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Assisting and Empowering Women Facing Natural Disasters: Drawing from Security Council Resolution 1325

Article excerpt

In the wake of the tsunami that hit the coastal communities of the Indian Ocean, images of women were splashed over the media's reports of the catastrophe. But while sympathy for women has garnered a great deal of aid, "[b]eyond the camera lens in the follow-up policies ... there is a trend for women to be rendered almost invisible." (1) Reports by women's groups streaming in from all over the region reflect the same message--women were among the hardest hit by the tsunami, and women continue to be the most marginalized in relief efforts. (2)

While the relative lack of women-specific initiatives in the tsunami effort arguably could be attributed to the cultural norms of the region and the particular nature of the disaster there, a broader look at disasters worldwide shows that women's needs and abilities are systemically ignored in rehabilitation and restoration efforts. (3) Although this trend has been recognized by international organizations ranging from the United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly, (4) the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), (5) the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee), (6) the U.N. Office for International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), (7) the International Labor Organization (ILO), (8) and the European Union (EU), (9) there is yet to be a binding global initiative that explicitly calls for gender-mainstreaming in disaster prevention and reconstruction efforts. As a result, when the time comes for nations to respond quickly and efficiently to disasters, the lessons learned in gender-sensitivity are lost in the tumult once again.

While gender issues are sidelined in disaster contexts, however, this is not the case in other crisis situations. In 2000, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1325 (1325), which "stress[es] the importance of [women's] equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security" (10) and "[r]ecogniz[es] the urgent need to mainstream a gender perspective into peacekeeping operation." (11) The resolution calls for increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in conflict prevention, management, and resolution; attention to the specific protection of the needs of women in conflict, including refugees; increased support for women peace-builders; refusal to allow impunity for crimes against women, including gender-based violence; and combination of a gender perspective in U.N. operations, post-conflict processes, and Reporting and Security Council Missions. (12) Through the resolution, women must be integrated in reconstruction efforts, and local women's initiatives in maintaining peace and security must be supported by the U.N. and government officials. (13) Some aid groups have drawn on 1325 in their calls for a gendered perspective in disaster relief post-tsunami, but explicit support for this connection has not yet been articulated.

This Article draws a connection between the interests protected by 1325 and those that would be protected by a similarly binding resolution for women in disaster situations, and argues for the realization of such an international agreement. Part II of this Article urges women's rights activists to acknowledge the capacity and the desirability of a binding Security Council resolution for gender-mainstreaming and female participation in disaster prevention and aid work. Further, this section argues for the recognition of disasters as a "threat to the peace" that can be reduced through the symbolic and legal powers of a Security Council resolution. Part III then establishes why the Security Council itself should seek such a resolution, based on the centrality of disaster relief in ensuring the success of core Security Council goals, such as resolving conflict and fostering sustainable development. Part V shows how gender-mainstreaming in natural disasters would further the goals of the Security Council; indeed, failing to pursue gender-mainstreaming would actually undermine the Security Council's objectives, particularly those relating to 1325. …