Inspiring women working to improve people’s lives

07 March 2017

Women have had and continue to have a tremendous impact in humanitarian work. Within the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), women risk their lives in war zones, visit detainees in prisons and help people take their first steps after being fitted with prosthetic limbs.

On International Women’s Day, we want to share with you the stories of several women working for the ICRC in Israel and the Occupied Territories, to introduce you to their work and their thoughts on the role of women in their societies. 

Tel Aviv

Joelle Natanel works for the family visit program run by the ICRC for detainees held in Israeli places of detention.

Joelle Natanel is seen at her desk speaking on the phone to follow up on permits related to a family visit. Israel, Tel Aviv, ICRC/Dana Guy

"I have helped facilitate the visits of thousands of Palestinian families to places of detention in Israel over the past 35 years. I did that by building a relationship of trust with the detainees and their families as well as the authorities in place.

I believe that being a woman and a mother myself, I can better understand a mother's need to see her loved one. To me, men and woman are equal. I have always believed so and acted accordingly, both in my private and professional life. By behaving this way, you can "be the change you want to see in the world."

Hebron 

Adaweya Biltaji, 33, is a protection officer in Hebron, West Bank. 

Adaweya Biltaji seen speaking with a local woman from Hebron, who has approached the ICRC for support. Hebron, West Bank ICRC/Atta Jabr.

"As a humanitarian, I meet people who live under very difficult circumstances. Being a woman allows me to approach the most vulnerable. They seem to open up to me easier. In doing so, I am better able to identify and support their humanitarian needs.

"People in my community know me as the 'Red Cross woman.' In a conservative society like Hebron, a woman leading a humanitarian response is a bold gesture for a change. It clearly demonstrates that women can do the same work as men, connect with communities and attend to their needs."

Jerusalem

Maha Sedawi has been helping connect separated families for the past 20 years.

Maha Sidawi speaking with one of her clients, for whom ICRC organizes transportation to Gaza to visit his family due to his blindness. Hebron, West Bank ICRC/Atta Jabr

"When I start a case to help a woman or a child reunite with their family after years of separation, a special relationship is built between us. I understand their situation and their desperate need for someone to take their hands and fulfil their dream of connecting with their family again. 

My work has made me a good role model for my children. They reiterate how proud they are of me and the work that I do, to help people in need.

Today's generation of women are well-educated, aware of their rights, and have the courage to express their thoughts. We should defy any stereotyping that limits us or constrains us. It is our responsibility to chase our dreams."

Tulkarem

Amani Mohammad Taher Mahmoud, 53, works for the family visit program run by ICRC for detainees held in Israeli places of detention.

Amani Mahmoud in her office reviewing the family visit permits. Tulkarem, West Bank ICRC/Atta Jabr.

"Working for the ICRC for the past 28 years, has made me a local celebrity. In my conservative home town, some community members might frown upon a woman working in the humanitarian field. You have to be strong and you have to constantly prove yourself.

My family is proud of me for all that I have been able to do and for defying the norms of our conservative society.

Working in the humanitarian field can be burdensome. People often offload their suffering, frustration and sadness on me and my colleagues. My job is to alleviate part of that suffering by being there, listening and helping, whenever possible. 

In return, I get to see so much joy and the excitement when mothers, fathers, wives and children get to see their loved ones. It always makes my day."

Gaza

Ghada Zeidan, 41, is a mental health worker in Gaza.

Ghada Zeidan sits on the side of a bed, while one of her patients is fitted with a prosthesis. Gaza ICRC/Rama Humeid

"I work for an ICRC mental health program in Gaza that focuses on amputees," she starts off.

"Humanitarian work has set me free from the politics of the ongoing conflict. I help everyone who needs me, regardless of his or her religion, culture, or nationality or beliefs.

Seeing so much misery has also changed my priorities in life. I no longer live only for my family and myself. I have a far bigger role to play, which is helping others.

My husband and children are very supportive and proud of what I do. My daughter is studying medicine and dreams of being a humanitarian worker someday too.

I am happy and proud to be a woman. Women should stop seeing themselves as victims of traditions or society. They should stand up and believe in their strengths and capabilities."

Nablus

Nana Ahmad Khalili also works in the family visit program for detainees held in Israeli places of detention.

Nana Khalili stamping an 'attestation of detention' for a family member. Nablus, West Bank ICRC/Atta Jabr

"I have been dealing with vulnerable women, ever since I started working for the ICRC in 1987. In my line of work, women often prefer to deal with other women. In part, because they feel more comfortable and at ease to speak about their concerns but also because women connect easier with other women in a conservative society like ours.

My job is very important to me. It is an integral part of my identity. What I do is empowering and meaningful. Working in the humanitarian field has shaped me. It has also influenced both my life and that of my family. My children show more sympathy towards victims and people in need.

The respect I get from the men and women I work with is empowering. If given the chance, women could change the world to a better place. For that to happen, all forms of violence against women must stop and the quest for full gender equality must be pursued."

Ramallah 

Suha Misleh, 54, is the head of ICRC's Ramallah Office.

Suha Misleh with two Palestinian farmers discussing a project for the restoration of their lands. Sinjel, Ramallah, West Bank ICRC/Atta Jabr

"Working in the humanitarian field has greatly influenced my life and perspective. It has made me see the positive side of almost everything," she says.

 "I joined the ICRC as a secretary some 33 years ago. Today, I am proud to be the Head of the Ramallah office. Courage, integrity and patience have been key ingredients along the journey.

I believe that women are natural leaders. Living in a patriarchal society makes it harder no doubt for women to live up to their full potential. Fortunately, change is looming and women are finding more and more opportunities. We are, however, not there yet.

The change must begin from within. Parents, governments, employers have to all pitch in to empower women and pave way for a more equal world."

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