Conflicts: Women and change


When women have the same rights and opportunities as men, they are well equipped to deal with the impact of wars and natural disasters. This came from the 2010 World Population Report.

Launched by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) last October 20, the document is entitled From conflicts and crisis to renovation.

"When girls and women are discriminated against, they become more vulnerable to the impact of wars and disasters and are less likely to help build peace," said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya A. Obaid at the launching ceremony.

Mayda Álvarez, director of the Women's Study Center at the Federation of Cuban Women, indicated that many lessons can be learnt from the report.

One of them has to do with the need to further promote a culture of peace, humanism and solidarity. This can help finance prevention and emergency measures rather than foreign occupation and wars.

Another lesson involves the role played by community and family networks in daily-life conflict resolution.

"Although Cuba is often hit by hurricanes, people do not get killed because the government takes prevention measures, which include evacuation and shelter for the population, especially for children and senior citizens," Álvarez told SEMlac. "And women play a key part in these processes", she added.

A meeting was officially held in Havana on November 1 to launch the report. It was presided over by United Nations Resident Coordinator ad interim Sonsoles Ruedas and UNFPA Assistant Representative Rolando García.

The event was addressed by Antonio Aja, director of the University of Havana's Population Study Center, and Leticia Martínez, a Granma newspaper reporter who covered the latest earthquake in Haiti.

Speaking at the meeting, Álvarez stressed that Cuba has successfully applied a comprehensive disaster management approach. "Around 700,000 people were evacuated before hurricane Michelle hit in 2001 and over 1.5 million when Ivan was approaching the island in 2004," she exemplified.

"United Nations officials then said that Cuba provided a good example of disaster prevention and preparedness," she recalled.

Hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma caused 10 billion dollars in damage in 2008, and tropical storm Paula made over 20 buildings collapse and left several districts without power supply, in some places for more than a week, last month in Havana.

Shortly after the UNFPA country meeting was held, hurricane Tomas made it necessary to evacuate thousands of people, destroyed many houses, and caused serious floods in eastern Cuba.

"As soon as the warning phase was decreed, the family doctor came to let us know that we had to be evacuated," Lourdes Matienzo told SEMlac. She is a 58-year-old resident in La Laguna, a neighborhood in the easternmost province of Guantánamo.

The roof of Matienzo's home was taken away by hurricane Ike winds in 2008. As she lives at a settlement close to the coastline, she was evacuated along with another 700 people. Most of them went to family and friends'.

The 2009 UNFPA Report had indicated that women were being seriously affected by climate change, and highlighted their leading role in modifying lifestyles and attitudes.

The latest report came out when the United Nations was celebrating the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution No. 1325, which provides girls and women with special protection from gender violence under armed conflict situations and supports women's participation in peace initiatives and accords.

The document urges to give careful consideration to resistance, renovation and redefinition of gender roles in recovery stages.

It includes testimonies of conflict victims in Bosnia Herzegovina, Haiti, Jordan, Liberia, Palestine, East Timor, and Uganda.

"Whenever state institutions get weakened by a crisis, there is a need to provide girls and women with some protection," said UNFPA Regional Director Marcela Suazo.

Estimates show that the number of natural disaster victims in Latin America and the Caribbean has moved from 174 million to 250 million in the last 20 years.

There are today 580 million people living in this region, and there is an imperative need to give women education and employment opportunities.

"Women are not only victims, but also important agents for change," Suazo concluded.

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