SEARC sends researcher to UN panel

Shiona Mackenzie

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As part of its 49th Sesssion of the Commission on the Status of Women from 28 February to 11 March, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) organised a panel discussion, “From Vulnerability to Empowerment: Women at the Heart of Tsunami Recovery”, in New York City. In recognition of her invaluable contribution to the understanding of issues faced by women in Aceh both before and after the December 2004 tsunami in South Asia, UNIFEM invitedMiss Suraiya Kamaruzzaman, Research Fellow in CityU's Southeast Asia Research Centre (SEARC) to participate as one of the panelists. "Miss Kamaruzzaman's participation in the UNIFEM forum is further evidence of SEARC's outstanding success since its launch less than five years ago," observed Professor Ian Holliday, Dean of CityU's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. "The Centre has already established a global reputation for high-quality research on the key region of Southeast Asia and is moving from strength to strength."

Miss Kamaruzzaman presented her findings based on her field research in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, as a SEARC project coordinator and from the relief work she

has done there. Her presentation at the UN, Women and Children in Aceh after the tsunami: disaster, survival, relief, reconstruction, informed the audience on the need for gendered disaggregated data about the impact of the tsunami; the conditions for women and children as survivors in camps for "internally displaced persons" (IDPs); international assistance for women in Aceh; and a summary of policy recommendations.

In her presentation, Miss Kamaruzzaman explained, "Our current research extends to 14 camps, showing that the tsunami killed more women than men. Why? One reason is that the women were swept away while trying to assist others --many women's corpses were found with babies or elders in their arms. Other reasons include the fact that, in accordance with custom, many women in Indonesia do not

learn to swim, and that traditional clothing such as long dresses and sarongs (women are forbidden to wear trousers) impedes quick movement." She also observed that, in the aftermath of the disaster, there has been some victimisation of women by fundamentalist elements: incidents of Islamic clerics blaming dead women for "causing" the tsunami by not wearing a head cover or veil.

UNIFEM expressed interest in knowing the results of the research conducted by SEARC, as helpful data for their policy formulation and planning. Miss Kamaruzzman has been coordinating SEARC’s ‘Aceh after the tsunami: national and international policy implications’ project, which focuses on: monitoring the relief work that is in process in Aceh by governments, NGOs and international organisations; evaluating the outcome of this relief work; and making policy recommendations to relevant parties, such as the UN.

Founded in 1976, UNIFEM is the UN's women's fund, providing financial and technical assistance for innovative programmes and strategies that promote women's human rights, political participation and economic security. Within the UN system, UNIFEM promotes gender equality and links women's issues and concerns to national, regional and global agendas by fostering collaboration and providing technical expertise on gender mainstreaming and women's empowerment strategies. UNIFEM’s mandate is to: support innovative and experimental activities benefiting women in line with national and regional priorities; serve as a catalyst, with the goal of ensuring the appropriate involvement of women in mainstream development activities, as often as possible at the pre-investment stage; and play an innovative and catalytic role in relation to the United Nations system of development cooperation.

CityU's Southeast Asia Research Centre was established in September 2000 within the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences as a centre of excellence in applied studies of contemporary Southeast Asia.

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