A Look Into Female Aid Workers' Drive to Go to War Zones

A female aid worker with the American Red Cross plays with a child in Haiti. Talia Frenkel / American Red Cross

What draws women to work and risk their lives in conflict-afflicted areas? Geraldine Bedell tries to answer this in the wake of Linda Norgrove’s tragic death.

Norgrove was the kidnapped British aid worker in Afghanistan who was killed during an effort by U.S. special forces to rescue her over the weekend.

>> Kidnapped Aid Worker in Afghanistan Killed During Rescue

“Linda Norgrove’s tragic death reminds us that development workers in war zones are at risk of their lives on a daily basis,” Bedell writes on the Guardian, adding that people’s perception of aid workers in conflict areas depends on the success of their mission.

People are grateful when they succeed in their work but often become discomfited and troubled when something goes wrong, Bedell explains.

But what exactly motivates women like Norgrove to leave behind the relative comforts of their homelands and choose to be stationed in places where their security and lives are constantly at risk? In most of these places, their stature, gender, race and politics make them even more vulnerable, Bedell adds.

>> Women in Humanitarian Relief: Challenges and Myths

One possible reason is “calling.”

“You would need a calling to go to Afghanistan,” Bedell states, but adds that laying claim to this reason could be a little misleading because it sounds religious and in contrast to how most present-day humanitarian aid workers are more often than not promoting human rights instead of religion.

Another reason identified by Bedell is a “deep care for others and a lust for adrenaline.” She cites the work of journalist Deborah Scroggins, who followed aid worker Emma McCune’s work in Sudan and wrote about it in the book “Emma’s War.”

“Aid makes itself out to be a practical enterprise,” Scroggins wrote, as quoted by Bedell, “but in Africa at least, it’s romantics who do most of the work.”

Bedell notes that other aid workers may have reasons far from the two she identified.

“The one thing we can say for sure about the workers who go and face poverty, war and distress on our behalf – whatever may inspire them – is that they are very, very brave,” she concludes.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.