Meet the “womanitarians” striving for hope, inclusion and social justice


19 August 2023


Women are disproportionately affected by crises and it’s vital that they are central in leading humanitarian responses. CARE is proud to work with many women humanitarians who are fighting for gender justice and to make women’s voices heard as we focus on creating a world of hope, inclusion, and social justice.

This World Humanitarian Day, we’re celebrating some of the incredible "womanitarians” in the CARE network who are responding to emergencies around the world.

CARE UK programming content is generously supported by the players of the People's Postcode Lottery.

Maryam Imtiaz – Pakistan

Maryam has been Communications Assistant at CARE Pakistan for a year and a half. In 2022, she worked closely on the response to the floods in Pakistan that left nearly a third of the country underwater and affected over 30 million people.

"When I came across women my age facing humanitarian crises, with no access to basic rights, I often was – and still am – forced to think about what the difference is between us. It is simply the difference in where we were born. This gives me not only a sense of responsibility, but also an obligation to help anyone and everyone to have access to the same opportunities. Humanitarian work allows me to do that. It also allows me to learn every day from the communities we work with. My daily dose of motivation are the stories of people who have overcome adversity and found hope amid crises.

"I would like to see women and girls in Pakistan have the same rights and opportunities as men and boys. I would like to see them access education, healthcare, and employment without discrimination. I would like to see them able to live free from violence and abuse.

"I would like to see women and girls in Pakistan able to participate fully in society, represented in government, in businesses and in other decision-making bodies. Able to use their voices to advocate for their own rights and the rights of others."


Olena Shevchenko – Ukraine

Olena runs Insight, an NGO in Ukraine providing free psychological, medical and legal help to LGBTQI + people, and one of CARE’s partners. CARE worked with Insight to deliver hygiene products and medicines to the LGBTQI+ community, and are about to collaborate on project focusing on women's leadership in emergencies. Ongoing conflict has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and an estimated 17.7 million people need humanitarian assistance.

“It was a natural process [to become a campaigner and humanitarian]. I think my identity and being part of a vulnerable community played a crucial role."

I remember my childhood and school – those experiences pushed me to this idea that I needed to find something in my life that will be meaningful. And this includes fighting for rights.


"I'm not leaving Ukraine. I'm staying and I'm so happy that my team is staying here too. We want to continue to help people. We’re ready to take on the responsibility and do the job. This is something which drives me to keep going. I'm not tired, I'm encouraged to do other things. Even in such a huge crisis, in very awful situation, there are windows of opportunity. This is the moment to change your society, so don't waste it.”

Read Olena's full interview with Helen Pankhurst

Sara* – Syria

Sara* is CARE Syria’s Deputy Rapid Response Manager. She coordinates the support to thousands of people affected by the 12-year conflict in Syria, from providing essential food items to assisting gender-based violence survivors.

“In 2015, I visited for the first time an area affected by the conflict in Syria - Tal Hamis in the Northeast of the country. What I saw was beyond anything I could have expected. I was shocked. Airstrikes had completely devastated the region and people were rebuilding their homes out of mud, with no windows, no doors, no infrastructure. Suffering was unsurmountable. I realised there and then that individual efforts are not sufficient.

As an old Arab proverb says, “one hand cannot clap on its own.” We need collective efforts to strive for change. This is when I decided to dedicate my life to humanitarian work.


“Being a humanitarian worker means growing stronger by what we learn. I see how people find solutions to extremely difficult problems in incredibly hard circumstances with so much intelligence and resilience. This makes me more powerful and independent as well. I am honoured to spend my days with the people we support, especially survivors.”

*Name changed to protect identity

Read Sara's full interview

Abeba Hailesilassie – Ethiopia

Abeba Hailesilassie works for our partner, Women’s Association of Tigray (WAT), a women-led NGO based in Tigray, Ethiopia. In Tigray, conflict has had a huge impact on women and girls. As well as largescale displacement and insecurity, reports of gender-based violence (GBV) - including conflict-related sexual violence - have skyrocketed. CARE works in partnership with WAT on gender justice issues in Tigray, including GBV response and promoting women’s leadership.

“The problems encountered by women throughout this emergency require concerted efforts and collaboration from all stakeholders, and WAT is at the forefront of this. WAT utilises this position to help women mobilise and take part in the project, and to have their voices heard in humanitarian decision-making in Tigray.

Tigrayan women have faced unimaginable atrocities, which will take years to recover from. But despite this, we’ve seen what Tigrayan women can do if given support to start their own business and stand on their own feet.

"I hope the global community will stand on the side of vulnerable Tigrayan women and provide any support they can towards rebuilding the economy of Tigray.”

Read Abeba's full interview

Erika Murillo – Honduras

Erika works for CARE in Honduras, supporting survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) to access safe shelter, healthcare and livelihood opportunities. In Honduras, one woman is killed every 22 hours. Official data on domestic violence show there are 20,000 reports every year in a country of only 10 million people. After witnessing first-hand the disproportionate challenges experienced by women and girls, especially during crises, Erika decided to focus her efforts on gender equality.

“Being a humanitarian means being an opportunity. Many people think humanitarian workers have completely different lives from the people we work with, but often we have shared similar experiences. The only difference is that we had the opportunity to access all of our rights - whether at school, in our families, at church or any other moment in our lives. Therefore, being a humanitarian worker to me is being the opportunity people may not have had.

“Looking back at my career and the challenges I have faced – floodings, threats of armed groups, being caught up in the crossfire, to name a few – I have asked myself: why am I still here? The answer is People.

I want to continue being a means of opportunity for people to access all of their rights and reach their full potential. Every time I am ‘an opportunity’, I am proud of my work.


“It will be a long road to fully reconstructing centuries of negative patriarchal patterns that affect women. However, I am positive that women with stronger internal fortresses will be better able to face any challenge they come across.”

Yulia Hladka – Ukraine

Yulia Hladka works for our partner Winds of Change, a women-led NGO based in Odessa, Ukraine. CARE works with them to promote women’s participation in key decisions related to the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

“As women working in the humanitarian sector we need to be highly stress-resistant, non-biased and tolerant of diversity, and to take into account the needs of families with different ages of children. We also need to be more aware of safety, especially in areas with greater gender-based violence risks.

"We, the women of Ukraine, address the whole world with words of peace, harmony, and compassion.

Let's overcome suffering together, support each other and strive to ensure a dignified life for everyone. Together we can make the world a better place. May love, tolerance, and understanding unite our world.

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Read Yulia's full interview

Despite being at the forefront of the response, women and women-led organisations experience significant barriers to meaningful participation in both UN and government-led humanitarian coordination and decision-making. They also lack access to quality funding and support.

CARE works alongside incredible leaders like Maryam, Olena, Sara*, Erika, Abeba and Yulia to support women in crisis all over the world. When you support CARE's work, you are supporting a woman's right to make decisions about their lives and empowering women to lead their communities through crisis.

CARE UK programming content is generously supported by the players of the People's Postcode Lottery.

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