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A young child wades through flood waters at a mango farm in Kandal province in 2013.
A young child wades through flood waters at a mango farm in Kandal province in 2013. A 2006 London School of Economics survey found that women and children are 14 times more likely to be killed or injured during a disaster. Pha Lina

Female focus at disaster meet

Community leaders came together yesterday to discuss how to mitigate the impacts of climate change on Southeast Asia’s most vulnerable demographic: women and children.

Women and children are 14 times more likely to be killed or injured during a climate change-related disaster than men, according to a 2006 study conducted by the London School of Economics that surveyed 141 countries. This figure is especially pertinent to the Asia-Pacific region, where a large part of the population relies on natural resources along coastlines, and which has accounted for 90 per cent of all disaster-related deaths worldwide since 1971, said Socheath Heng, National Program Manager for UN Women Cambodia.

“It is inequality in daily life – not just the disasters themselves – that reduce the life chances for women and girls,” he told the Regional Conference on Social Impact of Climate Change on Women and Children in ASEAN.

While 70 per cent of Asia’s employed women work in agriculture – areas most exposed to sudden natural disasters – they are also the least likely to be informed prior to a life threatening phenomenon.

Overwhelmingly, Heng said, men are provided with disaster related information that they do not share with their wives and children. As a result, women are deprived of the opportunity to advocate for themselves in such situations.

“There is too much focus on viewing women as victims, rather than as active participants,” said Heng, who proposed strengthening women’s roles in disaster situations and making “gender-equality a prerequisite for [disaster preparation] funding”.

After disaster strikes, and people are displaced from their homes and into care centres, women and children face another threat: overwhelmingly they become targets for rape, sexual violence and human trafficking.

“It is so frequent that it is one of the key interventions that we have,” said Rana Flowers, UNICEF’s representative for Cambodia. She added that the best way to protect Cambodian women and children from climate disasters is through education around sexual health and security, and through community planning.

“Really thinking through where [Cambodians] build and the kind of construction they invest in, you save money over the long term,” Flowers said.

Building durable schools away from flood plains not only allows education to continue throughout the wet seasons, but creates safe spaces for women and children when disaster hits.

To this end, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has established four working groups to respond to climate change disasters with a focus on helping vulnerable women and children, said Sivann Botum, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

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