Inspired by the strength of those who have lost everything
By Fatouma Zara Soumana, part of CARE’s Gender in Emergencies Team based in Niger, a West African country where thousands of Nigerians are fleeing to escape attacks of armed groups. Here she talks about her job and what she’s seen in the field.
In Niger, I talked with a mother of two children who told me how she fled her village in Northern Nigeria when it came under attack by armed groups. She walked all day until she came to a river. An armed man spotted her, but told her, mercifully, that she would be spared if she stayed quiet and hid in the river. So she spent all night in the river, standing, holding her children above the water’s surface, praying to survive. Now she lives in the village of Gagamari, a transit site in Niger. And while she escaped the immediate threat of the river, she and her children still face a challenge to survive. They need food, water, shelter.
Helping refugees like her and her children survive is my job at CARE. I support emergency response efforts in multiple countries where CARE helps stabilize individuals, families and communities reeling from disaster and conflict. As a gender expert, my particular role is to ensure that those efforts meet the assorted needs of men, women, boys and girls.
I recently conducted a rapid gender assessment in east Niger, where CARE supports communities and Nigerian refugees who have found shelter after fleeing attacks from armed groups.
We found that the number of refugees and displaced people has dramatically increased in recent months. Some 192,000 people are displaced in Diffa —150,000 of them have fled violence in Nigeria. They lack food, shelter, proper hygiene and sanitation facilities. And to make a dreadful situation even worse, we were told that rape and prostitution were increasing because there was so little protection against gender-based violence. We’ve also heard that young men who have been freed from armed groups lack the psychosocial support to reintegrate into society – and to reclaim the youth they were forced to abandon.
You might think at first glance that all people have the same basic needs of food, water and shelter. That is true to some degree, but a closer look reveals varying needs according to gender or age. One of my main responsibilities is to help identify those different needs, and to account for them in CARE’s response.
For example, while it is helpful for a family to receive soap and water after losing their home, women and girls also need sanitary pads; men need shaving kits; young children need enriched food, as do pregnant or lactating women.
Meeting these specific needs doesn’t necessarily cost much; we just need to ensure that we are accounting for them at the outset of our planning efforts. Because what can seem on the surface like a small need, can sometimes have severe and lasting ramifications. I’m fortunate to work with CARE to help meet the urgent needs of people in crisis. And I’m both proud and humbled to see that life-saving work deliver lasting change to girls, boy, women, men — entire communities.