On this, International Women’s Day, I want to give some insight into the day-to-day lives of women working in the humanitarian aid sector by sharing some of the murmurs I overhear from many women working in some of the toughest places in the world.
I prefer working with men – said more women than I can count.
I’m pregnant, they’re not going to renew my contract – said one woman about a month before her contract was, in fact, not renewed.
I don’t think I should ask for a promotion. I don’t want to seem too pushy. – said more women than I can count.
And then there are the harmful things that women say to and about each other.
She’s so bossy. She thinks she knows everything – said a woman on a team managed by another woman.
You’re so ambitious – said malignly by a female manager to a female staff.
What did you do? - asked a female supervisor to a recently assaulted female staff member, minutes after the attack.
If we don’t see these words as poison, as the vitriol choking our advancement, then we are lost. Listening to such things over the years, I’m reminded of three elements of Buddhism’s eight-fold path: right thoughts, rights words, right actions. Our actions begin with our thoughts that then turn into words that then become the manifestation of our ideas into the material world. If we keep hearing negative things about each other and thinking negative thoughts about ourselves, what will naturally follow from our actions towards women will be negative. And that is exactly what the Humanitarian Women’s Network survey shows about our status in the humanitarian aid sector: systemic discrimination, and harassment and assault of women in the humanitarian workspace. Wrong thoughts, wrong words, wrong actions.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. I challenge every woman and man reading this article to take 5 bold steps today towards right thoughts, right words, and right actions.
1. Think Positively: Start your day with a positive thought about one woman that you work with. Pick a new woman everyday. Think of one good quality about her and try to remember that she is someone’s sister, mother, daughter, and friend.
2. Stop Gossiping about each Other: Ladies, this has got to stop. Before you trash talk about that female colleague, before you speak disparagingly about a woman who you know or don’t know or heard of, stop yourself. Women gossiping about each other is one of the most dangerous forms of subversion that has us kept us from claiming our throne as the majority sex at 51% of the world’s population. Stop talking badly about one another immediately.
3. Be a Mentor or a Mentee to a Woman Today: The Humanitarian Women’s Network is setting up a roster of senior mentors in the aid industry for willing mentees. We believe that by networking women at the top with women who are just getting into the field, we can help women navigate our profession to build strong and healthy careers. To sign up as a mentor or request a mentor, contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Hire Women: If HR comes back and says that the only person in the entire universe qualified to fill a particular role is a man, kindly request that they try harder in their search to bring about a more ‘diverse’ candidate pool. I strongly encourage women to start hiring more among their ranks and support one another’s career progress.
5. If You See Something, Say Something: if you hear any negative thoughts or see any negative actions towards a fellow woman, don’t let it slide. Interrupt someone saying negative things about women— even if they’re speaking negatively about themselves—and repeat after me: right thoughts, right words, right action.
These simple steps, when done at scale, will prompt serious cultural shifts in favor of women in the humanitarian aid sector― because we will be collectively embodying the change we want to see in the world. On this International Women’s Day let’s #BeBoldForChange by making the boldest change: the one within.