Why more women should take up humanitarian work in Middle East and North Africa

Jennifer Bell
June 11, 2019

MENA region has big gap between demand and availability of female volunteers

Arab women’s familiarity with culture and languages of region could make a big difference

DUBAI: “The need is so great for the work we do in this field.” This comment, by Rana Sidani Cassou of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), sums up the state of her occupation as a female humanitarian worker in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The phenomenon of women in the region devoting their lives to helping people affected by wars, natural disasters and humanitarian crises is scarcely new. But what is different now is the gap between the availability and demand for female volunteers and staff.

Cassou, based in Lebanon, has witnessed her fair share of tragedies while working on the frontlines for various aid organizations since 2004.

As the IFRC’s head of communications for 21 countries, it is her responsibility to keep the world’s attention focused on MENA’s humanitarian needs, and “to give a voice to local communities.”

Cassou has vivid memories of her deployment in the ancient city of Bam, in Iran’s Kerman province, following the devastating earthquake in 2003. “I was in Bam within 48 hours of the earthquake,” she told Arab News. “The whole city had been destroyed. Everything was gone: Homes, schools, villages. It was a city of rubble.”

She especially remembers the rescue of an elderly woman from underneath the rubble 11 days later.

“She explained that she’d been in a state of partial paralysis and therefore confined to her bed. Her son would visit her every day to make sure she had an adequate stock of food and other necessities,” Cassou said.

“When the earthquake hit, she was protected by a block of wood that sheltered her. She survived by rationing out the food, medicine and water that her son had left with her,” Cassou added.



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Rana Sidani Cassou, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (Supplied)


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