November 14, 2023 saw the 9th edition of l’Instant Recherche, the Foundation’s scientific webinar. Entitled “Gender and humanitarian action: the place of women in humanitarian action from yesterday to today”, and organized in partnership with the GLOW Red network, it brought together a researcher and two heads of humanitarian organizations to discuss the place of women in humanitarian action, and in particular ways of promoting better representation of women in the organizations’ management bodies.

Often the beneficiaries of programs set up in many countries, women are also major players in humanitarian aid: logisticians, health professionals, mediators, trainers, project or program managers, deminers… However, this female enthusiasm for humanitarian aid is not necessarily reflected in the professional world: in the humanitarian sector, as in the rest of society, women find it difficult to assert themselves in positions of responsibility.

Replay the debate

As the bearer of a progressive discourse, the humanitarian community as a whole is supposed to avoid reproducing the unequal gender relations observed in the rest of society. However, a closer look at the world of international solidarity organizations reveals a glaring discrepancy between this rhetoric and associative reality. Fixed roles are often assigned to men and women: some on the side of action and leadership, others on the side of compassion and care. Yet the complexity of humanitarian work, and the experiences of both men and women, do not fit these stereotypes.

At the beginning of 2023, the GLOW Red network, which promotes women’s candidacies for senior positions in the national societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, requested that a desk study be carried out, in order to strengthen the network’s knowledge of the status of women in the humanitarian sector, and in particular of the obstacles to greater parity in senior positions, both within and outside the Movement.

In order to initiate a discussion on the place of women in the management bodies of humanitarian organizations, the Foundation invited the co-author of this study, Virginie Le Masson, Doctor in Human Geography and Associate Researcher at ODI, who with Anne-Lise Dewulf drew from this research a report entitled « Strategies that support women leaders in aid organisations »,available on the Foundation’s website (French translation in progress). Based on the results of this study, Catherine Giboin, President of the Fondation Médecins du Monde, and Emilie Rammaert, Director of the French Red Cross, shared their backgrounds and experiences within major organizations, and discussed the reasons why inequalities between men and women persist, the positive effects of egalitarian leadership, and the conditions needed to promote and strengthen it.

More than 50 connected people from some 15 countries (academics, field workers, NGOs, students, institutions) attended the debate and enriched it at the end of the session with many concrete questions addressed to the panelists. The exchanges were recorded and the video can be viewed below.

The Foundation thanks its partner and co-organizer of this event, GLOW Red, the global women’s leadership network of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, formed following a decision by the General Assembly of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (International Federation) and the subsequent adoption of the 2017 resolution by the Council of Delegates, which calls on National Societies to significantly increase their efforts to identify, support and promote women candidates for leadership positions.

Event partner

Photo credit : GLOW Red