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Forgotten Ability: Engaging Woman in Disaster Issue

“When flood ruined our village, we –the women from Omu, took action by establishing public (community) kitchen. I see this volunteerism of woman as social capital. We, the women, never take advantage in such situation.”
(Rahet Taraya, 41, woman from Omu Village, Donggala District, Central Sulawesi)

As a word, disaster –like any other words, is not neutral. It is often associated to masculinity, which strongly relates to masculine activities such as evacuation or build infrastructure. In later, it refers automatically to men who stereotypically must have masculine characteristics. Thus, disaster works –whether in form of emergency works or disaster risk reduction efforts are associated to men or anything related to masculinity characteristic. Leslike Malosok, a middle-age woman from Kalurae Village, Sangihe –an isle district, which is part of North Sulawesi, mentioned, “men are needed in disaster to help people”. Leslike is just one of most people who believe in the myth –that disaster is men’s domain. Although Leslike holds strategic position in the local authority structure that enables her to have power in decision making –including make decision in the village meeting about disaster risk reduction efforts, but the myth of disaster has overruled her contribution to the disaster risk reduction efforts.

Further, women like Leslike and other women I met, they know well their surrounding neighbourhood, as well understand daily needs required by family members. This ability surely will save lives, particularly those who are vulnerable. And, their cooking ability –though it sounds stereotypical, will help their community to survive during the hard time. Even the men I met admit the ability of woman regarding dealing with detail things such as securing important documents, e.g. birth certificate, land certificate, etc. All men I met say that their wives usually the one who remember those important documents, and they keep them in secure place.

It is obvious that women do have capacity in dealing with disaster issue, but when it comes to broader sense –disaster as an issue, the ability of women seem to be forgotten. The invitation regarding disaster issue is usually associated to men (automatically); therefore more men on the meeting than women.

Demystifying Disaster
Regarding the fact above, it is important to demystify disaster –that disaster does not always require masculinity, but also femininity, as well disaster require both men and women to work on it. Disaster is not always about providing good protection against natural hazards –in terms of building infrastructure, but also how to increase and strengthen community awareness and provide services to the vulnerable ones. It is always important to keep in mind that gender equality is not only about equality of men and women, but also the equality regarding the value of masculinity and femininity. To the humanitarian mind, every good deed is counted regardless its gender characteristic –whether masculine or feminine.

Thus, there is a myth that must be vanished.

* This article was (firstly) written for the purpose of the organization I worked for, and I’ve edited some parts. All the places mention in this articles are in Indonesia.

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