She Leads: Women in Emergencies

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World. Where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it.

My name is Lama Alsafi host of this podcast in the world’s poorest communities, women and girls bear the brunt of poverty. At CARE we believe in bringing people together to end inequality. That’s why we’re making the month of March for women. As part of our #March4Women podcast series, we’ll be talking to four different women across industries with different areas of expertise, to learn more about the challenges being faced by women and girls around the world and what you, our listeners can do to make a difference.

In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World, we’re speaking with Christina Haneef, a member of the CARE Rapid Response Team, and an expert on gender in emergencies. Christina joins us remotely from Oxford in the UK. Welcome Christina, and thank you for chatting with us today.

Christina Haneef: 01:26 Hi. Thank you for having me.

Lama Alsafi: 01:28 Christina, can you tell our listeners what the Rapid Response Team is and what your role is within the team?

Christina Haneef: 01:34 Yes, so CARE’s Rapid Response Team is a globally based remote team, consisting of full-time deployable humanitarian response specialists. So our whole team is available to deploy within 72 hours anywhere in the world. So having a team that’s ready and available to deploy to a CARE country office, allows CARE to respond effectively and deliver high-quality programming. Um, so we’ll generally deploy from between two to six weeks to maybe a protracted crisis that has perhaps escalated or where risks have increased at a given time. So we have different specialties, um, on the team. We’ve got team leaders, we have people working on logistics, on sexual reproductive health, gender-based violence among many other profiles. So my role specifically is focused on gender in emergencies, strengthening the voices of women, girls, men and boys are recognized and then included as part of CARE’s emergency response work.

Christina Haneef: 02:34 So we know that women, men, boys and girls, um, prepare for, are impacted by responding and recovering to emergencies differently. The Approach, we, take, understands these differences and then responds to them in an, in an equitable way. And to ensure we, we ensure the safety of the population and reduce risks as much as possible. We also know that based on a person’s age, race, religion, health status, um, people who identify as having a disability can all add to an individual’s lived experience, can add to the specific needs and their specific priorities. So this is also something that we, we aim to, to focus on and recognize and consider within our broader response programming and ensure when he did any specific interventions are looked at and provided.

Lama Alsafi: 03:23 We also here in the world’s poorest communities that women and girls are hardest hit by the climate crisis. I wonder if you could explain to us why women are impacted differently than others in an emergency or in a crisis.

Christina Haneef: 03:35 So we know that women, men, boys and girls are all impacted differently. Statistically, we know that women and children are more likely to die during a disaster than men. And a large part of this goes back to prior to the emergency. Um, so what are the roles and expectations that are placed on men, women, boys and girls in a particular context or society. And this can range from the power dynamics that exist, access and control over resources, both in the household and within the community, the roles within the home. So whether, whether someone is a breadwinner or a caregiver, um, and any restrictions that come with this.

So normal times these societal expectations and gender norms, create very different lived experiences for men and women. When people are hit by an emergency or a crisis, we see that these impacts of gender norms and inequality are exacerbated. So just to give an example, if men are seen as the decision-makers in the home and in the community before an emergency, this often carries over to the crisis. So if women, for example, haven’t been involved in community disaster preparedness committees and the preparedness and response plans for that community about women’s contributions. So they’re much less likely to have included or recognized the specific needs and perceptions of women. And their also less likely to have identified the roles that women can play in disaster response and recovery

Lama Alsafi: 05:04 Everyday inequality leads to a worse outcome for women and girls during an emergency or during a crisis.

Christina Haneef: 05:11 Yes, exactly. We see that the impacts are compounded when the emergency hits.

Lama Alsafi: 05:16 So what are some of the challenges then, Christina, that you see some of the main challenges for women and girls during an emergency or during a crisis.

Christina Haneef: 05:25 And so the challenges can be quite wide ranging depending on the context and the type of emergency. However, there are some challenges and risks to women and girls that I have seen and can be seen across numerous context. One example is when we look at the more traditional family, how many roles that perhaps men and women take on, um, and that they would have prior to the emergency, for example, being responsible for the food and water for the family, being responsible for cooking and cleaning and managing the home. So the time taken for these daily activities increases and therefore reduces the time available for women to seek income generation. And perhaps be in involved in processes related to the response itself, um, and recovery processes.

Um, I would say another challenge that’s seen related to this is in terms of safety. So the extra distance is traveled perhaps in a new environment and an uncertain and fluctuating circumstances and can lead to additional risks to women and girls safety. Statistics show that one in three women will experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. And we do know that this, there is an exacerbated risk in times of emergency and there’s increased stress levels, perhaps people are living in temporary shelters in new surroundings and in often overcrowded environments. And all of these factors create higher levels of physical and psychological insecurity and do increase risk for women and girls.

Lama Alsafi: 07:00 Christina, how do women lead in crisis? I mean you as one of our Rapid Response Team members, you’re one of the women who lead in crisis, but what about in the locations that you deploy to?

Christina Haneef: 07:10 This is a really good question and I think it’s important because while we recognize that there are specific risks and challenges for women and girls. It’s important that we also recognize that women and girls are extremely resilient and adaptable and powerful and can play leading an active roles in responding to crises. So in the home for example, when a disaster happens, um, women may be the first to respond to protect their houses, their assets and ensure that children and perhaps elderly relatives are safe from harm. And this requires fast and effective decision making and prioritization and in quite a short space of time and in a high stress environment. And then on the community side we see many examples of female responders. So in the form of female activists maybe fighting for women’s rights within the crisis, we see female leaders and responders as part of informal community groups and networks, but also is more formal and established collectives and women led organizations.

So we see many examples of, of women using networks, either existing or building new networks and doing this to support one another based on similar lived experiences or on a common identified need, um, so for example, using these networks and groups to pass information to one another. Um, establish saving committees and also going back to the idea of um, safety and protection. So identifying solutions, um, to the protection risks and activating protection mechanisms within the community and to support those may be more at risk. CARE has quite an innovative pilot initiative called, um, women lead in emergencies and this supports women’s leadership and collective action during emergencies and to really support their collective voice and look at and identify the barriers that maybe exist for them. Taking on leadership roles in an emergency, looking at how to mitigate these barriers and to make a change to ensure that women communicatively participate in, have access to spaces where, where decisions being made and where they can be leaders in their community.

Lama Alsafi 09:27 Christina, how can someone who is listening at home or in their car right now take action, how can they try to make a difference in the lives of women and girls around the world?

Christina Haneef: 09:35 So I believe we can each contribute to both individual and collective actions. So March 8th was International Women’s Day and this year the theme was looking at “each for equal”, which incorporated the message that an equal world is an enabled world. So that does focus on our individual responsibilities, but also the impact of collective action to help make, um, gender equality in the world a reality. So building off this CARE is making the month of March for women. One of the initiatives is an online petition, which calls on government aid agencies and local authorities to ensure that women and girls actually have meaningful roles within the humanitarian systems all the way from policies to programs.

Um, and CARE Canada specifically is calling upon the government of Canada to make a commitment to target gender equality as a primary objective in its projects. So one way is supporting these sorts of collective petitions and collective action to show, show your support and raise your voice in that way. So in addition to collective actions, I really believe that individual commitments and actions in support of gender equality can be extremely powerful and really making an effort to stand up and challenge those sorts of actions can have a direct impact. And then on the flip side, on an individual level, making the choice to really actively support the women in our lives. So again, as colleagues in the home, in the community, really supporting and celebrating their achievements, strengths and goals and that we can do every day. But then also seeing what your government’s doing, what like organizations are doing and wider actions that we can contribute.

Lama Alsafi: 11:19 Thank you Christina for taking the time to talk with us today.

Christina Haneef: 11:22 Thank you very much for having me.

Lama Alsafi: 11:24 If you’d like to add your name to CARE Canada’s call to make the month of March for women, head over to and add your name to our petition now. And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. Stay tuned for the next episode in our #March4Women series to be released next week on Spotify and iTunes.