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Professor Lena Dominelli Durham University, UK

Social Dimensions of Climate Change Disasters: Gender, Marginalisation and Empowerment.

Report on the IASSW Side Event at COP23

Lena Dominelli, Chair of the IASSW Committee on Disaster Interventions, Sustainability and Climate Change organised a side-event at the UNFCCC COP 23 meeting.

The event was held at the Fiji Pavilion on 13 November 2017 and lasted for one and a half hours. Fiji was the host of COP23 and held the Presidency, so it was special to be holding the side event on its premises. The Fijians held a wonderful traditional dance before the side-event began and enthralled the many people present. The side-event consisted of a workshop entitled, the Social Dimensions of Climate Change Disasters: Gender, Marginalisation and Empowerment. It had three contributors: Dr Julie Drolet from the University of Calgary in Edmonton, Canada who spoke on the topic of social work interventions in wild (forest) fires in Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada. She highlighted the many roles that social workers play, and how forest fires are increasing in frequency and intensity given the hotter, drier summers that are being attributed to climate change.

Julie’s presentation was followed by Lena Dominelli’s who unpacked the social dimensions of climate change disasters and the diverse activities that comprise what social workers do in such circumstances. She gave particular attention to the identification of particular vulnerable groups, especially women, and how social workers, through their activities pick up on their differentiated experiences of disasters to empower them and their communities through actions that mobilise existing resources and find additional ones to mitigate risk and build resilience. A photo from Professor Mildred Mushanje from the University of Zimbabwe in Harare of a woman who had been empowered by social workers to survive a drought and grow better crops by harvesting rainwater which Lena included in her talk generated much discussion among the audience. Lena’s contribution was succeeded by a video provided by Professor Nino Zganec from the University of Zagreb, Croatia.

Nino talked about green social work and spoke passionately about the importance of green social work and the need for it to become mainstreamed by being taught on all social work courses. The questions that followed the presentations were extremely interesting. One asked why more people were not aware of social work’s role in climate change activities.

Lena and Julie attended several other side events. One which emphasised the experiences of indigenous people was extremely powerful in portraying their exploitation for the mineral resources and lands that they held and the protests of resistance that they were offering to assert their rights to land and other resources that had been theirs traditionally.