Women, science, and disaster relief reduction

Published May 22, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Historically, women have had a hard time entering the arena of science, and a much harder time getting respect and recognition for the exemplary work that they do in their respective field of scientific inquiry. We’ve watched films like Hidden Figures (about the then-nascent NASA program), or have read books and watched plays like Silent Sky (about Henrietta Leavitt, an astronomer in the 1900’s), to know that the arduous journey women scientists have had to endure to even get credit for their own accomplishments is a sad recurring aspect of the history of Science.

While most first world countries may have taken great strides to alleviate that inequitable state of affairs; the sad, inescapable truth is that in so many countries today, where outdated but still thriving notions of gender hierarchy persist, things haven’t changed all that much, and women still get the short end of the stick in so many professional fields. And that’s precisely why I took heart when I read about SM Prime, and it’s support for the WIN DRR Awards, which was launched for the first time last year.

In the midst of the global pandemic which still gripped the world during 2021, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction set about to recognize women’s achievements in disaster risk reduction across the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines. The awards are part of the UNDRR flagship Women’s Leadership initiative, the Women’s International Network for Disaster Risk Reduction (WIN DRR), as supported by Australian Aid and by SM Prime.

So this 2022 will be the second year that SM Prime Holding, Inc. will be sponsoring the Excellence Award.

THE CALL to Action poster for the 2022 WIN DRR Leadership Awards. WIN stands for Women’s International Network, and DRR is Disaster Risk Reduction.

If we look at the 2021 awards, there are two big awards handed out, the Excellence Award, and the Rising Star Award. As Mr. Hans T. Sy, SM Prime’s chairman of the executive committee, has been saying, this is part of the company’s commmitment to disaster risk reduction, as manifested primarily in investments in the disaster risk resilient features of its properties, whether commercial or residential.

During the 2021 WIN DRR awarding ceremony, in his speech, Mr. Sy declared that, “we recognize the importance of DRR in our everyday lives, and that is why we are committed to further the cause of DRR not only in the Philippines, but also in the international arena. We need everyone’s cooperation to reduce the impact of disasters, especially in communities and countries that are vulnerable to natural disasters, including our country, the Philippines. SM Prime also strongly advocates for gender inclusivity, most especially in positions of leadership.”

The relevance of this cannot be stressed enough. Asia and the Pacific is the most natural disaster-prone region in the world. We just have to number the number of typhoons and calamities that hit our country in any given year, and the resultant loss of lives, and damage to homes and infrastructure. To have a body recognizing efforts in DRR is without doubt, of great merit; and when you couple this with how the body has specifically addressed the participation of women across the region in DRR, SM Prime can be very proud of the support it extends to this initiative.

With the nominees last year, there was a diversity in their stories, highlighting the scope and breadth of the solutions that these women work on to mitigate the challenges of climate change and the severe disasters that happen with regularity in their countries. A Filipina, Jazmin Aguisanda-Jerusalem, executive director of the Leyte Center for Development, and national chairperson of the Citizens Disaster Response Network, made it to the final shortlist of nominees.

VASITI SOKO, who heads the Fiji National Disaster Management Office and was the recipient of the 2021 UNDRR WIN DRR Excellence Award, sponsored by SM Prime.

As it was, 2021 saw the Excellence Award go to Vasiti Soko of Fiji. She heads the Fiji National Disaster Management Office, and coordinated Fiji’s response to seven tropical cyclones, and the then ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Extending tsunami warning sirens throughout Fiji, Soko is dedicated to ensuring DRR activities leave no one behind, paying special attention to the elderly and those with disabilities.
Nominations are encouraged from the Philippines, especially for those engaged in the DRR community.

Deadline for submissions is on May 31, 2022, and nominees must identify as women, and be citizens/permanent residents of Asia-Pacific countries, working on DRR across the region. Individuals can nominate themselves or others by logging on to https://www.preventionweb.net/news/2022-win-drr-leadership-award-nomination.

The 2022 WIN DRR Leadership Awards will take place from the Sept. 19-22 in Brisbane, Australia; during the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction.