By Sophie Makoloma, Christian Aid Nigeria
Christian Aid Nigeria joins the international community on World Humanitarian Day to celebrate the unsung heroes who are often subjected to harsh and dangerous situations, putting their lives at risk to help others who are affected by crisis.
This year, we are celebrating the undying contributions, perseverance and incredible fortitude women humanitarians bring to the sector and how their achievements are making the world a better place for all.
Emergencies and disasters cause immense suffering for millions of the world’s poorest, most marginalised and vulnerable. Women play a vital role in humanitarian response, particularly in community mobilisation, decision making, and behaviour change.
In North East Nigeria, despite cultural and religious barriers, Christian Aid’s female humanitarians have blazed the trail and broken the limits. Crucially, they work on many areas that are culturally gender sensitive and only women can discuss.
Nutrition: breaking the cycle of malnutrition
Female humanitarians play a key role in challenging underlying assumptions, beliefs and norms in society to eradicate gender discrimination and break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition among women and children.
In Nigeria, female staff and volunteers play a significant role as community-based focal points, leaders and influencers within their respective communities. They help ensure the health and wellbeing of the community, through:
- monthly nutrition screenings of women and children (aged 6-59 months),
- referrals of acutely malnourished children,
- follow-up home visits,
- and facilitating educational sessions on infant and young child feeding.
Menstrual hygiene management: periods shouldn’t be shameful
Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is an essential aspect of hygiene for women and adolescent girls that are largely neglected in post-disaster responses. Christian Aid’s holistic response to MHM highlights and tackles various related issues, including:
- providing female-friendly sanitation facilities
- providing menstrual hygiene products
- and educating women and girls to encourage behaviour change, debunk regressive myths and empower them to live with fewer restraints.
Menstrual health is often closely connected with reproductive health and sense of well-being of girls and women. Concerted efforts to promote menstrual health has a positive overall impact on public health in society.
Protection: violence, exploitation and abuse
Protecting people from violence, exploitation, and abuse is at the heart of humanitarian action. We aim to ensure justice, promote impartiality, encourage active participation, tackle inequality, and build the resilience of those we are helping, irrespective of age, race, culture, religious background, mental state, physical disability, or other factors.
Protection is the responsibility of all humanitarian aid workers and the bedrock of our existence.
Accountability: listening and responding
Understanding what people need and listening to their opinions are essential in shaping our humanitarian response work. In North East Nigeria, deliberate steps are taken to promote accountability using the ‘constant sensitisation’ approach - to inform people about their rights and entitlements.
Complaints and feedback matter, and various mechanisms such as hotlines, suggestion boxes, focus group discussions, and help desks, operated by women, are central to this. These feedback mechanisms give women and girls, who often find it difficult to be heard in their communities, the confidence to speak up and demand their rights.