Press Release
November 27, 2013

Opening Statement of Senator Loren Legarda
Women in Parliaments Global Forum
Panel II - Interactive Plenary Session
27 November 2013, Brussels, Belgium

Excellencies, Fellow parliamentarians,

First of all, I wish to congratulate the organizers of the inaugural annual summit of the "Women in Parliaments Global Forum." Thank you for the warm hospitality and the excellent arrangements at the Forum.

The participation of the Philippines in this event, notwithstanding the weight of destruction that has recently befallen our country, is a testament to our steadfast commitment to advancing women's leadership, access to opportunities, and engagement in development.

Twenty days ago, the Philippines was struck by what is considered to be the strongest tropical typhoon ever recorded. The devastating consequences resulted to more than 5,000 deaths; 11 million people were affected, 670,000 of whom are said to have lost their homes.

On behalf of President Benigno Aquino, and a grateful nation, I extend to the international community our heartfelt thanks. We are gratified by the support of our international partners, including the European Union and its Members States and other countries from around the world, who have stood side-by-side with us in this moment of great challenge for millions of Filipinos.

In front of this spirited crowd, I declare that we will rebuild, and our women will be there, at the forefront of efforts to bring the 44 affected provinces back on their feet again.

It is on this note that I wish to share with everyone the important role of women in addressing the so-called "new norm." First, let me highlight some facts.

The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) recorded an annual average of 375 natural disasters from 2002-2012. In 2012, a lower number of disasters at 357 was recorded, but still, these resulted to 9,655 deaths, affected 124 million people, and brought about US$ 157 billion in economic damages.

Six of the top 10 countries in terms of disaster mortality in 2012 are low- or lower-middle income economies.

Women and girls account for 52% of the world's population. The World Health Organization reported that in "disaster situations, women and men, boys and girls are affected differently."

By differently, I mean they face increased risk to health effects and violence, and they face difficulties accessing assistance. In many instances, facilities that would address their unique needs and requirements are absent.

The integration of gender into emergency responses is part of the change that needs to be introduced in the face of the "new norm." As parliamentarians, we cannot just be a part of that change, but rather, be a driver of that change.

In the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, among the first day responders were Filipino women doctors, nurses, paramedics, and civilian volunteers. The secretary general of the Philippine Red Cross is a woman and so is the head of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Countless Filipino women responded with almost total disregard of their own safety, operating in what is previously viewed as the exclusive domain of man. That is the change we need to see.

In times of disaster and economic distress, women are the primary caregivers. They care for the sick. They also carry out much of the household workload after a disaster. Notwithstanding these facts, the needs of women victims of disasters are unfortunately, often times, overlooked.

All these realities need to be met with a resolve to ensure that women are no less entitled to assistance and information, than other members of our societies, not just in times of disasters, but all the time.

As legislators, we have a role in enacting policies that will address the disproportionate vulnerability of women in disaster situations, especially in areas where gender inequalities are high. Much of this reality stems from entrenched discrimination in some societies and discriminatory legal frameworks. This is a reality we can no longer ignore.

In the Philippines, women have effectively been at the frontline of disaster prevention and climate change adaptation efforts.

In the town of Montalban in the province of Rizal, a group of women farmers has been practicing a farming method that can adapt to prolonged rainy season.

In the municipality of Hinatuan in Surigao del Sur, a group of women fisherfolk reforested a total of 136 hectares of mangrove to protect their settlements from storm surges and secure additional source of food for their families.

In the Municipality of San Francisco in Camotes Island, Cebu, one of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction's model communities worldwide, 90% of officers in charge of environmental protection and disaster prevention programs in each zone are women.

Women have a wealth of capacities that need to be harnessed. We need to tap these vital resources to reduce disaster risks and promote resilience in our communities.

These are experiences I will only be too happy to share with you in this panel discussion.

Thank you.

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