A NEW ROLE FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS IN THE CONTEXT OF DISASTER MANAGEMENT: THE UN COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF DISCRIMINATION AGAINST WOMEN’S GENERAL RECOMMENDATION No. 37
On February 7, 2018, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) issued General Recommendation No. 37 on gender-related dimensions of disaster risk reduction in the context of climate change. The recommendation provides guidance to the 189 State parties to the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on the fulfillment of their treaty obligations in the fields of disaster risk reduction and climate change.
The Recommendation is groundbreaking in many respects: it is the first attempt by a UN treaty body to spell out systematically and coherently in a single document how a human rights-based approach should inform management of disaster situations, including climate change-induced disasters. The document seeks to ensure consistency of “different international agendas on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation [such as the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] by focusing on the impact of climate change and disasters on women’s human rights.” The Recommendation also recognizes that instances of gender-based discrimination and compounded forms of discrimination against certain groups of women increase and worsen in disaster situations. Furthermore, the Recommendation reconfirms that, during and in the aftermath of disasters, women and girls are exposed to a heightened risk of gender-based violence.
What really sets the Recommendation apart is Committee’s conviction that the “vulnerability and exposure of women and girls to disaster risk and climate change are economically, socially and culturally constructed and can be reduced.” The Committee firmly believes that depicting women as a “vulnerable group” needing protection from disasters is a dangerous stereotype that prevents women from incisively participating in disaster management. The Recommendation posits women and girls’ empowerment through active participation in decision-making relevant to disaster risk reduction activities as a principle that should inform disaster management and a key factor contributing to effective prevention of and response to disasters. As the Committee observes, “gender equality […] will reinforce the resilience of individuals and communities globally in the context of climate change and disasters.” On these premises, the Committee goes on to detail a wide array of measures for State Parties to the Women Convention to take in order to ensure women and girls’ active participation in disaster management. These measures include among many others:
- temporary special measures, including quotas, as one element of a coordinated and continuously monitored strategy to achieve women’s equal participation in all decision-making and development planning related to disaster risk reduction and climate change;
- provision of appropriate information and mechanisms to ensure that all women and girls, whose rights have been directly and indirectly affected by disasters and climate change, are provided with adequate and timely remedies;
- programs to ensure women’s participation and leadership, including through women’s organizations, in the context of local and community planning, climate change, disaster preparedness, response and recovery;
- specific policies, programs, and strategies enabling women to exercise their right to seek, receive, and impart information related to climate change and disaster risk reduction;
- increase of women’s access to appropriate risk reduction schemes, such as social protection, livelihood diversification and insurance;
- institutionalization of women’s leadership in disaster prevention, preparedness (including the development and dissemination of early warning systems), response, recovery and climate change mitigation and adaptation at all levels;
- development, in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders including women’s associations, of a system of regular monitoring and evaluation of interventions designed to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against women within disaster risk reduction and climate change programs; and
- participation of women at the local, national, regional and international levels in processes to collect, analyze, monitor and disseminate data across all areas relevant to disaster risk reduction, climate change and gender equality.
Implementation of Recommendation No. 37 will require sweeping cultural and operative changes in the way State parties to the Women Convention deal with disasters. One can only hope that coordinated efforts by all stakeholders at the domestic levels and the CEDAW’s monitoring of follow-up to the recommendation will drive such needed change. State parties are expected to include information in their next periodic reports to the Committee on the legal frameworks, strategies, budgets and programs implemented to ensure that the human rights of women are respected, protected, and fulfilled within disaster management policies. And to translate the General Recommendation “into national and local languages, including indigenous and minority languages, and disseminate it widely to all branches of government, civil society, the media, academic institutions and women’s organizations.”
 General Recommendation No. 27, CEDAW/C/GC/37, para. 12.
 Id., paras. 2-4.
 Id., para. 5.
 Id., para. 6.
 Id., para. 7.
 Id., para. 12.
 Id., paras. 36 (a); 26 (c); 36 (b); 31 (a); 46 (d); 54 (b); 57 (d); 81 (a) and b).
 Id., para. 81 (C ).
 Id., para. 81(d).