Beyond 24: World Humanitarian Day honours #WomenHumanitarians

United Nations OCHA
Aug 19 · 6 min read

­­Today on the 10th anniversary of #World Humanitarian Day, we are paying special tribute to women humanitarians around the world. Our 24 Stories campaign showcases the critical roles women play in saving and protecting lives around the world by documenting 24 experiences of 24 women in 24 hours. But here, we go beyond the 24 campaign to highlight inspiring stories of #WomenHumanitarians that others have posted across social and digital networks. In honour of all humanitarians everywhere, here are some of your stories.

On the front lines of Ebola

Lots of organizations use 19 August to celebrate the bravery of their staff including #WomenHumanitarians they’ve met around the world. The World Health Organisation celebrates Dr. Gisele Myumbi who heads up an Ebola surveillance team in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What gives her and her team joy? “When we see a patient cured and go out alive,” she says. UK Aid also shines the spotlight on the response to DR Congo’s Ebola crisis, celebrating especially women on the front lines.

Credit: ICRC

Imprisonment and prison visits

Syrian refugee, volunteer and now prisoner, Sara Mardini has been imprisoned for her work helping Syrian refugees in Greece. Her disturbing story is told in The New Humanitarian. Meanwhile, this moving video from the International Committee of the Red Cross shows what it’s like to work in prisons: “When you walk into a prison, there is what you can see and there is what you can feel.”

Serving refugees and the displaced

Richard Branson tells the story of Clementine Asu Nkweta Salami, head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Ethiopia, who he met on a recent trip. Here’s her inspiring talk about how her team is helping refugees. UNHCR also celebrates women’s bravery in every corner of the world. What keeps staff members going? “The stability that you see in a person who has lost hope is really inspiring.” UNWomen showcases the stories of five resilient women humanitarians in Kakuma camp, Kenya. And World Vision celebrates Christine Ngbaazande, Bond NGO network’s Humanitarian of the Year. “Christine Ngbaazande knows what refugee children go through because she WAS one.” The International Federation of the Red Cross heralds the work of Elizabeth, a Red Cross volunteer in South Sudan. “People are not all working for the money. You have to have humanity in your hearts.”

Syria, of course, looms large. Deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, Mark Cutts, issues a video thanking all the aid workers in Syria who are saving and protecting lives, while WFP Italy spotlights Dulama who procures food supplies for the hungry. Oxfam International has a neat video about how women are helping Syrian refugee women in Jordan’s Za’atari Refugee camp earn an income through meaningful work. And NGO GVCItalia celebrates the work of 22-year-old Walaa and her colleagues who are trying to bring better conditions to refugee camps.

UNWomen/Ryan Brown

Bravery and breaking barriers

The New Humanitarian celebrates women in aid with 10 stories of bravery and struggle. They include Margie Buchanan-Smith, Suzi Madigan and Rosalia Gitau, who describe the barriers that women face in emergency response. And Ala’a Salah in Syria, who says as an activist and a native of Eastern Ghouta: “I have a deep insight into its five-year siege and how peaceful protests were met with awful violence.”

Many women humanitarians have to break gender stereotypes to succeed. Read about Taku, a water engineer with Oxfam International who installed a solar water pipe system in Zimbabwe. Nádia Gabriele Rudnick, the only female trauma surgeon with NGO CICV in Brazil. Maha in Iraq who cleans explosive devices left after the war “destroying both bombs and gender stereotypes.” And Racheal Kyalikoba, one of NGO Medical Teams greatest programme managers,. ”For Rachel, this work is more than a job. It’s a calling.”

Building trust through education

BBC Media Action’s Naosheen works with volunteers and trains humanitarian agencies to help them get better at communicating with the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. Edwige, protection and education officer with NGO AVSI in DR Congo says when she sees trust building in the communities she works with, she gains respect for herself. Mohamed Dama, head of NGO Somali Land, thanked Fatuma Muhamed of UNFPA for her amazing support for youths.

Honouring midwives and healthcare workers

World Midwives celebrate the day with a story on Instagram from one of their chief members, Ann Yates, in Papua New Guinea. Save the Children US honours humanitarians from #SouthSudan. UNFPA shares midwife Adelaide Raul’s story following Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. “A part of the roof fell on my head but I could not give up while mothers were giving birth.” Lina Abirafeh, Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women talks about the health of women in Yemen. UNICEF puts the stress on women humanitarians and the children they serve, saying: “Let’s again remember that migrant children are just that. Children.” World Vision shares the story of Valery, their Program Coordinator for Nutrition in South Sudan. Valery’s story depicts her passion for humanitarian work. “I dream of a South Sudan where women are eventually empowered to fight acute malnutrition and gender-based violence.” A community-based organization in The Gambia, Eye Care For All honours Fatou Manneh, a young humanitarian and entrepreneur. “She does all the translations in Jula language during our community eye screening and sensitization.”

Protection and education

What does it take to do protection and education work in crises? Here’s World Vision’s Vanessa Saraiva’s blog in South Sudan: “I carry the weight of every woman and child’s story as a reminder of their challenges, their strengths and accomplishments.”

Calling for climate change action

USA Today shares 13 hero stories on WHD on their website. “Some names may be familiar, like Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, the women’s education advocate and youngest Nobel Peace Prize ever.” And in the leadup to the #ClimateAction Summit in September 2019, the UNFCC reminds all that over the past 20 years, 90% of disasters have been climate-related.

Gender equality

Other organizations use the day to launch policies and stimulate debate. Think tank the Humanitarian Practice Group, hosts an #aidstories event, and a live Twitter chat on how gender affects humanitarian action — first question: Are we doing enough to safeguard female aid workers? The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction calls for more women at senior levels in disaster risk management, stressing #resilienceforall. In a video, #IMarchFor, UNFPA asks why do you march? To end discrimination? To fight injustice? Or something altogether different? And UN Women posts a video highlighting the need to prioritize gender equality in humanitarian action. While from Yemen, the International Youth Council Yemen posts about their strong belief in women playing a central role in humanitarian work and shares about the experiences of one of their volunteers. “Humanitarian action is the work that proves humanity. Without humanitarian work, people will be nothing.”

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Pope

Finally, we can’t end without quoting the inspiring words of Eleanor Roosevelt, via youth empowerment non-profit, The Footage Project. “You must do the things you think you cannot do.” And a big thank you to Pope Francis who sent a tweet to honour WomenHumanitarians today saying: “Today we remember all the brave women who go out to meet their brothers and sisters in difficulty.”

United Nations OCHA

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