By Akhtar Badshah, Senior Director, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft
In Tokyo last week I met with Sakurai San who heads the National Council of Women’s Centers in Japan. We were discussing how they were coping after the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami that many of their members had to endure last March. Rebuilding after such devastation according to Sakurai San was particularly challenging and especially difficult for women. This was particularly true in Japan where the gender gap is quite high given the GDP of the country. This became very evident during the disaster when most of the resources where focused on physical clean-up and reconstruction – male dominated activities - and little support was provided for care-givers in shelters that were looking after the displaced - a more women dominated activity. How can we create policies to ensure that resources allocation especially in such challenging times is much more equitable?
Our partnership with the National Council of Women’s Centers proved to be particularly beneficial in the Tohoku area which was most impacted by the disaster. In the Iwate prefecture, the most northern area impacted by the disaster I heard an inspiring story. Training was provided to local women through our Microsoft Unlimited Potential program by the Morioka Women’s Center before the disaster hit. It helped women in the area start a small business to serve other women who were impacted by the disaster. Supplies were being sent to all of the affected areas and in most cases the supplies were one size but unfortunately one size does not fit all. As I learnt many women were unable to ask the men, who were mostly managing the relief centers and the distribution of supplies, that they needed special sizes to fit their needs from undergarments to other other sanitary supplies. The Morioka Women’s center helped women from the area set up a business to supply ‘Delivery Care’. This was only possible because they had been empowered the training and support they received. The women sourced appropriate supplies and provided them to the women directly which not only provided a much needed service but also created an income for themselves. These caregivers became in great demand and their services have continued to grow.
All over the Tohoku area we are seeing that the Women’s Centers that Microsoft has supported are now able to get funds from the government to manage reconstruction projects. The lesson to be learned here is after nine months much still needs to be done. Those of us that are in the business of supporting the rebuilding in Tohoku should not forget that women play a very important role in the rebuilding efforts and we should continue to focus special attention on their needs. By doing so we can help create a far more sustainable approach to development. Building the organizational capacity of Women’s organizations is important as they can then play a central and key role during a disaster and also in the rebuilding and reconstruction phase.
Staff from Delivery Care not only deliver products but also talk with residents in temporary housing and check their wellbeing
As we ended our conversation Sakurai San left me with a message – “continue to support disadvantaged women as we are not only able to build their self-esteem, we are able to put them on a path of financial independence and more importantly we have created a path for women to be included in society -- this key to reducing the gender gap in Japan or in any other part of the world”.