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

The 2012 International Day for Disaster Reduction on October 13th

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.

The aim of International Day for Disaster
Reduction 2012 is to acknowledge the millions of women and girls who help make
their communities more resilient to disasters and climate risks and who protect
and rebuild their communities before and after disasters. We can truly say that
the women and girls in the Cayman Islands have made their own significant
contribution to that global effort.

Let’s take time out today and say thank
you.  Your contribution is priceless and
is treasured. 
 

Deputy Governor, the Hon.
Franz Manderson.

 

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