Emilia Sorrentino an Education in Emergencies Specialist with Plan International, has been a humanitarian for more than ten years. She spent four years in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (Gaza and West Bank) where she worked as Programme Manager and later as Country Director for an Italian NGO. During her career she has responded to crisis such as the conflicts in Mali and in Central African Republic, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Earthquake in Nepal, lately the Rohingya Refugee Crisis in Bangladesh.
International Women’s Day is globally recognised to celebrate the amazing acts of courage and determination by ordinary women in their country and communities.
As a woman and humanitarian aid worker I would like on this special day, to remember women at the forefront of emergency action. Extraordinary women who are often less visible, sometimes not by choice because they have to protect themselves, other times because they simply prefer to work quietly as they are aware that the work they are doing in their communities is too important to be compromised.
Women’s engagement in humanitarian action is vital. Some women challenge their own culture by the fact of just doing a job that is not socially acceptable.
Some for the risks that in some contexts the job itself implies.
Roles such as delivering aid and services, to leading a humanitarian field team, to providing key logistical support. Women of different ages, cultures, status.
Single mothers, LGBT women, community workers, educators, doctors, refugees. Women, who despite the difficulties of being away from their families and friends or affected by a disaster or conflict themselves, work tirelessly to serve their community and make a difference in the lives of many women and girls.
Working in an organization who puts girls at the centre of its humanitarian and development work, I wish we could do more and better to encourage the engagement of women humanitarian workers in our emergency programming and to ensure their retention.
More resources should be invested in professional development opportunities and better measures should be taken to ensure their protection and well-being, in particular when they work in very difficult circumstances.
In my career, I have been lucky to meet many of those extraordinary and powerful women.
They have inspired me with their courage and determination. They have taught me that against any stereotype and cultural norm they can be influential and bring about change in the most conservative societies.
Some of them, unfortunately, left us too early.
Today on International Women’s Day, my thoughts go especially to them, ordinary women who will always be remembered as they wished, with profound respect and gratitude.