CEL­E­BRAT­ING THE ROLE OF WOMEN HUMANITARI­ANS

Hon­our­ing those who have acted as first re­spon­ders in crises, in­clud­ing disas­ters, through­out the world

Fiji Sun - - Suncity - Source: Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment.

A woman pro­vid­ing sup­port in that at­mos­phere is em­pow­er­ing not only women, but chil­dren as well. Ev­ery woman is born to be a leader. Most of us have that knowl­edge of what to do be­fore a dis­as­ter strikes. Be­cause you are al­ready a leader at home, you know the needs of every­one around you. It’s just a mat­ter of stand­ing up and say­ing yes, I can help as well and seek­ing out re­sources and sup­port. Mere Kr­ishna Child Rights Of­fi­cer at Save the Chil­dren Fiji

Peo­ple don’t think it’s a place for a woman to be, es­pe­cially as it was a role in ICT. I had to work 10 times harder to prove my­self. For me, be­ing the lone fe­male re­spon­der meant I was al­low­ing other women the op­por­tu­nity to do the same – this is not only a field for only men, but women as well. Mere­oni Kete­wai Hu­man­i­tar­ian Pro­gramme Man­ager, Ox­fam – Poly­ne­sia, Mi­crone­sia and Fiji

Ev­ery year on Au­gust 19, the world cel­e­brates World Hu­man­i­tar­ian Day as a trib­ute to aid work­ers who risk their lives dur­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponses, and to rally sup­port for peo­ple af­fected by crises around the world.

This year, the United Na­tions’ Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA) is hon­our­ing “Women Humanitari­ans” who have acted as first re­spon­ders in crises, in­clud­ing disas­ters, through­out the world.

Ac­cord­ing to OHCA, “women make up a large num­ber of those who risk their own lives to save others. They are of­ten the first to re­spond and the last to leave. These women de­serve to be cel­e­brated. They are needed to­day as much as ever to strengthen the Na­tional Hu­man­i­tar­ian Re­sponse”.

Fiji is highly vul­ner­a­ble to disas­ters, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fre­quent cy­clones and floods. To as­sist the Gov­ern­ment of Fiji in dis­as­ter re­sponse, the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment sup­ports Civil So­ci­ety Or­gan­i­sa­tions (CSOs) to pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian sup­port to com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing lo­calised disas­ters and ma­jor events. Fi­jian women have played a cru­cial role in sup­port­ing af­fected com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing disas­ters.

Ms Mere Kr­ishna is one such ex­am­ple. A Child Rights Of­fi­cer at Save the Chil­dren Fiji, she be­came in­volved in post-Trop­i­cal

Cy­clone (TC) Win­ston re­lief ef­forts in the West­ern Di­vi­sion of Ra. She sup­ported women and chil­dren to over­come the trauma of TC Win­ston.

Ms Kr­ishna em­pha­sised that pro­vid­ing a child-friendly space was cru­cial for chil­dren to play and in­ter­act safely and for women to share the ex­pe­ri­ences they have gone through.

“A woman pro­vid­ing sup­port in that at­mos­phere is em­pow­er­ing not only women, but chil­dren as well. Ev­ery woman is born to be a leader. Most of us have that knowl­edge of what to do be­fore a dis­as­ter strikes. Be­cause you are al­ready a leader at home, you know the needs of every­one around you. It’s just a mat­ter of stand­ing up and say­ing yes, I can help as well and seek­ing out re­sources and sup­port.”

“I feel lucky enough to be a woman who is out there to em­power an­other woman in her time of trou­ble,” she added.

Mere­oni Kete­wai, Hu­man­i­tar­ian Pro­gramme Man­ager, Ox­fam – Poly­ne­sia, Mi­crone­sia and Fiji, has been work­ing in dis­as­ter re­sponse across the re­gion for the past nine years, bring­ing a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence to Fiji. Af­ter Trop­i­cal Cy­clone Pam wreaked havoc in Van­u­atu in 2015, Ms Kete­wai joined a tech­ni­cal team as the only fe­male mem­ber on the first drone dam­age as­sess­ment in the Pa­cific. “Peo­ple don’t think it’s a place for a woman to be, es­pe­cially as it was a role in ICT. I had to work 10 times harder to prove my­self,” she said.

“For me, be­ing the lone fe­male re­spon­der meant I was al­low­ing other women the op­por­tu­nity to do the same –this is not only a field for only men, but women as well.” Ms Kete­wai strongly be­lieves in em­pow­er­ing more women to par­tic­i­pate in re­lief ef­forts. She added that women can lend a more holis­tic per­spec­tive to dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness and re­sponse work es­pe­cially with cross cut­ting is­sues such as gen­der equal­ity, pro­tec­tion and in­clu­sion of marginalis­ed peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ties.

“There is def­i­nitely a need for more fe­male re­spon­ders, but one of the things I have seen at the fore­front of ma­jor disas­ters in the Pa­cific is that women were the first re­spon­ders. “Let’s just con­tinue to do what we’ve been do­ing. Women are al­ways re­silient, they have that in­tu­ition for pre­pared­ness and the abil­ity to con­tinue har­ness­ing the tra­di­tional knowl­edge within com­mu­ni­ties and strengthen each other.”

Sisilia Siga, a coun­sel­lor with Em­power Pa­cific also shared her ex­pe­ri­ence as a re­spon­der post- TC Win­ston. “It was an over­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – go­ing out into the com­mu­ni­ties and see­ing how dev­as­tated the place was and how chil­dren and women were af­fected by what has hap­pened,” she said.

She at­tended to cases of gen­der-based vi­o­lence and child abuse dur­ing this time and ob­served that while the re­build­ing took place, peo­ple in the com­mu­nity did not fully re­alise how im­por­tant it was to care for the women and chil­dren who were af­fected. “I also no­ticed men were not forth­com­ing with their is­sues and sup­pressed their emo­tions, but women were more open about how they felt and how they were deal­ing with the dam­age.”

Ms Siga feels more women must be en­cour­aged to take on roles as re­spon­ders and ad­vise them to al­ways be men­tally pre­pared when it comes to nat­u­ral disas­ters.

“We are al­ways so fo­cused on what we are do­ing but we do not pre­pare our­selves men­tally for what lies ahead. This is some­thing that needs to be strength­ened in re­sponse work,” she said.

The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment is proud to sup­port the work of women dur­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponses, and com­mends these amaz­ing women who have made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions while em­pow­er­ing other women along the way.

Coun­sel­lor with Em­power Pa­cific Sisilia Siga,

A Child Rights Of­fi­cer at Save the Chil­dren Fiji, Mere Kr­ishna.

Mere­oni Kete­wai, Hu­man­i­tar­ian Pro­gramme Man­ager, Ox­fam – Poly­ne­sia, Mi­crone­sia and Fiji.

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