When crises happen, women and girls are hardest hit – from eating last and least during times of hunger, to the heightened risk of sexual-and-gender-based violence they face during conflict. Despite these challenges, women all over the world are leading their communities through difficult times. That’s why this International Women’s Day, CARE International UK is celebrating the women living and leading through crisis with our #Walk4Women podcast, full of inspiring stories from around the globe.
From Afghanistan to Ukraine, Bangladesh to Colombia, millions of women across the globe are supporting communities fleeing conflict, keeping their families safe in the face of famine and drought and delivering life-saving responses to the climate crisis. Despite this, women living in humanitarian contexts often have little or no influence over the design and delivery of humanitarian assistance. This is important - not only because women have a fundamental right to contribute to the decisions that affect their lives, but because without their input, humanitarian assistance often does not meet their needs.
CARE works with crisis-affected women to plug this gap through the Women Lead in Emergencies approach (Women Lead). As part of Women Lead, women develop ways to address the barriers they face to taking part in decision-making. This may involve taking literacy classes, learning a new trade to help with income generation, or developing public speaking skills so they feel confident expressing themselves in front of a crowd. Whatever approach they take is decided and led entirely led by the women themselves.
Joyce is a member of the Women Lead in Emergencies group in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda. Joyce and her family fled civil war in her home country of South Sudan in 2016 and made the journey to Uganda by foot, where she eventually settled in Bidibidi. She’s been part of Women Lead in Emergencies since 2022. Here she tells us about how her confidence has grown as part of the programme, and how she wants to use her voice to support other members of her community.
Can you tell us about how you came to be part of Women Lead in Emergencies?
My name is Joyce. I’m 36 years old and a mother of 7 children. In June 2022, the Refugee Welfare Council (one of the governing bodies in Ugandan refugee settlements) in my village encouraged women to turn up for a meeting about Women Lead in Emergencies, organised by CARE. Six women’s groups turned up, including the Salama Women’s Group which I belong to. They talked to us about Women Lead in Emergencies and why it’s important for women.
Which element of the Women Lead in Emergencies approach have you found most useful?
Developing my public speaking skills: this has given me confidence and strengthened my self-esteem. I’m not scared of expressing myself now, at any meeting in the community. Now, I want to speak - in fact, I am like a child who has just learned how. The excitement in me feels new. I have learned to voice my complaints. I sit on the Child Protection Committee in Bidibidi and my level of engagement and the quality of service I can offer has greatly improved. I have learned to get involved in solving issues in my community.
What are the main challenges faced by women in your community? How would you help address these?
The biggest challenge women face is water shortages, which are the worst during dry season. When water is scarce, women must wait for longer hours at the water points which exposes them to greater risks of gender-based violence, especially domestic violence in their homes. The long waits also mean they may miss out on opportunities to participate in community meetings. As well as this, language barriers limit opportunities for women to express themselves and to take up different roles in the community. This is because most women speak Arabic and the local languages, yet the mode of communication is in English. Lastly, women have limited capital to kick-start income-generating activities, and they have a heavy burden to bear to meet the needs of their family members. To help resolve these I would engage in community dialogues with community members, and report to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) partners and the government about the water issues.
What are your plans for the future - how would you like to continue using the skills developed through Women Lead in Emergencies?
I’d like to join adult classes to learn English and improve both my spoken and written skills. I’d also like to grow my business so that I can continue meeting the needs of my children and myself. And I want to continue supporting community members by sharing information during awareness sessions. I want to be exemplary.
This International Women’s Day, what message do you have for other women leading their families and communities in times of crisis?
All women should be strong while taking care of their families. Every woman should have the chance to speak up in our communities. As women we need to feel powerful.