In profile: Niger’s Fatouma Zara Soumana works in emergencies
When disaster strikes, CARE is ready to assist, thanks to staff on the ground like Fatouma Zara Soumana from Niger. As a gender expert in the emergency space, Fatouma ensures the relief response meets the needs of women and girls as well as men and boys.
As an emergency response specialist, you travel around 60 per cent of your time. What do you do exactly?
I support CARE’s emergency response in different countries where we help communities suffering from disasters or conflict. As a gender expert, my role is to look at the work we do and make sure that it meets the different needs of women and girls as well as men and boys. 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.
What differences can that be?
A simple example would be the specific needs of women and girls when it comes to their personal hygiene. It might be helpful for a family to receive soap, water and buckets when they have lost their homes, but women and girls will also need sanitary pads or other items that are culturally appropriate. Men need shaving kits. Children up to five years and pregnant and lactating women need enriched food, etc. Catering to these specific needs doesn’t necessarily cost much, we just need to ensure correct planning from the onset of our response. Small things can make a big difference.
Most of the time, the discussion revolves around women and girls and their vulnerabilities. Are there any specific needs that you encounter with men and boys?
Sure, men and boys do have their specific vulnerabilities. With the Nigeria crisis, men are most at risk of being killed while young men are subjected to forced recruitment by armed groups. If they manage to escape, they need special support to overcome the trauma.
You have just finished a so-called rapid gender assessment in Niger, in the Eastern part of the country. CARE supports host communities and refugees from Nigeria who have found shelter here. What were your key findings?
From this analysis we found important humanitarian needs because the number of refugees and displaced people has dramatically increased over the last months. Both the hosts and the displaced people lack food, proper hygiene and sanitation as well as shelter. People told us that there wasn’t enough protection against gender-based violence and that rape and prostitution were on the rise in this setting. We’ve also heard that young men who were freed from armed groups lack the support to reintegrate.
Is there a story that touched you in particular?
Yes, indeed. I talked to a mother of two children who told me how she fled her village in Northern Nigeria when it was under attack by armed groups. She spent a whole day walking on foot until she came to a river where she was spotted by an armed man. He told her she would be spared if she stayed quiet and hid in the river. The woman spent a whole night standing up in the river where it was shallow enough to hold her children above the water level. The whole time she prayed to survive. Now she lives at a transit site in Niger and needs food, water and shelter. She and her family are still trying to survive.
What do you do when you don’t travel?
I write reports about the findings from my visit. I develop manuals to train our emergency teams how to incorporate gender-sensitive analysis into their operations. I respond to queries and contribute to research and evaluations.
With all the travelling you do, how do you balance your work and family life?
I have five kids, two of them are in university. I’m lucky to have a very supportive husband who does not travel. He always says that he is “Mum and Dad in one” when I’m not around. I make sure to talk to my children about the places I go to and why I need to be away from them at times. They understand. It is not always easy, but with their Dad and other family members around in Niamey (the capital of Niger, where I live), they are well taken care of.
What do you like most about your job?
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. I love to discover new places and meet new people, learn new things every time. In this job, I am able to work in many countries and I always discover new things – whether in Turkey, Sudan, Madagascar, Cameroon, Chad, Mali or elsewhere.
You can help vulnerable communities around the world to prepare for and recover from disaster by donating to CARE’s Emergency Response Fund