International Women’s Day: “Our motto was 'Stay. Protect. Deliver.'”

7 Mar 2014

6 March 2014, New York: OCHA's Federica D' Andreagiovanni. Federica's career has taken her around the world, allowing her to see firsthand the terrible toll of conflicts on society's most vulnerable. Credit: OCHA/David Gough
On International Women's Day, OCHA's Federica D' Andreagiovanni talks about the impact of conflict on women and children.

On International Women's Day (8 March), OCHA is highlighting some of the remarkable women working on the front lines of some of the world's toughest emergencies.

Federica D’Andreagiovanni was in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, when the country descended into chaos. Her experience of those early days in mid-December 2013 was one of frustration.

“We were on lockdown in Juba for a few days,” she explains. “Everyone was frustrated because our ability to work was reduced. We didn’t have internet, there were electricity cuts and we were running out of supplies ourselves.

“The recurrent question was: ‘When can we go back to work?’”

Thousands of people were already seeking refuge at UN bases by that stage, and markets had already ground to a halt. Within days, the violence in Juba had spread to different states around the country. Within weeks, hundreds of thousands of people would be forced from their homes. The humanitarian needs in South Sudan – already among the worst in the world – were set to increase significantly.

“In everybody’s mind was the idea that we need to keep the operation going,” Federica continues. “We need to get back to work so we could tell the world what was happening, and get help to the people.

“Our motto was ‘Stay, protect, deliver’.”

”In the end, it is the women and children that suffer”

Federica joined OCHA in 1999. She worked first in a warehouse in her native Italy, before moving to Geneva first as a logistician and then as a desk officer. Her first field post was in Mozambique advising the UN Resident Coordinator on the steps the country needed to take to prepare for natural disasters.

After a year in Mozambique she moved to New York where she spent eight years. During this time she covered a number of different countries, travelling regularly to West Africa, to Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone.

But she spent most of her time working on Somalia, a country that she still feels strongly connected to. It was in Somalia, that she first saw first-hand the terrible toll that conflict has on civilians.

“Many times we worked in Somalia to provide relief assistance and then there would be new conflict and new displacement, and the access that we had achieved through difficult and painful negotiations was lost in a heartbeat.

“There is a Chinese proverb that says when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers. It’s the same everywhere, in the end it is the women and children and the elderly that suffer.”

Read more International Women's Day profiles

Senait Arefaine: "The work that we do makes a difference"

Sarah Otuku: "We have great opportunities to carry the voice of vulnerable people"

Shoko Arakaki: "There is not a single day that I haven't learned something"