Support Provided by the Sendai Gender Equal Opportunity Foundation for Women Affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake Gender Issues that Became Evident at the Time of the Disaster ? We Addressed Them from the Perspective of Empowerment of Women

L-Park Sendai, L-Sola Sendai, and Sendai Gender Equal Opportunity Foundation

The two facilities of L-Park Sendai and L-Sola Sendai constitute the Sendai City Gender Equality Promotion Center, which is run by us at the Sendai Gender Equal Opportunity Foundation (the Foundation), the designated administrator for the promotion center. As an organization involved in the promotion of gender equality, the Foundation carries out both tangible and intangible measures to achieve a gender-equal society in Sendai City. Right after the Great East Japan Earthquake, we began to implement various measures to support those affected by the disaster, using the project know-how and networks that we had accumulated. We would like to share with you some examples of those measures.

3.11, 2011 - What was Happening at the Center at that Very Moment?

L-Park Sendai is housed on the fifth and sixth floors of the commercial building 141 Building. This structure was 24 years old at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake. The sixth floor was flooded due to damage to the sprinklers as a result of the shaking, and the water was also leaking onto the fifth floor. Some equipment on both floors was damaged, and many cracks had appeared in the walls. L-Sola Sendai is located on the 28th and 29th floors of the AER Building in front of Sendai Station. Although the shaking was very violent, fortunately, the damage to the structure itself was not so severe. Still, some room partitions and mobile bookshelves had toppled over, causing approximately 20,000 books to fall from the bookshelves and scatter all over the floor. Although all the users and staff at L-Park Sendai and L-Sola Sendai were safe, the facilities, as well as other public facilities in Sendai City, were closed from the following day.

Telephone Counseling and Information Provision - Our First Step to Support Victims

Even before the Great East Japan Earthquake, we provided a face-to-face counseling service for women. As the seriousness of the damage caused by the disaster became clearer, however, we felt that it would be necessary to provide a telephone counseling service as soon as possible. On March 29, we launched "Emergency Counseling Dial for Women Affected by the Disaster." The total number of cases that we handled by July 23, 2011 reached 324. Even after the service was replaced with "Telephone Counseling for Women," we continued to offer counseling for women.
In addition, we established "In Order To Get Through What We Are Experiencing as Disaster Victims RIGHT NOW," a portal site to support women affected by the disaster, on our website, in order to disseminate information on our measures to support women, and also women's opinions, which were not being reported so frequently in general. In May 2011, we changed the title of the portal site to "Slowly at My Own Pace," and continued the site until May 2013.

The Center Connecting People

On April 5, 2011, we opened the "Space to Support Recovery of Mental Health and Daily Lives" on the 29th floor of the relatively lightly-damaged L-Sola Sendai. In this space, where people gathered to talk with each other and to relax, users were able to collect information regarding volunteer activities and delivery of relief supplies through newspaper clippings placed on a bulletin board, and to write message cards and place them on the bulletin board. Meanwhile, after reopening L-Park Sendai, we set up the "Bulletin Board to Connect with Others" in the facility. We handed out message cards to facility users, and they wrote how they felt on the cards and placed them on the board. By so doing, we aimed to ensure that the two facilities served as spaces where users could feel that they were not the only ones suffering from difficulties and that they were connected with other people.

Chatting Space and Cafe

We changed the content of seminars that we had planned before the Great East Japan Earthquake, so that such seminars would deal with disaster-related issues, such as mental care for those affected by the disaster. These seminars included "Series of Empowerment for Women: Begin with 'Caring for Yourself'," "Mental Treatment for Mothers Bringing Up Children," and "Chatting Space for Women Affected by the Disaster in Their 30s to 40s - Kokororu Talk." We provided opportunities for disaster victims to leave their temporary housing and other daily living settings and local communities, and express their feelings without hesitation to people around them. In 2012, we also opened L-Park Café, where people enjoyed relaxing moments over coffee and tea. Thus, we provided various support measures from the perspective of those who were forced to live in difficulties, and also those who were not severely affected by the disaster but still were forced to live in emotional turmoil.

Activities by Sen-Taku Net

Sen-Taku Net is a network consisting of women in Sendai to try to understand a lot of (meaning takusan in Japanese) the true feelings of women affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and solve their problems together. In cooperation with women who carried out activities for empowerment of women in Sendai City even before the disaster, the Foundation worked on various support projects. In a situation where everybody was affected by the disaster and suffered hardships, women acted as support "providers," rather than "receivers," and played a major role in reconstruction from the disaster, thereby aiming to achieve empowerment.

Washing Clothes for Disaster Victims

Gender Issues that Became Evident at the Time of the Disaster - We Addressed Them from the Perspective of Empowerment of Women

Right after the disaster, evacuation centers for residents of Sendai City were set up mainly in elementary schools and junior and senior high schools. There were no washing machines or clothes-drying places segregated by gender. Women tend to place priority on their families, and attend to their own affairs later. In this regard, we launched a clothes-washing service for women affected by the disaster. We believed that if such women knew that their washing would be done by other women, they would not hesitate to leave their washing to us. In addition, we gathered various opinions from these women through this service, and incorporated such opinions into a wide variety of support measures that we implemented for them.

Comments from Residents at Evacuation Centers

Thank you very much for helping me when I had a problem with washing my clothes. I am also grateful for receiving so much encouragement and many presents from you. I would like to move forward step by step.

Delivery of Bras and Sanitary Underwear!

This project originated when members of Sen-Taku Net visited evacuation centers and heard residents saying, "There is almost no underwear that fits me. There is also no sanitary underwear at all."
Approximately 2,300 pieces of underwear were then delivered from across Japan. Those who donated these items had carefully selected them, as if they were buying them for themselves.

Comments from Those Who Donated Bras and Sanitary Underwear (excerpts from letters)

  • - Thank you very much for giving me an opportunity to be of use to those who have many difficulties at evacuation centers.
  • - Since I have a young child, I cannot join in local volunteer activities... However, as a person who happens to be fortunate enough to be able to "live as usual," I would like to do anything I can for those who cannot live that way.
  • - I sincerely would like to participate in many more volunteer activities. However, both my husband's company and my community were affected by the tsunami. Now, I would like to do what I can little by little.

MDG Girls Project - Disaster Peer Support by Girls for Girls

We launched this project based on the question of whether necessary support was being provided to junior and senior high school students in their transition period from childhood to adulthood. Under the project, teenage girls living outside the affected areas gave presents that would make them happy if given to them, to teenage girls in the affected areas. In addition, female students at a university and a vocational school provided support with due consideration given to teenage girls affected by the disaster, so that they were able to express their repressed feelings as much as possible. As a result of the campaign to solicit not "relief supplies" but "presents" from teenagers across Japan, presents were donated by more than 200 girls. We held the "Party for Teenage Girls," where participants were able to choose from among these presents. (In cooperation with Miyagi Gakuin Women's University and Doreme Institute of Fashion & Arts)

Comments from Participating Teenage Girls

  • - The older girls were kind, making me feel comfortable.
  • - Now that I know that I'm not alone, I feel less sad.
March 29, 2011 Launched the Emergency Counseling Dial for Women Affected by the Disaster (until July 23), 324 cases
April 3 Launched the Portal Site to Support Women Affected by the Disaster
April 5 Reopened L-Sola Sendai
Opened the 29th floor to the public as "Space to Support Recovery of Mental Health and Daily Lives" (until June 12)/Temporarily relocated the citizen activity space function from L-Park Sendai/ Provided L-Sola Sendai for a public rehearsal by the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra
Early April Launched Sen-Taku Net
April 17 Launched the project for washing clothes for disaster victims (until August 10)
Late May Launched the Delivery of Bras and Sanitary Underwear! (until June 17)
Early June Launched the MDG Girls Project
June 16 Reopened the 5th floor of L-Park Sendai
September 21 Reopened the 6th floor (gallery hall and studio hall) of L-Park Sendai
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