the decision-making processes on the operations of evacuation centers, and we must promote their participation in community disaster-prevention activities.
With these goals as guidance, we held a meeting called “Women Talk About 3.11” four months after the Great East Japan Earthquake , while women’s experiences and memories were still fresh. The purpose of the meeting was to reflect women’s perspectives in both the Sendai City Earthquake Disaster Reconstruction Plan and the Regional Disaster-Prevention Plan that were being drawn up at that time. Topics discussed included better ways to provide information and the revision of the “Evacuation Center Operation Manual”.
In a review of the Regional Disaster-Prevention Plan, we adjusted the membership of the Sendai City Disaster Prevention Council responsible for drawing up the plan. Until that time, there had only been two female committee members (3.3%) out of 60. We increased the number of female members to 11 (15.7%) out of 70, and worked to create rules for regional disaster preparedness that reflected women’s perspectives.
As a result, the new Regional Disaster-Prevention Plan’s basic policy clearly states disaster-prevention measures that reflect the perspectives of both men and women, and includes sufficient consideration for women’s participation in planning the basic policy for evacuation centre operation, as well as stockpiles of supplies that address the needs of women, the elderly, and infants.
In addition, we stipulated the training of female community disaster-prevention leaders. After the disaster, we realised we had a shortage of citizens with practical knowledge of disaster prevention. We therefore aim to train five female leaders in each of the 113 federations of neighbourhood associations in the city, for a total of about 600 leaders by the end of fiscal year 2015.
So far 197 citizens have completed the course, and the number of female leaders has increased from six at the beginning to 42 at the end of last fiscal year. We intend to increase the number of female leaders in order to incorporate their perspectives into policy setting as well as practical evacuation centre operations.
We are also proactively sharing our experiences from the disaster and the lessons we learned regarding women’s participation. In October 2012, 2,200 participants from all over Japan gathered for the Japan Women’s Conference in Sendai and issued the “Sendai Declaration” which stated that women have the right to decide and the power and responsibility to act.
Furthermore, we are creating a workshop programme and textbooks to promote women’s participation in community disaster-prevention activities and holding workshops in local communities. The Women’s Leadership Fund for Recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake, which was established with a donation from Norway, funds these activities.
An increasing awareness of the importance of women’s participation in decision-making is contributing to an increased awareness of disaster prevention in each local community.
We formulated a Regional Disaster-Prevention Plan reflecting women’s perspectives and increased the number of women leaders responsible for the operation of evacuation centres.
Relevance to Hyogo Framework for Action
Women tend to be thought of as the recipients of support, but with their active participation in disaster prevention, we can contribute to the construction of a safe and disaster-resistant culture.
The severity of situations that women are placed in times of disaster is an issue common to both developed and developing countries. Drawing up a regional disaster-prevention plan, however, that reflects women’s perspectives and training women as local disaster-prevention leaders can improve these situations. In addition, due to the relatively low cost of these projects, we believe the potential for replication is very high.
City of Sendai (Crisis Management Department; Gender Equal Opportunity Section of the Community Affairs Bureau).
Sendai Gender Equal Opportunity Foundation.