When disaster strikes or conflict erupts, women and girls are hardest hit. But too often, the world sees women and girls just as victims – and as passive recipients of humanitarian assistance.
In fact – as a new CARE report argues – women are the ones on the ground, coping in the heat of the moment, responding to the crisis.
They are the ones helping their families to survive. They are the ones helping their communities to cope. And they are at the forefront of humanitarian action – on the frontline delivering aid, leading a humanitarian team, and providing key logistical support. Here are some of their stories.
Fatouma Zara Soumana
Fatouma Zara Soumana is a gender in emergencies expert with CARE Niger
“You might think from the outside that all people need the same: food, water and shelter. However, needs can be quite different. Identifying those differences and incorporating them in our response is one of my main responsibilities.
“In Eastern Niger, CARE supports host communities and refugees from Nigeria who have found shelter here. From our analysis we found important humanitarian needs.
People told us that there wasn’t enough protection against gender-based violence and that rape and prostitution were on the rise. We’ve also heard that young men who were freed from armed groups lack the support to reintegrate.
“I’m always excited to contribute first-hand to CARE’s emergency work. I am encouraged to see CARE’s support reach women and men in need and I am inspired by the strength and resilience of communities that suffer from displacement, natural disasters or conflict.”
Rachel Chandiru is a gender focal person with CARE South Sudan
“The 25 years of civil war and recent armed conflict has so much affected South Sudan and women and girls in particular. Having been through difficult situations for so many years myself, I have dedicated myself to work hard to support my community and especially women and girls so they don’t have the experience I have gone through.
This what has inspired me to be a humanitarian worker.
“The needs and challenges which women and girls face that I have witnessed and heard about are numerous – such as high illiteracy rate, sexual and gender-based violence or domestic violence, early marriage, forced marriage, rape, forced prostitution, widow inheritance, lack of heath care, unwanted pregnancy...
“To make the humanitarian system work well, women need to be engaged and involved in designing projects and addressing issues that affect them. In the context of South Sudan in general, men’s views are taken into consideration and respected more than those of women. Even in humanitarian work at the time I started, this was not different.
But as I continued to train and make a difference in the life of the community, the community attitude changed. The community began to have positive attitudes towards the participation of women.
“Since then my efforts are not in vain. My message to other women and girls interested in doing humanitarian work is that: We should continue to work and help the women and girls who are disadvantaged to know their rights. The battle for our rights will take many years; but we need to be persistent, raise our voices jointly until we are heard. The fight for our rights still continues.”
Amunazo Charly is an internally displaced woman who is working as community mobiliser in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo
“The memories of the suffering of women and girls when traveling and when we arrived in this camp never leave my memory. They are my strength and determination.
“We were forced to flee our village (in 2007) because of multiple attacks by armed groups.
We fled our village without having the opportunity to bring anything. We had to save our lives, that’s all.
“On our arrival in this camp, the men who were on the management committee, or who had any power in the camp, were abusing the naivety of vulnerable women. They even sexually abused women and girls, telling them that if they did not give themselves, they would not receive humanitarian assistance. All this happened without the humanitarians who were in the camp noticing.
The image of suffering in the eyes of these women and girls never leaves my memory.
“Today, I am the chair of our camp management committee. Our team consists of two women and two men. This gives me a good opportunity to help the women and girls who have long suffered in silence.
“Since I have been president, things have changed. Women are organised in a small committee where they can freely talk, participate, discuss.
Between us women, we exchange experiences on how to help our families, how to organise small activities generating income for the survival of our families.
“Small, local women’s organisations need to be supported by training and awareness-raising. Women have initiatives, but often because of lack of support, they cannot progress. It is important that the coordination of humanitarian action takes into account the needs of women and girls. Let’s support them so that today’s girls do not live what we mothers have already experienced – so that my daughters do not live what I experienced: rape, physical violence, and more ...”
Rose Vive Lobo
Rose Vive Lobo coordinates a CARE gender-based violence project in the DRC
“I am proud to serve my community and through what I do, I am a human rights activist. My work allows me to influence profound changes within the community.
“I’ve worked with CARE since 2010 and for me, it has been a school where I learned more than at university. I have become a specialist in the VSLA approach and engaging with men and boys to tackle discriminatory attitudes.
I face resistance from some men, even CARE staff, because all have grown up in the midst of norms that condone gender-based violence.
“The reaction of the community too is sometimes mixed, because the role of community activists is not always well understood. That’s why we need community leaders, such as teachers and religious leaders, to become leading actors of change – people who agree to change first and then change the rest of the community.”
Nelly Mbangu is a co-founder of Dynamique des Femmes Juristes in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
"We are still all bounded by social discriminatory norms and I know I remain a potential victim, as my daughters are. So I have to constantly fight for their rights through my activism. This also gives me recognition and appreciation in my society."
Nelly co-founded Dynamique des Femmes Juristes which works on awareness-raising on women's rights in Eastern Congo and provides legal assistance, access to justice, economic, and psycho-social services to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. She also helped set up, and now coordinates, Sauti ya Mama Mukongomani, a women’s movement for peace and security made up of 30 leading women’s organisations.
Stepha Rouichi is advocacy officer for CARE DRC
“One might think that I am an idealist but I believe in the strength of right ideas and the possibility of change through community awareness and positive collective action. When I do capacity-building training for our staff or partners, I tell them:
It all begins with an awareness of your rights, you are the agents of change in this country, and do not forget it!
“Women are often confronted with social norms that restrict their personal fulfilment. We know that they often become more vulnerable to crises-related displacements, prone to assaults and rape, sometimes without saying anything. The fear of stigma and the rejection of their community drives them to silence.
In the committees often set up in the camps, women must be given the opportunity to be represented in such a way that their specific needs are heard and, above all, they are listened to.
“As a woman, I am touched by the fate of all women. In the DRC, I try to be receptive to their sufferings, to their fears, to the restrictions that are put on them. I am also happy to see their commitment, their strength and their grief at adversity.
“As a woman, I want to tell them: Get up, get involved and fight for your rights. It all starts with you ...”
Attia Alsommali is a field officer with CARE Yemen’s emergency response
“We always find hardship in many of the areas we work. Sometimes, we are treated with respect and appreciation, yet on the other hand, some of the people we serve do not understand our work or the role we play in humanitarian aid and society development.
But it’s our duty to help others and provide for them regardless of their feedback.
“We have – as women humanitarian workers – to think beyond that to make a difference, especially in places like Yemen.”
Anhar Mohammed Saeed
Anhar Mohammed Saeed works in CARE’s Aden office, supporting our response to the current humanitarian crisis in Yemen
“The obstacles faced by girls like me in Yemen are mainly from our society and traditions. Being a young ambitious Yemeni girl in your early 20s can present many challenges. Some of us have managed to receive an education and are now career women, but most do not get that chance. For those of us with careers it can take more to prove our abilities and relevance.
“Working with CARE International in Yemen has however been a different experience. I don’t think my efforts are little or even worthless.
"I think that I am contributing as a member of the team and that I am helping the rest of my team in every way possible. And this is exactly how all young Yemeni girls and women should think of themselves.
“I would like for young girls to know that ‘the harder you fall, the higher you bounce’. They should never stop believing in themselves, and listen to their inner voice that tells them ‘keep going’ even when the road gets rough. That’s how you know you're fighting for a real cause.”
Helma Khalil is a monitoring and accountability officer for CARE’s emergency response in Turkey
“Being a female aid worker, sometimes people try to put me down and treat me like I can’t do anything, as if I can’t do my job properly. But I always try to prove the opposite and make a change.
Some female programme participants feel more comfortable receiving aid from a female aid worker. This gives them a feeling of confidence when receiving assistance.
“I feel glad to see the smile of people in need when they receive assistance after terrible times. This makes me forget the tiring work.”
Farah Alassil is a project officer with CARE International in Turkey
“What inspires me is changing the lives of people like me, people who have similar dreams and ambitions. Our programme participants in the field don’t believe women can help them change their lives, but as long as I believe in what I am doing I succeed in getting very good results and feedback.”
Jehan Alo is a project coordinator with CARE International in Turkey
“The impact of the war on women and girls has been brutal. Women find themselves taking on additional burdens to support their families by working difficult jobs and long hours. This has led to a change in power dynamics and gender roles, and exposed women to increased gender-based violence in the home, in addition to sexual harassment and exploitation in the work place. We’ve also seen that poor economic conditions among Syrian refugees leads to an increase in the rate of early marriage, and fewer Syrians in Turkey are sending their daughters to school, because they don’t feel it is safe.
One of the challenges I face is dealing with some extremely negative opinions about working women and women’s role in the community.
“At CARE, we are ensuring women’s participation because we believe it has positive outcomes helping refugee women break their isolation, recover a social network that was lost, give her a feeling that she is a productive member of the community.
“I call on the international humanitarian community to provide proper educational opportunities for women in the humanitarian field, eliminate gender inequality in employment, expand national policies and programmes to support women-focused NGOs, to maintain social cohesion, and prevent violence action and sexual exploitation against working women.
I believe women should be part of the change. We have enough courage and strength to take responsibility in building a better future for Syrian generations and delivering hope to those who need it the most.
Learn more about CARE's work during emergencies.
Learn more about CARE's work to promote gender equality.