“A diverse team makes for a more intelligent and effective team”, with this remark by Mr Jeremy England, Head of the ICRC New Delhi Regional Delegation, the tone was set for an afternoon of discussions around Gender, Resilience and Humanitarian Programming. Held at the ICRC Regional Delegation on March 9, 2017, the event commemorated International Women’s Day.

The role played by women in the humanitarian sector — be it as recipients or providers of humanitarian assistance – is a subject of great importance to the ICRC. To facilitate discussions around this and other issues of inclusion, the delegation brought together experts from diverse backgrounds including representatives from the humanitarian and development sectors as well as academia, media and the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement.

Challenges in the Humanitarian Context

The first panel shared insights on women’s needs and the complex challenges faced in the present humanitarian context. The speakers included Amb (Retd.) Meera Shankar, Ms. Yasuko Shimizu, Chief of Mission in India for UNHCR and Ms. Magali Roudaut Director, MSF India and chairing the session was Dr. Deepali Gaur, ICRC New Delhi.

Making the point that women are not inherently vulnerable, Ms. Shimizu said, “Women are not only people with issues, problems and vulnerability. Women are also resourceful… Refugee women carry water, cook, take care of children, fight against violent men or support men who have lost their dignity.” Amb. (Retd.) Shankar added “To tackle (these) problems we need to involve the largest number of people in the process, i.e. women. If you leave women who account for 50% of the global population, you will not get a fix (solution).” Ms. Roudaut stressed the importance of inclusion, saying “Involving men in addressing gender inequality is vital and it begins with sensitization.”

Between the two panels, Ms. Rina Tripathi, Disaster Management Advisor at Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS), an important component of the RCRC Movement, spoke about the disaster management work of the IRCS across India.

Broadening Diversity Beyond Gender

For the second session, the panelists were Ms. Aditi Kapoor, Climate & Resilience Advisor, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Ms. Nidhi Goyal, a stand-up comedian who works on gender justice and disability rights and Mr. Omair Ahmad, Managing Editor, South Asia, The Third Pole. Chaired by Mr. Robertangelo Ciccone, Head of ICRC’s physical rehabilitation programme in India, this panel looked at how gender interacts with other aspects of diversity.

Discussions underscored the importance of mapping all needs from an inclusion perspective and to ensure active participation of women in the planning, preparedness and management of humanitarian crises. Ms. Goyal, representing the disability sector and speaking on the sexual rights of the disabled community, asked, “How are we okay amplifying the voices of a set (women) and talking down on the voices of a sub-set (disabled women)?” Ms. Kapoor elaborated how emergencies exacerbate existing gender inequalities, saying  “Vulnerability and exposure are based on gender-based roles and responsibilities.  Humanitarian agencies often look at the practical needs – food water etc… but some of the more strategic needs are decision-making, safety, mobility and recreation.”

The issues raised and discussions that followed clearly showed that women often assume increased responsibility in times of crisis as first responders both by virtue of need and opportunity, hence the need for inclusion of women in the initial planning and preparedness considerations. As the session concluded, there was no dispute that diverse, more inclusive teams will create a better understanding of the complexities of communities, offering better access to help those who are affected by humanitarian emergencies.

Snapshots from the two panel discussions (©ICRC, Ashish Bhatia):