Former Governor of Antique Sally Zaldivar Perez delivered a leadership keynote on climate change on behalf of Senator Loren Legarda at the #FWNSummit2016 in Cebu on August 24, 2016. Below is the full text of her keynote speech.
Our nation has been gaining significant improvement in promoting gender equality. The Philippines has consistently been first South and Southeast Asia and among the top 10 in the world in successfully closing the gender gap since 2006, when the World Economic Forum released its first Global Gender Gap Report.
But even with this seeming success in our fight for gender equality, we need to do more. We must build these gains and continue to improve on our policies to address the challenges that women are facing in this era of globalization.
I have been asked to speak about the intersection of climate change and modern-day slavery. Allow me first to discuss how climate change and how it impacts women and girls.
Here in our country, disaster risks abound. The Philippines, being an archipelagic state located in the western edge of the Pacific Ocean and directly within the Ring of Fire, faces the constant risk of typhoons, drought, as well as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Now with climate change, we confront weather in extremes such as Ondoy and Pepeng, Sendong, Pablo, Yolanda, the monsoon rains, and the stronger episodes of El Niño we’ve experienced in the past months.
The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 41 percent of the world’s natural hazards over the past 10 years. These disasters have been unforgiving, claiming an average of 70,000 lives each year from 2004-2013. Another 200 million are affected each year, half of them women and girls.
Although disasters do not discriminate between the young and old, the rich and poor, they impact individuals and families disproportionately – with the strong and capable surviving and coping better, while the weak and vulnerable losing lives and suffering more. And in settings where gender inequality pervades, the situation becomes even worse for women.
In 2013, the world witnessed the massive destruction that Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, considered the world’s strongest typhoon to hit land, wrought in Central Philippines – how the City of Tacloban, the economic center of Eastern Visayas was brutally washed away by its storm surge that left more than 6,000 people dead and countless missing in its aftermath.
Haiyan has revealed how vulnerable women are to disasters.
More than 3.5 million women and girls were affected, 250,000 of them pregnant and 169,000 breastfeeding. Women’s distinct nutritional needs make coping with disasters even tougher.
Haiyan also caused the loss of income sources for almost six million workers, 40% of whom are female workers
Moreover, women’s displacement from their homes put them at greater risk of sexual violence and of falling prey to human traffickers.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has raised concerns that climate-related disasters leave women and girls more vulnerable to trafficking because in the aftermath of disasters, local security safety nets may be disrupted and economic challenges also make women potential targets for human trafficking.
These realities show that even in disaster impacts, there is no equality.
As women have a greater stake in disaster realities, it is time we take action by putting women at the forefront of disaster risk reduction efforts.
Women’s vulnerability in times of disasters is not a showcase of weakness, but rather highlights the inequality that exists- women have lesser access to resources and information; gendered social roles and cultural constraints on their actions continue to persist in many societies; lower level of education among women, especially in rural areas, prevent them from understanding disaster warnings, thus preventing them from taking precautionary measures.
The first step in addressing this vulnerability is to change the way we view women in the context of disaster realities. Women are not victims. They constitute a formidable “first line of defense” against climate and disaster risks.
We already have a number of inspiring stories wherein women are at the forefront of climate action and disaster resilience efforts.
In the municipality of San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu, 90% of officers in charge of environmental protection and disaster prevention programs in each and every purok are women, since most of the male residents are focused on making a living for their families.
The municipality is a 2011 UN Sasakawa Awardee for Disaster Reduction because of their Purok System, which focuses on addressing the vulnerability of every village in the municipality by mobilizing local resources in creating local and practical solutions based on the unique needs of every community.
In the Province of Rizal, the Sapinit Watershed Settlers Association, composed of women residents of the area, established a nursery filled with narra and mahogany seedlings, in coordination with the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation. The women members tilled the land, prepared the watershed, and planted the seedlings. This effort is aimed at helping to restore the devastated Marikina watershed
In the coastal Barangay of Talokgangan in the Province of Iloilo, women are at the forefront of rehabilitation efforts covering 3.5 hectares of mangrove forests. What initially started as a male-dominated organization in 1996, the Talokgangan Concerned Citizen Association has become, by 2010, a mostly-female organization with the mission of restoring, preserving and creating opportunities to save Banate-Barotac Bay from further deterioration. The association was organized through the assistance of the Banate-Barotac Bay Resource Management Council Inc. (BBBRMCI), an inter-local government unit (LGU) alliance among municipalities of Barotac Nuevo, Anilao, Banate, and Barotac Viejo, in the Province of Iloilo.
The Fellowship for Organizing Endeavors, Inc. (FORGE) initiated disaster risk reduction projects in Cebu City. These include a riprapping project in Brgy. Kalunasan, tree planting initiative in Bulacao, and household based solid waste management in Brgy. Apas. In all of these projects, women were not contented with just being mere supporters. They were also involved in the project management committee for the riprap construction. The women outnumbered men in the tree planting activities and women were more zealous in the planning workshops on waste management.
All of these stories convey the message: Women are no longer willing to stay on the sidelines. Stereotyped gender roles have no place in the critical fight against disaster risk and climate change.
We already have a number of laws adopted with the Filipino woman at the top of mind. These include the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act and the Climate Change Act which provide for gender-responsive and proactive response in lessening the impacts of disasters and climate change; the Domestic Workers Act which effectively brings domestic workers, the vast majority of whom are women, within the full and formal protection of our laws and government; the Expanded Anti-trafficking in Persons Act which ensures greater protection for women and children.
We must acknowledge the capacity of women to get involved, decide, take action and lead. Our goal should be not only to reduce women’s vulnerability but also to empower and allow them to become part of climate action, thereby addressing the risks they face.
To harness the strength of women in reducing social vulnerability and increasing local capacity is to ensure the sustainability, inclusivity and resilience of local and national development pursuits.
Together, let us prove to the world that women are agents of solutions and resilience, indispensable holders of valuable knowledge and skills, and able leaders of change from the grassroots level to the global stage.
About Senator Loren Legarda
For the past three decades, Senator Loren Legarda has dedicated her work to serve the Filipino people, primarily by promoting the sustainable and equitable use of our natural resources; advancing programs on building community resilience; advocating for social justice, human rights, peace and cultural diversity; and initiating measures for quality and accessible education, decent employment and livelihood opportunities. A three-term Senator, Legarda is the only female who topped the Senate race twice, with more than 15 million and 18.4 million votes in 1998 and 2007, respectively. She is the only woman to become Senate majority leader.
About Sally Zaldivar Perez
Sally Zaldivar Perez is the former Governor of the province of Antique and former Vice President for Visayas of the League of Provinces of the Philippines. Governor Sally, to friends, took up Bachelor of Science in Foreign Affairs in 1957 and Bachelor of Science in Political Science in 1958, both from the University of the Philippines (U.P.). Prior to being elected governor she was Undersecretary of the Presidency for Liaison with the Senate and Public Affairs Assistant to the Office of Senator Edgardo Angara. She was also the former chairperson of Antique Development Foundation and founding trustee of the Evelio B. Javier Foundation.
 U.N. News Center. Asia Pacific Report: World’s most disaster prone region experiences three-fold rise in deaths. December 2014.
 Wahlstrom, M. Project Syndicate: Women, Girls and Disasters
 UNEP: Women at the Frontline of Climate Change- Gender Risks and Hopes.
 UNFPA: UNFPA champions recommendations for gender-responsive disaster risk reduction
 National Council on Disability Affairs.