Addressing Gender for Disaster Response Success
16 August 2016
Responding to a natural disaster is not a time for a gender debate.
In a race against the clock everyone must work together and look after each other.
As countries prepare for future disaster response options the subject of gender is being addressed as never before.
Squadron Leader Amanda Norris, from RAAF Base Amberley, near Brisbane, is a Gender Advisor specialist in the ADF.
She is currently experiencing a 'once in a lifetime' opportunity aboard the United States Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy during Exercise Pacific Partnership 2016, a multinational mission traveling through Southeast Asia providing an opportunity for military and civilian specialists to work with host nations in conducting medical, engineering, dental and veterinary clinics.
Mercy is also conducting specialist seminars, including Women's Peace and Security (WPS) seminars, for which Amanda is the senior lecturer.
Her job is to share Australia's experiences and lessons learned with host and partner nations, and build on the importance of women in Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Response (HADR) planning.
During her presentations and workshops Squadron Leader Norris highlights the importance of gender perspective in HADR planning and restoration.
Gender considerations for developing disaster response strategies is critical in addressing the devastating fact that women and children are disproportionately represented among the victims of various opportunistic and targeted crimes in conflicts and natural disasters.
Using United Nations Security Resolution 1325 as their guide, the team aboard Mercy is addressing the issues faced by women and children.
At a recent Gender and Development Seminar in Legazpi, Philippines, over 100 female and male military, police and emergency services personnel heard from guest speakers and the WPS team about current women's involvement in national disaster planning and United Nations peacekeeping and operational leadership roles.
Squadron Leader Norris explained that while women are extremely resilient, the issues faced by women will not be addressed properly or sufficiently to significantly improve their safety or enhance their capacity to 'start again' in the wake of natural disasters unless they are fully integrated into humanitarian or disaster response planning.
An example of one possible solution could be an increase in female peacekeepers and responders.
"In any disaster or conflict, women naturally feel safer and more comfortable talking to other women," she said.
"Disasters don't discriminate; people do.
"Disasters make bad situations worse for women and children, so if you don't include women in the initial planning for disaster response then you're dismissing 50 per cent of the population."
Squadron Leader Norris has a long family history with the Australian Defence Force.
Her grandparents were in the Navy, her brother is in the Australian Army and her husband Nick is also a current serving Air Force member.
"I love the military way of life - the new experiences, mate-ship and seeing new places," Squadron Leader Norris said.
"Now I have the opportunity to present such an important topic as WPS on the world stage.
"It has been a bit daunting but also very exciting."
This year Pacific Partnership 16 will conduct WPS workshops in Timor Leste, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia with Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel participation in all locations.