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How Concern is driving gender equality in the humanitarian sector

How Concern is driving gender equality in the humanitarian sector
Story7 March 2024

New research from the World Bank has found that no country in the world provides equal opportunity for women in the workplace. By taking women’s experiences of violence and childcare into account for the first time, the research revealed an equality gap much larger than previously thought, including in the world’s wealthiest countries. 

Due to the nature of our work, the humanitarian and development sector can present additional challenges to encouraging the inclusion and equality of opportunity for women. We spoke with Valerie McFarlane, Concern’s Head of Workplace Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, about how the organisation rises to these challenges to promote gender equality. 

Removing barriers to entry

Concern works in 30 countries across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and North and Central America. One of the first ways we encourage gender equality at Concern is by looking at hiring and recruitment practices globally, and ensuring they present an equal opportunity to both men and women.  

“It's being more systematic in in terms of thinking about the role,” Valerie says. “Where it's based, what are the requirements for that role, and are we putting things in the job description that don't need to be there.”  

One example of this is in country offices where we need rural community outreach staff to ride motorbikes to reach remote areas. In many of these countries however, it is much less common for women to have learned how to ride a motorbike. Since requiring this skill in a job description could discourage women from applying, Concern provides motorbike training to all new members of staff where necessary, to ensure that women are not excluded. 

In other situations, Valerie said, making a role more accessible to women can be as simple as having flexibility with the timing of job interviews, to account for those with caring responsibilities. On average, women spend 2.4 hours more a day on unpaid care work than men do. 

“We are making sure that our practices at every possible level are not discriminatory, to address barriers and take positive action to level the playing field, so that competent women are coming through.” 

Concern staff in Haiti
Marie Mimose Jean, MEAL Officer with Concern Haiti.Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

Safety in conflict settings

Concern works in some of the most conflict-affected countries in the world. In situations of conflict, women are more likely to be at risk of violence, and have their rights limited. This presents particular security risks for women working in the humanitarian sector.  

For example, women are already more likely than men to face sexual violence. However, the 2019 Aid Worker Security Report found this is virtually the only type of violent threat to humanitarian staff that can come not only from the external situation they’re working in, but also within their own organisation. This places female humanitarian workers at unique risk. 

At Concern, stringent security measures ensure the safety of all staff working in regions affected by conflict and insecurity. These include consideration for women’s safety.  

Additionally, addressing women’s security in a humanitarian context requires thinking about gender equality from an intersectional perspective. For example, considering how women of colour, women with a disability, and/or LGBTQ+ women may experience things differently.  

Part of this work is ensuring not only that women feel safe to speak up, but that all staff can recognise and call out bias. This includes ensuring staff feel confident to report serious incidents, such as sexual harassment, to Concern’s Safeguarding and Investigations Team.   

Louise Carroll, Deirdre Delaney, and Paula Donohoe, Concern members of the Joint Emergency Response in Ukraine. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide
Louise Carroll, Deirdre Delaney, and Paula Donohoe, Concern members of the Joint Emergency Response in Ukraine. Photo: Kieran McConville/Concern Worldwide

Gender equality across cultures

Sexism and gender inequality exist in all countries where Concern works and is one of the largest drivers of global poverty. That’s why gender equality is one of foundational pillars of Concern’s work. 

Workplace sexism can occur in nearly unnoticeable ways, such as women being talked over by men in meetings. In other cases, sexist social norms can affect women’s career growth in larger ways. Pursuing a career in the humanitarian and development sector can be difficult for women with children, for example.  

“Women still do have a greater share of caring responsibilities at home, so the expectations on women not to be too far from home again can limit their ability to move away and take up experiences away from home,” Valerie says. "That’s why I believe our programmes are so vitally important, because that is where you're looking to change attitudes.” 

Concern seeks to be 'gender-transformative' in all our programmes. This means working with communities to develop programmes that transform the root causes of gender inequality at many layers of society – from the individual, to the institutional and national. 

Our programmes include increasing access to education for girls, promoting women’s healthcare, engaging men in gender equality, and partaking in advocacy work both within countries and on an international level. 

“We are making the effort consistently and comprehensively,” Valerie says. “That’s not going to change overnight, but we’ll continue working to change things in the long term.” 

Concern staff in Malawi
Concern staff member Gloria Matuntha discusses composting manure with Cathreen Francisco in Malawi. Photo: Chris Gagnon/Concern Worldwide
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