The humanitarian sector should do more to facilitate women working in the sector, and women must be empowered within their organisations in order to make development more effective.

Dr Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO, and Lotfy El Sayed, manager of our Middle East Department, attended a world conference, Women’s Role in Charitable Work, in Kuwait this week.

Organised by the International Islamic Charity Organisation (IICO), the event was the third annual conference designed to talk about the role of women in the humanitarian sector. The conference focused on the role of women in charitable, social and community work, faith based perspectives regarding women’s work in the field, and ways to overcome difficulties that might prevent their effective participation.

A number of special discussion sessions with the respective Ministries of Education and Ministries of Information from the Arab and Islamic world took place. The conference ended with a list of recommendations to be realised next year, including inter-governmental cooperation, development of an international document on the topic and the formation of an endowment fund to support women’s charitable work.

Justice in humanitarian action and increased performance

Speaking at the event, Lotfy El Sayed focused on the importance of women’s role in humanitarian role from the field perspective, saying women are needed in teams responding to emergencies as a matter of cultural sensitivity, upholding dignity of female survivors, and justice.

He said evaluation had shown examples where women had out-performed men in emergency management teams. Evidence shows, he added, that women and children are often more affected by disasters than men, and, for example, the need for women psycho-social supporters was essential so women beneficiaries felt free to speak up about their needs.

He identified that challenges to women’s involvement in the humanitarian sector included legal issues, some societal values and security, and urged all organisations to increase their budgets for empowering women within their organisations as a means to improving the organisational performance.

Essential to boost the role of women in the humanitarian sector

The team at the conference in Kuwait.

The team at the conference in Kuwait.

Also attending the conference was Iman Sandra Pertek, senior policy advisor for gender at Islamic Relief, who said: “It is absolutely essential to encourage the role of women in the humanitarian sector for a quality response delivery, for example to be able to collect the data from all segments of the population afflicted by disasters and conflicts.

“We must work towards effective solutions to the barriers to their participation, in particular in areas where their strengths are very much needed. This conference was one of the first steps to increase access, participation and protection of all – women, men, boys and girls”.

Islamic Relief also runs projects to empower women in poor communities worldwide. These include livelihood training in Bangladesh, and education in Afghanistan.