This World Humanitarian Day, Islamic Relief is joining the international community in celebrating the incredible women humanitarians who are striving to make the world a better place. Our Head of Global Advocacy, Shahin Ashraf, explains why.

Women are often the unsung heroes not just of aid work but also of the work they do in their families and communities, helping people in need and securing peace.

As humanitarians, as health professionals and teachers, as carers, as peacemakers, so many women work tirelessly in the service of others.

At Islamic Relief we have inspiring women working on the front line of aid delivery, both in emergency response and in lifting communities out of poverty.

Shahin Ashraf, Islamic Relief’s head of global advocacy.

We see women as heroes and survivors, not victims

Too often we hear of women predominantly as victims. Some of the language is changing for the better – increasingly we talk about those who have experienced abuse as survivors, not victims, for example.

But we still tend to hear comparatively little about women as change makers – and as inspirational forces.

Time and time again women who have been through enormous suffering themselves manage to gather the strength not only to survive trauma but also to be pillars of strength for their families, communities and societies.

And it’s the same in aid work – women are among the foremost heroes of Islamic Relief’s work.

Despite all the challenges and barriers they face, they get up every day motivated to help others and make the world a better place.

In Gaza, Islamic Relief’s Bodour Abu-Kwaik with children who received food support.

Women are a core part of the Islamic Relief workforce, serving the organisation in so many key roles, such as humanitarians, doctors, and advocates.

Most of the people Islamic Relief supports are women and children, and women are usually able to relate uniquely well to other women.

So much of our work depends on our female staff and volunteers accessing other women and getting to the heart of their concerns and needs.

Women are integral to Islamic Relief’s work

It’s heart-warming to see women leading in campaigning for change, whether that’s calling for gender justice or tackling climate change.

Many of these issues – from poverty to conflict – adversely affect women. In fact, it’s often women who suffer the effects the most.

Even something as simple as accessing education becomes an issue for women in some communities, if for example there is no provision for girls on their period.

The barriers are huge for women around the world. So to create fairer societies, I want to see more women in decision-making roles.

In the Chechen Republic, Islamic Relief aid worker Zumrad Magomedova is interviewed by the media.

An important role for women of faith

Islamic Relief is developing an Islamic Declaration on Gender Justice that aims to end the harm caused to women and girls in the name of faith.

We are addressing myths and misconceptions and empowering women and girls from an Islamic perspective.

As part of this we are calling for a radical transformation in the leadership opportunities and recognition open to women – within the family, community, workplace and wider society.

Women of faith working in grassroots poverty alleviation really understand their communities, as well as the challenges they face and the opportunities they have.

Islamic Relief knows from its 35 years of experience that a faith perspective is so often critical to understanding the cultural dynamics that make and keep people poor. It’s also crucial to remove barriers preventing women from reaching their potential.

Women are not only peacebuilders. They get communities engaged and working together to achieve lasting change that will help generations to come.

I’ve seen this myself on a recent visit to Ethiopia, where women are alleviating tensions at watering holes, where water is a scarce resource.

Unfortunately it is still a relatively rare thing for women to be making decisions in the top tiers of society, where their empathy and compassion could be critical for finding peaceful resolutions to conflict.

In Ethiopia’s Afar region, women are key to easing tensions arising from water scarcity. Climate change is worsening

More is needed to empower women humanitarians

We know the role of caregiving often falls on women, especially as mothers and daughters, so in a sense as humanitarians our work to serve others never ends, whether in our jobs or at home.

Women undoubtedly face challenges in the workplace, such as being to the fore in critical grassroots roles and yet being unrecognised or unable to input at a strategic and management level.

The humanitarian aid sector needs to do more to eliminate these obstacles. We need to invest in female leadership in humanitarian work and also support women with more resources to fulfil their potential.

Join in the conversation this World Humanitarian Day using #WomenHumanitarians and donate now to support Islamic Relief’s vital work worldwide. 

More like this:

Islamic Relief humanitarians who saved many lives but lost their own

In Pictures: Women in front line aid work

WATCH: Gloria from Islamic Relief Kenya reveals what drives her passion for humanitarianism