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Changing the story for women in typhoon-hit Philippines

by Musimbi Kanyoro and Sangeeta Chowdhry | Global Fund for Women
Tuesday, 19 November 2013 18:17 GMT

Woman carries her baby across an area damaged by Typhoon Haiyan at Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines on Tuesday Nov. 12, 2013. Photo by AP.

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“When night falls in areas ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda, women survivors fear for their safety from men knocking on their doors and threatening them for food”

“When night falls in areas ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda, women survivors fear for their safety from men knocking on their doors and threatening them for food.”
“A mother who lost her three children is grieving, but is thankful that they have not been subjected to the intense hunger and uncertainty of most.”
These are but a few of the messages Global Fund for Women has received since the typhoon hit the Philippines, leaving thousands dead and millions hurt, homeless, and hungry.
The scenes are painfully familiar. Whether Haiti, Louisiana or the Philippines, the story is the same: risks to women and girls rise during natural disasters. In the chaos of crisis, women become vulnerable to domestic violence, rape, and trafficking.
Women play significant roles in all stages of reconstruction yet, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, when it comes to developing disaster response policies, women are marginalized. Of the 1.4 billion dollars raised for emergency relief after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, less than 1 percent was earmarked to address violence against women, according to Justine Greening, Britain’s international development secretary in an interview with The Guardian.

"When relief assistance is trickling down, that’s when we come in," noted Maria Angela Villalba, former Global Fund board member and executive director of grantee partner Unlad Kabayan Migrant Services Foundation. "It’s a more effective way because right now everyone’s clamoring into relief piles.”

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), response from donors and relief agencies has been remarkable. And while we understand washed out roads, no cell service, and other challenges that keep aid from reaching survivors quickly, they are no excuse to ignore women’s rights.

When disaster strikes women take the lead in rebuilding their communities. For example, after previous storms hit the Philippines, Unlad Kabayan was one of the only organizations providing sanitary napkins and milk for lactating mothers.

"Women who were lactating had hardly any milk in their breasts. The regular agencies told us 'we have a standard package and milk is not included’,” said Villalba. If not for women’s groups like Villalba’s these problems would have remained hidden and unaddressed.

Similarly, after the 2010 Haitian earthquake killed more than 200,000 and displaced millions, our partner, KOFAVIV, acted quickly by starting a call center to document and respond to violence against women. Today, that call center receives nearly 1,000 calls a day.

In the Philippines, women’s groups are already working on long-term recovery: seeds to replant rice fields; kitchen equipment to boil drinking water once emergency distribution is halted; and counseling to heal long-term trauma.

Let’s change the ending of the story we’ve heard all too often. It will take many hands, hearts and minds to rebuild ravaged Filipino communities, but we can make sure women have their rightful place front and center. Together – women’s groups, big aid agencies, governments, and others – can write a new ending to this story.

By Musimbi Kanyoro, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women, and Sangeeta Chowdhry, Global Fund for Women Program Director for Asia Pacific