World Humanitarian Day - Honouring Women Humanitarians
Today marks World Humanitarian Day. A day to honour the incredible work done by individuals around the world. Workers who risk their lives to help others in the face of emergencies.
This year marks its 10th anniversary. It was originally created to honour the tragic terrorist attack in Baghdad on August 19th 2003 when the UN headquarters in the city was bombed. Sadly 22 aid workers lost their lives as a result. Including Sergio Viera de Mello, the UN’s top representative in Iraq.
This year’s focus shines a light on the lifesaving efforts of female humanitarians around the world. They are often the unsung heroes during times of severe crisis and should be honoured this world humanitarian day.
Globally, some 250,000 aid workers are female, making up roughly 40% of the overall humanitarian workforce. Aid work is becoming ever more dangerous, with the risk of death, violence, and robbery increasing year on year. Female aid workers face an even greater threat than their male counterparts. Sadly, they experience a significantly greater likelihood of sexual assault.
During times of crisis, gender-based violence tends to increase within the local community. Having a strong female humanitarian presence is incredibly important as it helps to improve the overall response. Yet by helping, female humanitarians expose themselves to even greater risk.
A survey conducted by The Guardian found that the often “cowboy culture” of humanitarian emergencies has left female humanitarians feeling fearful and without a voice. Workers felt like male colleagues have assumed that they simply cannot “handle” the tough realities of the situation on the ground.
Even more alarmingly, they also discovered that risks of sexual assault came from within their own organisation. They found that sexism and discrimination are an all too common reality. Some 41% of respondents were concerned at the possibility of sexual harassment.
Many aid agencies lack safe and confidential reporting mechanisms and so many of their stories go unheard.
Yet, in spite of all of these hardships and fears, thousands of women still face these odds every day and have created their own incredible stories. Stories that we should celebrate this world humanitarian day.
Incredible Female Humanitarians
Women like Alice - a midwife in Liberia who has dedicated her life to looking after expectant mothers who might otherwise not get the kind of medical care they need for themselves and their new-borns. In fact, 800 women who she cared for were so grateful that they named their child Alice in honour of her.
Then there’s Vanda, head of Disaster Risk Management for Plan International in Indonesia. She has worked tirelessly day and night in the aftermath of the 2018 Indonesian earthquake that resulted in the tragic deaths of 2010 people, left more than 5000 missing and over 1.5 million affected. Vanda works up to 18 hours a day to ensure the protection of women and girls who are the most vulnerable and often forgotten in these emergencies.
Noëlla Coursaris Musunka is also worthy of celebration. Back in 2007, she set up Malakai in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Malakai is a grassroots non-profit dedicated to empowering a whole generation of girls through education. Incredibly their efforts helped to reduce the prevalence of child marriage by two thirds and reduce the likelihood of death during childbirth by 70%. Not only that but her efforts have created free sports, health and wellness programs for the village and built 17 clean water wells that service over 30,000 people.
Women like these and thousands more face unbelievable dangers and incredible odds every day with incredible bravery. That’s why this World Humanitarian Day we should honour them and celebrate their impactful achievements.