How to encourage more female staff in disaster response

A female CARE staff in post-earthquake Nepal. Photo by: Grishma Aryal / CARE

This is the second article in a two-piece series looking at the impact of gender balance in humanitarian surge staff and the challenges women and girls face when responding to a disaster.

When a disaster strikes, surge staff are the first ones deployed to assess and implement what is most needed on the ground. While disasters can disproportionately affect women, they only make up 40 percent of surge staff according to research report conducted by ActionAid and CARE International last year. In particular regions, this can be significantly lower. For example, only 27 percent of surge staff deployed in Pakistan are female.

More female surge staff can reduce sexual assault in disaster response

When disaster hits, surge staff are the first on the ground to assess and implement the immediate response required. Currently, the majority of surge staff are male. Devex spoke with professionals in the field to understand the impacts of having more female surge staff, from ensuring women's voices are better heard to helping curb sexual abuse in the sector.

A more gender-balanced staff could help response efforts be more inclusive for those affected and could help reduce incidents of sexual abuse in disaster response. Kathleen O’Brien, surge capacity coordinator of CARE International, stresses, “in the communities we serve, women’s organizations and individual women are already playing a key role as frontline responders for those affected by crisis. Surge capacity of international humanitarian organizations has to reflect this reality to help make connections between local female capacity and the international response. There’s never been a more important time to be a part of it.”

But for female staff, the challenges are often greater than they are for men. Personal safety and security is a key concern that has become widely talked about with the recent revelations surrounding Oxfam and the #AidToo movement. Other issues raised by female staff were around patronizing and sexist behavior, personal hygiene in the field, and relationships and child care — which can all deter women from surging.

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About the author

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    Lottie Watters

    Lottie Watters is a Reporting and Communications Associate based in Barcelona. She focuses on bringing the latest career and hiring trends, tips, and insights to Devex’s global development audience. Lottie is a recent graduate with a background in geography and journalism, taking a particular interest in grassroots international development projects. She has worked with organizations delivering clean water and sanitation projects globally.