The Pacific Island Forum’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Reference Group says leadership by women’s groups in planning and delivery of humanitarian assistance can ensure the protection of women and girl’s rights during this state of natural disaster in Solomon Islands.
Their call is in line with existing gender commitments in the region, including the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women Peace and Security and the Pacific Leaders’ Gender Declaration.
“Disasters, whether natural or man-made, pose a major security threat to women and girls in these situations,” says Ethel Sigimanu, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs, Solomon Islands. “The situation that Solomon Islands is currently facing is placing a huge demand on women’s roles in all dimensions making them even more vulnerable. Many of them are placed with their families in evacuation centres and now totally dependent on the State to provide for their needs.”
While the Group recognises the Solomons Island Government’s effort in rebuilding the nation, it also asked that all stakeholders involved in the disaster relief efforts ensure women and girls’ rights are considered.
“In humanitarian emergencies and disaster situations we need to ensure that women and girls have access to health services, psychosocial and legal support and protection,” says Dr. Laurent Zessler, UNFPA Director and Representative. UNFPA staff on the ground report that there are 30 pregnant women identified in 5 evacuation centers, one of whom is a person with a disability. With scarce access to water and minimal infrastructure for privacy, women and girls’ vulnerability increases.
“We also need to value the fact that women play crucial roles during times of disasters and should be recognised as equal partners in disaster response and post-disaster reconstruction.” Women’s organisations have been at the forefront of response efforts, reaching into their networks to support communities in evacuation centers and to provide support to the internally displaced.
Last week, torrential rain swept through the Solomon Islands leaving a trail of disaster in its wake. Following disastrous flash floods, landslides and strong winds, the country is faced with disruptions to infrastructure, risks of outbreak of diseases amongst other challenges, pushing victims of the floods towards more devastation, especially where women and girls are concerned.
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The Women, Peace and Security Reference Group comprises three Forum Member countries: the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea; a CROP agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community; the United Nations Development Program; and regional civil society organisations FemLink Pacific and Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency.. The Group is supported by three technical Advisers and is chaired ex-officio by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.