Australian Volunteers International

August 26, 2019

Celebrating Women Humanitarians

With a death toll of over 100,000 and 3.5 million left homeless, the Pakistan earthquake on 8 October 2005 was the deadliest to hit South Asia in 70 years.Being a normal school day, an estimated 19,000 school children tragically died when their schools collapsed.

A plane to Karachi, helicopter to Islamabad and four hour drive north brought me to the foot of the Kashmir hills near Mansehra. The first task in any disaster is to talk to the affected communities and assess their immediate needs, most notably shelter, food, healthcare and clean water.

The rural households we encountered were extremely poor, living a largely subsistence existence. The quake had destroyed their homes and farm huts, leaving the men to tend what they had left and the women huddled in ruins or tents.

Accompanied by a local translator, the village men eagerly approached us and passionately explained their plight while the females in our group, one of whom spoke Hindi, sought out the local women.

And as the men discussed infrastructure needs (with bigger rebuilding plans!) it was the women who identified what was needed to safeguard their families. On World Humanitarian Day, as we honoured and celebrated women humanitarians, I couldn’t help but reflect on this memory.

We know women are the most powerful lever for change in the developing world. Not only was August 19 a poignant moment to pay tribute to women humanitarian workers, but also the courage and wisdom of women in disasters.