Celebrating Women Humanitarians | World Humanitarian Day 2019

Celebrating Women Humanitarians | World Humanitarian Day 2019

World Humanitarian Day is observed every year on 19 August to acknowledge the work of humanitarian workers and to rally support for those affected by crisis around the world. The 2019 World Humanitarian Day (WHD) Campaign focuses on the contribution of women aid workers who selflessly risk their own lives to save others. These women deserve to be celebrated!

Oxfam India in conversation with Poonam Mishra, Programme Coordinator- Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), encapsulates her journey as a humanitarian worker and how it has made a difference in her life.

Q1. What according to you is the general gender ratio in terms of humanitarian workers in India? Do you think it is balanced in Oxfam India?

The number of women aid workers in India is definitely lower than men. I think the reason behind this is the fact that women in our society are considered weak and inferior as opposed to men. It is unfortunate but true. Being part of Oxfam India’s Humanitarian Team, I have felt a sense of equality with respect to my voice being heard in critical decision-making processes and opportunities given to lead DRR Projects. While it would be wrong to say that the gender ratio is completely balanced within Oxfam India, I would definitely say that we are at least headed in that direction. Oxfam has not only been trying to hire more and more women in their Humanitarian Team but has also been encouraging its local partners to do the same. This kind of sensitisation is very crucial to break away from age old traditional gender norms. Oxfam India’s humanitarian work puts special focus on women beneficiaries during crisis since women and children are the most vulnerable in such situations. We also promote gender equality among staff members and volunteers.

Q2. What sets women apart from men when it comes to relief/humanitarian work?

Being patient and calm in times of crisis is of utmost importance for any humanitarian worker and women, as a group, perform quite well in these aspects. They are more sympathetic in nature and make for better psycho-social counsellors. I have seen my female counterparts manage communities efficiently and effectively under pressure without losing their focus. They are good at multi-tasking and are patient listeners.

Q3. Do you think the potential of women aid workers in India is underestimated in times of crises?

I partially think it is because we have seen a rapid increase in the number of women responding to natural calamities and disasters in the country over the last few years. Women in India have been regarded to be much more emotionally vulnerable as opposed to men for ages. But, it is now changing. Breaking away from such notions and stereotypes is not easy and is rather a slow process. Today, their contribution to humanitarian and relief work is acknowledged and participation encouraged. Women are definitely capable of performing better if given the right opportunities.

Q4. What has been your most memorable experience of working as a humanitarian professional?

I was recently posted in Dhubri in Assam as a part of Oxfam India’s Humanitarian Response Team to the Assam Floods. Oxfam India was among the very few organisations to have reached the flood-affected regions on time and start its on ground relief work. The suffering of these flood-affected people was heartbreaking to witness. They were faced with severe water shortage and had lost their homes and livelihood. We began our work by distributing buckets, mugs and water among the many other relief items. This made the locals extremely happy as they wished well for all of us at Oxfam India! It was overwhelming and satisfactory at the same time and I could not have felt prouder about my job.

Q5. What motivates you to work as a humanitarian worker?

For me, knowing that my work makes a difference in someone else’ life is motivating. I feel proud and honoured to have been working as an aid worker and this feeling is priceless! I also feel that the skill set this job equips you with is unmatched. It not only exposes you to unfavourable conditions but also teaches you to survive them. It is challenging yet extremely exciting.

Humanitarian Response and DRR

Oxfam India saves lives by building the resilience of communities to disasters and conflict

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