Current Situation and Issues of Shelters

The Interview 

In May 2019, first-year senior junior high students visited Shimosuwa Town, Suwa-gun, Nagano Prefecture, for a school camp. Shimosuwa Town is located almost in the center of Nagano Prefecture, and the south of the town faces Lake Suwa. Lake Suwa is located at the intersection of the Central Structure Line and the Itoigawa Shizuoka Tectonic line, and it is said that large earthquakes will occur in the future because active faults build the Suwa Basin. For this reason, Shimosuwa Town aims to become “the best city in Japan with a sense of disaster prevention,” and the local government and residents are working together to engage in various activities, and they place importance on the development of women’s disaster prevention. When first-year senior junior high students visited, they talked to the Disaster Prevention Network about the specific initiatives. With that opportunity, we were able to interview Ms. Atsuko Takahashi, the chairman of the Disaster Prevention Network, by phone.

We asked why Shimosuwa Town began to focus on the development of women’s disaster prevention experts. Women who evacuated to shelters in the event of disasters such as the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the Kumamoto Earthquake are said to be under intense stress and dissatisfaction. Ms. Takahashi taught us why women are not equal to men. At the time of the earthquake, everyone has an uneasy feeling and what they really want is information, but men are often in charge of the contact point for sending and receiving information, and that information does not reach women. Moreover, women tend to be forced to be more self-sacrificed and play the role of women men think, and are required to do the same work as housework, such as cooking, even though men are given daily wages when they do physical labor. Originally, both men and women should be fairly assigned to work in shelters, but there is the current situation where gender equality has not been realized in shelters.

In order to change the current situation, she emphasized the importance of women, being treated as vulnerable to disasters, and in the active role in shelters. By women’s participation to shelter administration, shelters can respond to the needs of women such as distributing supplies for women by women. What impressed us the most is the need to devise ways to make use of women's skills. For example, a woman with specialized knowledge, such as a nurse, can use her experience and knowledge to improve the shelter environment. Therefore, even if she has children, it is important to provide child-rearing support by setting up a daycare center and so on. Through this interview, we were more aware that women have great power to improve shelters and support reconstruction, although we tend to look at the aspect that they are treated unfairly and their position at the shelter is not fairly guaranteed.

You can see the disaster prevention manzai, comic backchat, which the first-year senior junior high students saw from here. Ms. Atsuko Takahashi, the chairman, and Naoto Komatsu, the executive director, form a combination to convey their knowledge of disaster prevention in a fun and easy-to-understand manner by manzai.