How gender equality prevented total destruction during Hurricane Pam

“We learned this through the simulation exercise that CARE did. It really saved lives, I know it.”

“When the government representatives landed here they couldn’t believe we were alive. All they could see from the plane was destruction.” But instead, in Vanuatu’s Yumi Redi project, a CARE-facilitated Community Disaster Committee was able to evacuate 95% of the village to safety and no one was seriously harmed during hurricane Pam in 2015. What made the difference? Women’s equality.

Men and women worked together to prepare homes and evacuate the community. “We learned this through the simulation exercise that CARE did. It really saved lives, I know it.” said Wilson Umah, CDC member. CARE Australia has just conducted a Research Report of its Gender and Resilience programming, analyzing more than 600 documents from 6 programs to see what we’ve done, what we’ve learned, and what we should do next. The results are pretty remarkable.

What did we accomplish?

  • Women have a seat at the table: For the first time ever, Vanuatu took women to UN Climate talks. From a base of zero female representatives before, half of the delegation in Warsaw was women. Women were also instrumental on steering committees to change three key national climate policies.
  • More women leaders: Projects across the board helped women leaders, 21 year old Sabrina Yaviong in Vanuatu. She says “when I put on the CDC uniform I feel good, because I feel I’m helping other people, and I’m helping me too because I am a future women’s leader.”
  • More, better food: The number of women in Papua New Guinea with homestead gardens nearly tripled, and families now have enough vegetables to eat, food to sell in the market, and money to send their kids to school.
  • Better access to information: Women in the ICAM project in Vietnam are more likely to access information to help them cope with climate change because they understand why it’s important.

How did we get there?

  • Focus on advocacy with social movements: In Vanuatu, CARE worked with an alliance of civil society members to put pressure on the government for broader women’s representation. They targeted specific policies to maximize change.
  • Target women’s leadership: In Vanuatu, CARE helped get women into leadership positions where they could have a say about national policies. In Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, they made sure that local committees had not just women members, but women leaders as well. And they provided women with the support and training they needed to be effective in those positions.
  • Demonstrate how programs benefit all: Communities seemed to respond better to projects that showed clear benefits for everyone in the community—women and men—even when the key focus was on women and leadership. Using adaptation as an entry point gave people incentives to engage with the gender aspects in a way they might not have if gender equality was the only project goal.
  • Work with men and women, and create spaces for exchange: Successful projects gave men and women space to sit in separate groups to discuss their own views and problems, and spaces for them to come together to exchange. This creates safe space and boosts confidence for opinions it could be hard to express for the first time in a mixed group.

Where do we go next?

The research report provided several key recommendations for future improvements, including:

  • Develop more concrete, gender-transformative tools: Many of CARE’s climate tools are from 2009, and are not built with the most cutting-edge gender design. Conversely, countries said many of the gender tools were so theoretical they were hard to implement. We need a set of tools that will help programs take action for resilience AND gender equality.
  • Collect and use quality gender information for each context: Projects need context-specific, concrete information to design for changes in gender equality. In some cases, gender analyses were not helpful because they were too vague or not representative.
  • Put women and girls in the center of representing themselves: As a large NGO, it can be easy for CARE’s voice to displace that of the communities we seek to serve. We need to focus on women’s leadership and connecting women to opportunities so they can bring their own stories to the table.

Want to learn more?

Check out the Research Report.