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الموقع تحت الإنشاء

النسخة التجريبية من موقع النهضة العربية (أرض)

‘Al Arba’tain’ Dialogue: Women’s role in humanitarian work … Jordanian women have been playing a prominent and historical role in crises’ response in the Arab world


The “Women’s Role in Humanitarian Work” discussion session held last Wednesday by Al Nahda Women’s Network as part of “Al Arba’tain” Meeting series, tackled the role played by women in the field of humanitarian aid, an issue often superficially broached by media. Print and online media outlets offer scant coverage of Arab, including Jordanian, women’s work in the field, with most articles barely touching the surface of the topic and leaving detailed aspects of women’s role in the field and their professional capacities unexplored.

“Women working in this field face numerous challenges and hardships.” As Chief Executive Director of Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) Samar Muhareb puts it, “Humanitarian work is congruent with women’s nurturing nature, but they perform it even though they are the most affected by crises, disasters, and traumatic events. Their contribution to humanitarian work requires laborious efforts and is fraught with traumas and risks. To respond to crises, women are required to acquire complex skills and experience rarely matched in other professions, while, at the same time, perform their roles as mothers, daughters, wives, and professional duties, risky tasks in a work environment that often lacks gender-sensitive responsiveness.”

Other participants in the discussion reiterated this point. They counted Muyassar Al Sa’adi, a leader in the humanitarian work sector, CEO of Durrat Almanal for Development and Training Manal Alwazani, and Country Director at Plan International – Jordan Muna Abbas.

Al Sa’adi has been involved in humanitarian work for about half a century. She began her voluntary work in refugee and emergency camps in Jordan. Her journey was full of challenges, starting with her family’s disapproval of her decision to study nursing, yet her position was unshakable due to her belief in the humane essence of the profession.

She attributed the challenges she faced to the unorganized nature of the sector; later, however, after the establishment of The Jordanian Women Union in 1974, of which she was a founder, a shift could be noticed, with the sector witnessing planning and strategy-based work. Her role in establishing the union paved the way for further success for various humanitarian projects. On The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, she was awarded a prize for a project she submitted to the United Nations. “The prize came as an Arab and international acknowledgment of the women’s role in humanitarian work,” she said, stressing the fact that women are strong, humane, and compassionate humanitarians, which helps them excel at what they do.

Alwazani took up humanitarian work in 2004 when she joined Operation Smile Jordan. “The uniqueness of humanitarian work is that workers within the field are never satisfied, but always strive to give more.” She has many years of experience, founded the first voluntary medical team in Jordan, worked with Save the Children, and established Durrat Almanal, and this long experience makes her portray humanitarian work as a “long journey with no apparent final stop”.Alwazani also stressed women’s motherly instinct and ability to see the big picture, which helps them play an essential role in humanitarian work and bear great burdens. She attributes women’s success in this field to their multitasking and strategic planning skills, preparedness to crises, and social skills that allow them to work within big and diverse teams and with various groups affected by crises. Women provide response and aid, ensure that teams comply with the principles of humanitarian work and respect beneficiaries, work to preserve workers’ physical and psychological well-being when faced with various traumatic and harmful circumstances, and are best at preventing resource mismanagement. According to her, work management must be efficient as crises seem to linger and communities’ needs increase while requiring support to recover and adapt through comprehensive services in health, nutrition, shelter, and education.

“Fifty years from now, I will attempt to buy a pair of shoes, but it will be too expensive, so I will have to walk barefoot,” was the answer that one girl gave to Abbas’s question about children’s views of the world in 50 years’ time. Abbas who worked as a teacher and then as principal at an UNRWA school, later at Save the Children, and then opened and managed Plan International’s Jordan office, says that this interaction with her students led her to the shocking realization that some children had become cynical because of the hardships they had to endure. This girl’s answer, says Abbas made her cry in class and encouraged her to enter the world of humanitarian work, she now works for an organization that supports girls and women.

Abbas stressed the importance of culture- and gender-responsive approach to humanitarian work, which is usually forgotten when refugee camps are established. These camps are established based on international standards, without taking into consideration the location and cultural sensitivities, but a Syrian woman’s needs and traditions are different from those of a woman living in Africa for example. According to her, the balance of power is not in women’s favor, therefore they require a comprehensive support system, especially since “the biggest challenge women face in humanitarian work is their need to prove their efficiency and balance professionalism and emotions.”

The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says, “women’s and girls’ participation in decision making within humanitarian work leads to more efficient humanitarian response.”, this statement along with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, on women, peace, and security are being reflected on a daily basis in Jordan, where 60% of workers in the humanitarian field are women who prove every day their ability to manage, respond and understand all details relevant to humanitarian work and needs.

In most of the Arab world, however, humanitarian work lacks government support and acknowledgment that it is an impactful actor that strengthens communities’ resilience in times of crisis and their aftermath. Official acknowledgment of humanitarian work, of the role of civil society organizations, and of women’s role in specific remains limited. In the case of Jordan, women’s role in the international arena, such as in the peacekeeping forces were able to gain recognition nevertheless.

The discussion was concluded by stressing the need to work harder to ensure that Arab women are not portrayed as weak, but as capable actors who have been playing a vital role in responding to crises throughout history. Al Sa’adi concluding statement perhaps best illustrates women’s strength: “We were three young women and six men nurses during the Battle of Karameh. When our base was being targeted, the men wanted to evacuate us; we refused, we told them we were there with them by their side to support and tend to our soldiers. we said we were not better than them to leave them to die in battle and hide from death ourselves.”