International Women's Day: Equality for women is progress for all

7 March, 2014
March 2013, Nigeria: On International Women's Day (9 March), OCHA is highlighting some of the remarkable women working on the frontlines of some of the world's toughest emergencies. Credit: OCHA/R. Gitau
March 2013, Nigeria: On International Women's Day (9 March), OCHA is highlighting some of the remarkable women working on the frontlines of some of the world's toughest emergencies. Credit: OCHA/R. Gitau

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.

Read the other International Women's Day Profiles

“The work that we do makes a difference”

Senait Arefaine works in OCHA’s Ethiopia Office. She joined OCHA in 2004 straight out of University, first as an assistant to the head of office, and then as a reporting officer.

Senait is now in charge of the OCHA team that manages the Ethiopia Humanitarian Response Fund. This fund pools together contributions from different donors, providing humanitarian organizations in Ethiopia with access to rapid, flexible support to meet the most pressing needs of people across the country.

Her job is to sift through the proposals of different aid groups and help make decisions on what projects will be funded. She is also able to help improve projects. This is the part of the job that she loves the most.

“The needs in Ethiopia are so immense and so chronic, you can sometimes wonder ‘am I making a difference,’” she says, matter-of-factly. “But I know the work that we do makes a difference.”

"She told me that for once she felt as if she was part of her community"

One experience in particular stands out for Senait. Late last year, she visited a community in Afar, in the north of the country. The community had been affected by drought and the Humanitarian Response Fund had supported a project designed to help families get back on their feet.

“During the visit, I met a woman –a widow – who had four children below the age of eight,” remembers Senait. “She was saying that she was very, very happy that she had been selected as a beneficiary of the project.”

The project was very simple. It gave families affected by the drought small cash grants so that they could replace lost assets

“In the Afari culture women are usually side lined. It’s a male orientated society and it’s usually the men that are advantaged by emergency responses.”

“But I insisted with our partners that the project have a specific-component that targets female-headed families.”

This woman was so appreciate that she was targeted, recalls Senait. “Previously she was never invited for community gatherings because she didn’t have a husband. She was never getting any kind of assistance, because her household was ‘not there.’

“She told me that for once she felt as if she was part of her community.”
The woman used the money to buy five milking goats [and] with the money she made from selling their milk, she was able to send her children to school.

“For me, my meeting with this woman validated the work that we do,” says Senait. “It justified the extra hours we put in at the office, the hassle that we go through to get everything done. It showed me the need to step outside of the box and be very courageous and push an agenda.”

Read more International Women's Day profiles

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

Federica D’Andreagiovanni: "Out motto was 'Stay. Protect. Deliver.'"

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

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