Your Story is My Story

It's difficult to comprehend how the very offices that draft policies on gender-based persecution, women's rights, sexual and gender-based violence and harassment might also employ staff members who mistreat women, men, gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals on the basis of their gender and/or sexual orientation. But, it's a reality many of us live on a daily basis. What's worse is that the very system in which we all work sometimes even contributes to gender-based distinctions and hierarchies.

Here, we provide you with the space to share your experience with gender-based violence and harassment and to describe in just a few words how you envision the aid-working world should be. We want to hear from all aid workers - women, men, gay, lesbian, and transgendered individuals alike!

Recent Messages

  1. Profile photo of Sheherasade

    Sheherasade

    13 September, 2013

    WOMEN AID WORKERS… DOOMED TO BE SINGLE AND CHILDLESS?

    As a 30 + years old woman, single and childless, I don’t know how many brainless comments I have received throughout the years. From local colleagues, women in the country I work in, from friends, neighbours and family back home. Within the expat aid worker community at least one gets a sort of understanding, and one doesn’t feel like an outcast or freak if one lives a life far away from the standard norms. But I have seen how male colleagues very often seem to have a family at home, where of course the wife, as gender stereotypically appropriate, is at home with the kids, while the dad is the breadwinner, making money by working for UN abroad. It just seems so incredibly unfair that this is much harder to achieve for women.

    So, why is it so hard for women aid workers to get a family? I have countless girl friends in the same situation as me. We are pretty, intelligent, caring, witty, and independent. Aha. Therein lies the difficulty. In my opinion, far too many men are afraid of intelligent and independent women. They want someone who looks up to them, who is easily impressed, who is dependent of them. Not an equal partner who can challenge them and walk away if things get too rough, cause she earns her own money anyway.

    And yes, because of the traditional stereotype that the mother is more important to the child than the father. Combining family life with work at non-family duty stations seems like a non-existing choice for women. In addition, it is still an oddity that the husband follows the wife and her job, rather than the other way around.

    Are women aid workers doomed to be single and childless? Will getting children automatically exclude us from the work we love?

    Well, the UN isn’t actually known to pay attention to work-life balance of its staff, not even basic international employment laws. So making sure that women UN staff get the same maternity benefits as in most developed countries seems is a big battle ahead.

    And to make it possible for women aid workers in the field to combine a career and family life requires substantial changes both in the world’s gender stereotypes, and UN staff regulations. In other words: very far away still.

    What do you think?

  2. Profile photo of shannonmou

    shannonmou

    6 December, 2013

    Hi Sheherasade,

    I completely agree with you. I would just add one more thing to the reasons you’ve mentioned: Culture. By culture, I mean UN culture and, perhaps, even humanitarian culture in general. As you write, there has not yet been any effort to accommodate the needs of female staff. The consequence of this is that it has created a culture in which single, childless women in the field are a norm.

    In my opinion, the next step for the UN – and, perhaps, for many humanitarian/development organizations – is to facilitate family togetherness. Obviously, this isn’t feasible in E duty stations, places of ongoing conflict or serious risks, but there could be more of an effort to prioritize incoming, younger staff for such roles and assist women and families to be located in other locations where they can enjoy personal and professional lives. This is done to a certain extent, but it’s not necessarily prioritized in such a way and women can often feel that they will not have a job at all if they don’t accept whatever comes. This is what needs to be changed – clear recognition of the need to support women and families.

    This is one of many necessary changes within the system. But, what we most need is unity in our advocacy efforts … so that we all push for such changes together, uniting our voices into ONE.

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