#GenderEqualityIs equal participation and equal access to emergency services

By Brian Haupt
March 14, 2018

Lots of people know that #GenderEqualityIs equal participation and equal access. But, one often overlooked area of inequality is in emergency preparedness and response, where unequal participation and unequal access can cause harm to girls. Plan International USA works to close this gap, starting with emergency preparedness and response in schools.

Around the world, girls have fewer opportunities than boys to take leadership roles and are underserved by the institutions that are supposed to support them. This is especially true in schools, where children spend their formative years and learn how to interact with the world around them. While most of us who grew up in the U.S. can think of cases where we’ve seen this play out, students all around the world encounter these same challenges.

In Barguna, Bangladesh and Davao Oriental, Philippines, Plan set out to transform schools to be more inclusive of and better serve their girl students when it comes to emergency preparedness. This work started in school disaster management committees, where students developed and implemented plans to increase the resilience of their schools to disaster. This includes integrating the topic into school curricula and making small-scale construction and retrofitting efforts to build more resilient school structures. With support from Plan, the committees are now a place where female student leaders can exercise their voices to ensure that resilience plans are responsive to their needs and interests. 

One key result from the committees’ interventions was the inclusion of girls in school emergency task force groups, which are responsible for first aid, search and rescue, firefighting, early warnings and psychosocial care. Everyone, girls included, feels safer and better able to engage with response services if they feel represented by those services, and this representation increases the effectiveness of service delivery in the critical minutes following an emergency, making schools safer places for girls. The new committee members were also critical in establishing early warning alarms and drills that were bought into by students, an important aspect of ensuring these systems were actually used.

In addition to making schools safer for girls, Plan observed that the committees and similar activities helped develop girls’ leadership skills. 

“Through my experience, I learned to become friendly and lively,” a 16-year-old Bangladeshi girl said. “I became confident to speak in front of many people using a microphone, mainly because my skills were enhanced through the trainings and orientations conducted by Plan International.” 

Girls also took leadership roles in large-scale mock emergency drills, learning firsthand what to do in situations such as fires, floods and earthquakes, including safe evacuation, injury treatment and sheltering. At the end of Plan’s three-year intervention in Barguna and Davao Oriental, an external evaluator observed the improved participation rates for female students, noting that Plan’s work also had an effect in improving students’ overall knowledge of emergency preparedness. Girls’ increased participation in — and leadership of — activities also raised the visibility of the targeted schools and reduced dropout rates for girls at these schools. 

Now, Plan has expanded this work to Bhola, Bangladesh and Occidental Mindoro, Philippines, continuing on the path toward ensuring all students — regardless of their gender identity — have equal participation in and equal access to critical services.