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Opinion
Dec 29, 2022

Women as Agents of Change for Strengthening Community Resilience

Asian Development Bank
Local women gardeners and farmers in La Trinidad, Benguet, Philippines are part of the community stakeholder group, which identified the community-led flood mitigation project. Photo credit: ADB TA 9329.
Local women gardeners and farmers in La Trinidad, Benguet, Philippines are part of the community stakeholder group, which identified the community-led flood mitigation project. Photo credit: ADB TA 9329.

Women and other vulnerable groups play a critical role in effectively tackling complex community issues. The knowledge and perspectives they bring frame community challenges while their unique assets, skills, and resources enhance collective community action and help yield appropriate and sustainable solutions.

A pilot activity in the Philippines implemented by Oxfam and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement under the Asian Development Bank (ADB) technical assistance Promoting Urban Climate Change Resilience in Selected Asian Cities engaged women and vulnerable groups in community-led infrastructure projects. This involved breaking the forces of exclusion and addressing socio-cultural barriers that inhibit women’s active participation, voice, and agency in community initiatives.

Financed by the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF), the building of infrastructure benefitted from incremental improvements incorporated into the project design to ensure that the needs and interests of women in the community were adequately addressed.

Oxfam helped urban poor communities to actively participate in resilience planning, identifying solutions, and leading the implementation. Communities were involved in risk and vulnerability assessment, identification of priority resilience problems and solutions, development of a community resilience plan, identification and design of the community-led project, feasibility study, procurement, construction monitoring, operations and maintenance, and sustainability planning.

Oxfam convened a community stakeholder group in 8 pilot sites in Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines, which included representatives from women’s groups and women’s rights organizations, to ensure meaningful community participation and lead the implementation of project activities.

The project applied an intersectional lens in selecting women representatives for the group. For example, it engaged women working in precarious jobs in the informal sector, older female caregivers, and young women with limited access to education. Each of these subgroups brought a unique perspective and helped build a rich picture of women’s experiences, needs, and aspirations.

In the Philippines for example, while the water shortage in Janiuay, Iloilo affects the community at large, women bear the biggest burden in ensuring the supply of water to the household. During drought and supply shortages in the summer, communities often experience increased water contamination, water-borne diseases, increased incidence of heat-related illnesses, and stress due to rising temperatures. To address these problems, the community prioritized a community-based water management system and rain water harvesting facility, which gave women access to safe and reliable supply of water. The cost of accessing water was reduced, and women could allocate their time and resources more effectively.

The urban resilience planning process was another opportunity the project created for community-led knowledge sharing and decision-making. The planning process involved vulnerable groups in developing community resilience visions, plans and projects.

When women’s voices are engaged early in the process of planning and decision-making, they can provide input at each stage, from project design to implementation. The project invested time in building a shared understanding of resilience and key concepts, which equipped women with the tools and knowledge to participate in the urban resilience planning process. The inclusive planning process supported women to effectively communicate, negotiate, and build consensus with other members of the community stakeholder group.

The community resilience officers were responsible for mobilizing the community to implement the project and for cultivating relationships with project stakeholders. The officers played a critical role in ensuring the active participation of women and the inclusion of women’s voices in community resilience building. They also created safe spaces for women to share their knowledge and experience and bridged the gap among stakeholders and fostered a spirit of collaboration.

Addressing social norms prejudicial to women

In the project areas, women are deemed solely responsible for household and care work and, when needed, also asked to participate in income-generating activities. Their community also believes that women’s participation in the project should not affect household work. For women to participate in project meetings, they either needed to join after finishing work or shift the care burden to another female household member. The project adjusted the meetings to suit the needs of women and other community stakeholder group members.

In Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte, women and youth groups were involved in the project development and implementation of a community-based solid waste management. While this is driven by strong volunteerism, the burden of volunteering fell on women. The project recognized and addressed social norms affecting women and worked to ensure that the project does not exacerbate women’s vulnerability and marginalization. The project team created a safe space for women to discuss these issues and arranged project time flexibly so women could participate. It also ensured that the bulk of waste segregation can be managed at home with women allocating their time flexibly.

In Malay, Aklan, women were encouraged to speak up about their needs during evaluation. As a result, incremental changes were made to the design of the community-led project such as incorporating kitchen and laundry facilities, child-minding areas, and separate comfort and wash areas for women and children within the center.

Engaging and empowering women aligns and contributes to Operational Priority 2 of the ADB Strategy 2030 on accelerating gender equality outcomes in the region, which underscores the Bank’s commitment to support gender equality and women’s empowerment through gender-inclusive project design.

This article was compiled by Ms. Myrah Nerine Butt (Policy Engagement Advisor, Oxfam in Asia Regional Platform), Virinder Sharma (Principal Urban Development Specialist, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, ADB), Ms. Helen Jeans (Climate Justice Program Lead, Oxfam Great Britain) and Marino Deocariza (Project Manager, Oxfam Great Britain) for ADB. With credit reprint.