Women As Avante Guard of Disaster Response: Case Study Merapi Eruption Disaster 2010

A note by Dewi Utari

Based on researches, studies and observations from humanitarian organizations focused on issues of disaster response, women and children are usually the most miserable victims. In the other words, they are most likely to be the helpless one. Thereby, when evacuation of survivors in any natural disaster was held (in Bahasa survivor means penyintas), security and safety priority was given to women and children. It also followed by kind of physical and emotional consideration.

But, is the mindset of women (adult and productive) as a helpless survivor in emergency situation existed forever? Is it true that they can not revive early and remain in the weaker position socially, physically and economically both in emergency and recovery time after disaster happened? Some experiences and cases watched by humanitarian organization prove that the assumption of women can not recover themselves and their community faster could be such a merely figment. In addition, social construction also reaffirms the assumption that women are weak, having no leadership intuition, especially in emergency disaster circumstances, either natural or social disaster. The truth is that assumption and also the social construction are not exactly correct.

Women As Leader

Emergency disaster response of Mount Merapi Eruption, the most active volcanic mountain in Indonesia, in the end of October 2010 until today gave a very remarkable lesson related to women’s role. When Yakkum along with its units (YEU , Community Development unit from some hospitals include CD Bethesda Hospital, PRY , etc) helped survivors who were villagers whose settlement located 5 – 15 km from dangerous Merapi peak to evacuate themselves, that was a critical time to prioritize the safety of women and children. But as a survivor, are productive women (mature age) still be passive and or just become receiver of the donation coming from philantropers? Absolutely not.

Self – manage is one of the strategy to manage the refugee barrack location, which means that the survivors are involved in organizing the aids and searching for solution from the problematic situation that they have. Therefore, survivors were encouraged to assign one of them as a barrack coordinator. From hundreds of survivors who stayed in barracks, we got a number of barrack coordinator.

There was no thought whether all survivors get the knowledge about gender equity or not before in emergency situation. But, though naturally the survivors choose some of adult women who are still active and fast-thinking one to be the barrack coordinator.

We can mention that Mrs. Maryati, Mrs. Hesti, Mrs. Yuli, Mrs. Susi and Mrs. Giyarni, were chosen naturally and perhaps unintentionally asked by survivors to be their barrack coordinators. The pointing of these women as barrack coordinator might be based on consideration of their organizational experiences in each of their kampongs/dusun. In micro and local sphere at village environment, PKK  as women group is the only local organization that still alive although in most place, its activity decrease due to less support both moral and financial. One of women activity in PKK is to raise and to strengthen health service for children under five years of age and aged human independently, through Posyandu (Integrated Post Service). Their dynamic movement in PKK and Posyandu works are respected enough by men group in the village, so that possibly based on these experiences, they choose women as barrack coordinator while they lived in refugee camp.

Women as Policy Maker

If there is another reason regarding the pointing of women as barrack coordinators, there is possibility because men think that logistic stuff which still become main activity receiving the donation/ aid were considered as “women’s area”. Survivors cant presume, the job description of barrack coordinator did not just list and take the logistics like food materials and another livelihood needs, but also involved in decision making about how the survivors keep survive.

In deciding anything related to the existence and safety of survivors, work unit of Yakkum along with barrack coordinator make an agreement, as a consequence of participative strategy of disaster response. Do women as barrack coordinator have no voice when coordination meeting held to decide evacuation and barrack management? Once again, we were surprised by their brilliant ideas and  suggestions. The discussion process of decision making became dynamic because of their suggestion and the agreement can be reached smoothly and full of respect to their hard work dealing with all survivors in their coordination and supervision.

Also encouraged by these women initiatives, they asked a moment to coordinate with other survivors to decide their next step. Do not need to be laborious to gain a chair in parliamentary, women as survivor coordinator can prove that they are the true people representative, sincere and always humble.

Parliamentary members should learn from them. These women with their simple thought can also build and practice what so called the making of participial decision which always issued by NGOs , without a too comprehensive theory. Ironically, in many cases, NGOs themselves forgot participial paradigm and they are too confidence that they are the only one who knew whatever needs of their served community.

Women as Volunteer

Besides being in the condition as survivors and child keeper of each during evacuation time due to disaster case which forced them to move into a safe location, women do not stay still and silent waiting for their next fate. When husband and adult men remained in the village, keeping their assets, or searching for solution outside the evacuation area, women offered themselves as a volunteer suited with their ability and skill. Most of them were active in public kitchen, a very important activity to keep survive, and simple health service, such as we have seen in refugee spot in Wedi Klaten which assisted by People Organization Klaten Central Java . The division of public assignment voluntarily between productive women and productive men were emerged naturally and worth to observe, although once again, they never get gender knowledge formally before. This is the local wisdom which are often forgotten from the long journey of development.

Organizational activity in micro level gave remarkable lesson to all women, one of them is volunteer. This experience is important in fact when they have to survive in the middle of disaster. Being a volunteer proved that they could solve emotional problem in dealing with disaster, also as evidence that women’s contribution in every post recovery disaster and another development issues is not trivial.

Conclusion : GAD become Daily Practice

These women coordinator perhaps do not have any idea about Gender and development (GAD) as one of the approach to analyze women’s involvement in development field which in these past few years were promoted by gender issues active person (most of them are NGOs worker) for women in cases that told above. But, they had practiced already about the GAD. GAD requires women involvement not only as a receiver or development activity object, but also as a subject of this disaster response though in charity perspective, they are victim.

Statement that women are helpless victim from every disaster can be broken with the proven case above, but this practice often missed by public and media. Then it’s going to be extra work for women survivors to prove that public assumptions, unfortunately supported by bias gender media, about women as the one and only helpless victim could be reduced. These women could be the avant guard as a leader, decision maker, and also a volunteer without ignoring the men role.

An equal job distribution in disaster case between men and women survivors is easy to establish by government and another social institution in disaster response circumstance. The problem is, will they or wont and at what perspective, they see women involvement as a victim and survivor. It seems that masculinity and patriarchy are still attached in their mind, so that active women role in disaster response being forgotten and underestimated.

November 17th 2010

Note : A very appreciated  award for women survivors and women workers in Yakkum environment.

version in bahasa indonesia


About oaseindisasters

Oase in Disaster - Yakkum Emergency Unit This blog is official blog of Yakkum Emergency Unit Member of ACT Alliance and Member of Humanitarian Forum of Indonesia. The contents of this blog covers the YEU's activities related to emergency responds activities in Indonesia. Currently, we are working in emergency respon in three different areas; to respond Wasior flash-flood affected people in Manokwari, West Papua, tsunami-Mentawai affected people in Mentawai, West Sumatera, and Merapi Volcano Eruption in Central Java and Yogyakarta. At the national level, we are coordinating within the network of Humanitarian Forum of Indonesia (HFI) and at the International level we're coordinating with Global Network for Disaster Reduction and ACT Alliance. Email: yeu@yeu.or.id Follow us in twitter @yeu2001 www.yeu.or.id www.actalliance.org www.humanitarianforumindonesia.org
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