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Women at Work

The gender gap feels ever present in our society, be it in pay, job opportunities, education, data collection, or even humanitarian work. In news and media we see men leading the way in frontline humanitarian work, men as the mouth pieces for philanthropic organizations, men organizing aid responses ... women on the other hand seem regulated to the role of refugee or assistant. But is this true? Are women really taking a backseat when it comes to humanitarian responses, volunteering, and aid work?

According to a report published by UN News in 2019, of about 625,000 frontline aid workers "250,000 aid workers are women – a figure that amounts to more than 40 per cent of the humanitarian workforce." Yet, due to known gender gaps in data collection and what male dominated industries consider to be "aid", "humanitarian" or "frontline" work, these numbers could be skewed. Anecdotally, my experience has always been that it is women that are at the heart (and brains, and backbone) of most humanitarian and philanthropic responses. Now, of course I am biased being 1. a woman 2. someone involved with philanthropic work 3. a member of Soroptimist International ... but still.

Soroptimist International - Krakow coordinates with other volunteers to send supplies into Ukraine (March 2022)

Luckily, I'm not alone in my observations. “The most inspiring humanitarian workers I have heard of and come across are women – whether it’s midwives and nurses in refugee camps, to women leading community-based organizations in conflict zones,” says Bonnie Chiu, Co-Founder and CEO of Humanity Data Systems in a March, 2021 Humanitarian Grand Challenge article. Additionally, what do we consider "aid worker", "humanitarian response", and "frontline volunteers"?

Where do women lead community aid groups fall into this? How do we count young ladies using social media to fundraise during a crisis? Do these statistics reflect all the mothers who pass along their lovingly used baby items to refugees? All of these women are aid workers too, but they are not reflected in the data. So let's be clear ... I don't care if a report says women make up "more than 40 per cent of the humanitarian workforce." WE all know that number is actually much higher.

The Power of Women

In this modern age, with instant communication abilities available through Internet, cell phones, and social media, women are making their power known on a global scale. There may be no better example of this than the global female response to the Ukrainian humanitarian crisis.

When the news first started bombarding us with nightly reports of potential war in Ukraine, then with hourly horrific images of a country on the edge of obliteration, many of the stories about individual humanitarians were focused on men. Most of the frontline reporters were men, and so were many of the aid workers they interviewed. It seemed like, according to the news, the role of women in this crisis was regulated to refugee.

But when I began to do my own research into aid for Ukraine and as I started to plan a trip to Poland, I realized something... women were omnipresent, but as so often happens, they were in the background. Yet these women, organizing grassroots aid responses, coordinating 6-figure fundraisers, managing shipping and logistics into war zones were the ones REALLY getting the job done.

During this crisis it has been women who have risen to the challenge. Sure, men have helped, but the volunteers I saw, fundraisers I have met, and community organizers I’m collaborating with have overwhelmingly been women. And how have they been getting the support they need? By good old fashioned, never fails, word of mouth, amplified in the 21st century with social media.

Through shared videos, photos, and stories, women all over the world are connecting with one another to solve a major problem: humanitarian aid and long-term support for Ukraine. Take Rebecca Shipley for example. She is on her way to raising over $100,000 to support a daycare and shelter for Ukrainian refugees. Or Viktoriya Miclean who is coordinating aid for Ukrainian refugees entering the States at our border with Mexico. And I can’t forget about Nataliya Pristatsky, a Ukrainian native, now living in the States, who took her family on an aid trip and is continuing to use social media to amplify stories of refugees and the war.

As always, it is the power of women driving the current aid response. From volunteers to women’s organizations to grassroots fundraising… women are powering the support response for Ukraine.

Women Helping Women

The crisis in Ukraine is like none other we have seen in a generation. That is not to say the current humanitarian crisis inflicted upon Ukraine is the worst we have seen; it is simply different. How so?

Women, children, and elderly refugees que for needed supplies distributed by female volunteers (March 2022)

It is the first time since World War II that combatants, allies, from that war find themselves at war with one another. Moreover, they are at war because one side, claiming to be ridding their neighbor of Nazi influences, is themselves committing atrocities enacted by the Third Reich. Putin may claim to be liberating Ukraine, saving them from treatment they have not experienced since the days of Hitler, but really, it’s just an excuse. Russia is using Hitler’s old playbook to determine their war strategies every step of the way. This includes claiming to be defending and uniting lost linguistic, cultural, and ethnic cousins, invading a sovereign nation, expanding power and influence, and committing genocide on a scapegoated population.

Unlike World War II, women, children, and the elderly are being evacuated from their homes, from their country, while men are required to stay behind and fight. The massive flood of nearly 5 million refugees out of Ukraine in only the first 7 weeks of this war has created a humanitarian crisis that is felt globally. However, with 60% of those refugees being women and another 35% being minors under the age of 18, are aid workers and humanitarian organizations prepared for the unique needs of these refugees?