Women Working in Development event
Working in Fragile and Conflict-affected States: Perceptions, Security and Opportunities
On Monday 12th of March, we co-hosted with BDO LLP the third of our women working in development (WWID) networking events. The session, dedicated to working in Fragile and Conflict Affected States (FCAS), was designed to encourage discussion around the challenges and opportunities for women who work and wish to work in these countries.
As global trends concentrate the incidence of extreme poverty in fragile states and donors increase their focus on these countries, many development organisations will also examine their operations to ensure they are responding to greatest need and delivering greatest impact. The session also provided an opportunity to discussion what can be done in light of the sexual abuse and harassment scandal currently facing the sector.
We were delighted to have an inspirational panel of women who shared their experiences and advice, including:
• Stephanie Speck, Senior Communications Adviser - Prime Minister’s Office Iraq, Aktis Strategy
• Suzy Madigan, Senior Policy Advisor on Conflict and Humanitarian, CARE International
• Melinda Simmons, Director of Implementation for the Cross Government Funds, FCO
Stephanie illustrated her motivation for working in FCAS with stories from her childhood and personal life. She stressed the importance of preparedness and described her own commitment to working in places no one else wants to work. She indicated pregnancy and access to basic hygiene to be the major challenges for women in the field, however was clear that neither of these did not stop her nor should not stop any woman wishing to work in these context. She raised the question: ‘would we be asking men these questions about the challenges faced?’. Instead she encouraged the women in the room to think about the expertise they and women bring to this work.
Suzy highlighted the importance of communication while working in FCAS. She called for an increase in spaces for dialogue to ensure women’s voices are heard and to ensure the safety of aid workers. She elaborated on how ideas of masculinity and femininity constrain our sector and how male colleagues still have a limited understanding of women in aid work, often despite their best intentions. Finally, in light of the recent sexual abuse scandals in the aid sector, Suzy reminded us that sexual exploitation is about power and that we must ensure that populations and communities that are vulnerable are not a target for such behaviour.
Melinda spoke of her personal journey to understand the perspectives of people who have suffered deeply and her work in the advertising world before entering the development sector. She also provided valuable insights into government policy on supporting women in FCAS. She called for honest and open dialogue within government to understand the daily experience of women working in FCAS and to ensure that work options and conditions meet women’s needs. She described how even the security training they are provided does not adequately take into account the risk factors women may face.
Melinda concluded with a powerful message: ‘Have confidence in what you bring, and don’t focus on what you believe might be lacking from your CV’.
In summary, some of the main points raised by our panel and participants include:
• It is crucial to have a professional structure of support – it is not possible to perform your job in FCAS properly if your company/organisation doesn’t structurally support women including with maternity leave, for instance. Many organisations need to make significant structural adjustments to support women. Flexibility is also necessary in order to balance time on the field and at home.
• The commitment to behaviour change involves both men and women - Having male colleagues engaged in the conversation and taking action to change attitudes and behaviours towards women is powerful and transformative. A supportive partner (if applicable) is also a crucial factor for women who wish to work in FCAS.
• Mentoring is part of the solution – Young women in the sector sometimes struggle to assert their expertise and skills when confronted with senior male staff. Mentoring schemes and strong women role models are needed.
• It is important to work collaboratively to support local counterparts and beneficiaries.
We thank our outstanding panel and all the participants, and look forward to welcoming everyone back at the next event to continue the conversation, exchange views, discuss challenges and opportunities for women working in development.
If you would like more information or to get more involved in developing the programme, please contact us.