Outstanding women: hearing the voice of gender-based experiences with the Women’s Resilience Index

February 27, 2020

Women play a central role in disaster management; however, it can sometimes go unrecognised in disaster risk reduction policies and activities. Photo credit: UNDP Cambodia/Manuth Buth

Phnom Penh, February 2020 - As the floodwaters rise around the base of their houses, grandmothers in rural Cambodia are often forced to remain inside looking after their grandchildren. Their own children have either migrated over the border, into the city or to nearby garment factories for work, or they have taken livestock and other family members to areas of higher ground. Even if they were able to, some of Cambodia’s elderly women fear leaving their houses during the flood due to insufficient transport, resources or accessibility/privacy of safe areas. This is just one of the ways in which women and men can be impacted differently by disasters in Cambodia.

To address issues like this, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and ActionAid Cambodia have been working together to complete Enhancing Gender Equality in Disaster Risk Reduction in Cambodia activities under the project ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’, funded by GEF-Least Developed Countries Fund.

As part of this project, ActionAid have completed the Cambodia Women’s Resilience Index (WRI). As written in its opening statement: “The Cambodia Women’s Resilience Index identifies areas that need to be strengthened in both policy and practice, and where women can advocate for positive change to build their individual and community resilience at the local level.”

With little existing contextualised research (despite the known disparity between women and men in disaster impacts), the index will provide valuable insights into the status of gender at community level regarding disaster preparedness and capacity (among a range of other issues) in Cambodia. In doing so, the index will allow more nuanced policy development, advocacy, programming approaches and better understandings of equitable communities.

“For women in Cambodia, we have focused on resiliency and positive change for them. Women are vulnerable to disaster and climate change. The Women’s Resilience Index is to measure and compare women’s resiliency with that found elsewhere in the community so that we can make recommendations for enhancing their resilience. This is to change the unequal power that is making them vulnerable. We hope that they are able to be strong and be protected,” said Team Leader for Women’s Right for ActionAid Cambodia, Ms. Chantevy Khourn.

The WRI assesses resilience over 36 indicators which align across four pillars: economic, infrastructure, social and institutions. The economic pillar assesses income and financial management as well as access to resources; the infrastructure pillar refers to buildings (location, safety and so on) as well as technology, water access and early warning systems; the social pillar measures indicators such as food and education access; and the institutional pillar discusses public participation, decision-making, plans and institutions.

Data was collected using a desk review of literature, household surveys, focus group discussions, key informant interviews and in-depth interviews, conducted across a range of geographical locations (Phnom Penh, coastal, plain, Tonle Sap and mountainous), with particular focus on gathering the experiences of marginalized groups. ActionAid worked closely with the support of the National Committee for Disaster Management, which will hopefully allow better integration of the findings at all levels.

Results are scored from 0 – 1 with higher scores demonstrating a higher level of resilience. Overall, communities in Cambodia scored 0.58, with males scoring 0.59 and females scoring 0.56. This demonstrates that overall Cambodia’s resilience level is not high, with a difference of 3% in resilience between genders (however this gap becomes more pronounced when individual pillars and indicators are considered).

The most notable gap between men and women was found in the institutional pillar, in which men scored 0.61 while women scored 0.56.  Other notable findings included the discrepancy between men and women in daily income less than $1.90 (men = 29%, women = 43%), inability to access school (men = 12%, women = 25%), ability to read/write (men = 76%, women = 59%), have ability to make decisions in community (men = 67%, women = 54%), and no awareness of disaster management plans at commune/Sangkat level (men = 57%, women = 65%).

There were also notable differences between results in rural and urban areas. Survey participants from rural areas scored lower across all pillars except institutional, where rural males scored 3% higher than their urban counterparts (females were equivalent on this pillar regardless of location). However, this is not always the case – for example, men and women in the rural areas showed higher levels of community-level decision making than those in urban areas.

The WRI plays an important role in identifying gender inequalities and resilience within Cambodian communities. Photo credit: UNDP Climate.

ActionAid have previously presented the  South Asia Women’s Resilience Index in partnership with the Economist Index Unit (EIU) however Cambodia was not included in this assessment. An index specifically for community-level in Cambodia will allow a more accurate representation of areas of strength and weakness for gender and disaster preparedness.

The WRI demonstrates how important the interaction between Sustainable Development Goals can be. By promoting both SDG 5: Gender Equality and SDG 13: Climate Action simultaneously, particularly as the globe moves into the SDG Decade of Action in hope of achieving the SDGs by 2030, vulnerability of females can be significantly reduced across all stages of the disaster management process. Similarly, the index supports the goals of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which specifically state that the needs of women, and the promotion of women’s leadership, must be integrated into disaster risk reduction policies and practices.

The WRI was launched by ActionAid alongside the Women’s Charter of Demands on the 11th of December 2019 in Phnom Penh. Under the project, ActionAid and UNDP have also partnered to identify and train women champions to address disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation needs and gender equality in their local communities.

Together, it is hoped that these documents and activities can enhance the future of Cambodian women in the context of disasters.

Written by Kelsea Clingeleffer, International Results Monitoring Consultant

For more information contact Muhibuddin Usamah (Project Manager) at muhibuddin.usamah@undp.org

See the ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’ Twitter timeline here.

For updates on this project and UNDP Cambodia’s broader work, follow @UNDPCambodia on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

Related articles:

Raising women up: UNDP and Action Aid Cambodia partner to empower women in climate action and disaster management’, July 2019

‘Learning to lead: Women take action for community-based disaster risk reduction in Cambodia’, August 2019