Four women sat at the table, each from a different part of the Kampot or Pursat province. They have different roles in their families and communities – some are mothers, one is a health worker, another a school principal and one has even taken on the role of village chief. What brought these women together, however, was a passion for empowering their community.
Training provided by ActionAid Cambodia and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on gender equality in disaster risk reduction (DRR) has changed the lives of Ms. Samrith Mao, Ms. Pak Pov, Ms. Nuon Sothy, and Ms. Nov Samphon and in turn, changed their villages, communes and districts. “You should have seen these women before they did the training – they wouldn’t speak, they were very quiet. Now they won’t stop talking!” exclaimed Ms. Somountha Muth, ActionAid Interim Team Leader for Disaster Risk Reduction/Climate Change.
The training focused on equipping local authorities and key women in the community with an understanding of disaster risk management, especially in the context of gender. It also identifies and empowers women to become ‘gender DRR champions’: local focal points for disaster management and gender equality within their own community, including their roles on early warning system at the community level, The group of women see the importance of the training - Ms. Sothy stated, “women socially are constructed to be victims, society thinks they cannot do big things. But we want to be leaders!”
Gender champions are tasked with facilitating a DRR-related action plan. “Each of us implemented our action plans alongside the local authorities. The action plan is a project focussing on DRR but also gender. My action plan is about awareness raising, disaster preparedness and gender issues within the community”, described Ms. Sothy. Ms. Samphon chimed in: “Last year, my community had issues with the rice fields due to the drought. Many hectares were destroyed. The women came together to advocate to our local authorities to dig a small canal – now this year the problem has been fixed because they did it! It worked. It was one of my activities in my action plan”. Ms. Mao’s action plan reflected not only an awareness of gender issues and disaster preparedness, but also health issues that can be raised during and after a disaster period. Ms. Pov focused primarily on disaster preparedness, including waste management and subscription to the1294 Early Warning System.
Training on disaster management is particularly important in the context of Cambodia’s changing climate. With that, planning for disaster management can not be separated from climate change adaptation. Ms. Sothy described it as “climate change is a global issue, now we cannot just do agriculture based on the traditional techniques and knowledge and we cannot predict what will happen like we could before. When we understand weather patterns and its relation to climate change, we can plan which crops to plant in which season. People understand about the crops, and at a family level, they now understand how to manage their water in a water shortage period. They know how to maximise – for example, if they clean something, then they know they can use that water for the vegetables in the garden.”
The results of the training have been remarkable and are clearly seen in the women. All four describe feeling excitement and happiness about their involvement, particularly when they can see the fruits of their investments within their community. Ms. Pov described her personal experience, saying, “Before I was afraid of people. In meetings I would never speak, I was afraid of saying the wrong thing. I didn’t have enough confidence to speak in case people laugh at what I say. Now I dare to speak in public, in the community in front of many people. I speak at the commune level, at the district and provincial level and have even spoken at events in front of many people and leaders at national level!”.
Ms. Mao, Ms. Pov, Ms. Sothy, and Ms. Samphon are just a few of the women who have been trained to be gender champions. Recent trainings held in Srae Ambel and Phnom Penh have led to development of 28 new gender champions, who will facilitate their own action plans within their respective communities. Funding for this program has been provided under the ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’, supported by GEF-Least Developed Countries Fund.
For more information contact Muhibuddin Usamah (Project Manager) at firstname.lastname@example.org
See the ‘Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems in Cambodia’ project twitter images here.
For updates on this project and UNDP Cambodia’s broader work, follow @UNDPCambodia on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
‘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