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A person's gender plays an important part in his or her own security. Men and women aid workers may experience different security risks. For example, Wille and Fast found that women were more vulnerable in urban areas, residences and work locations, whereas men were more likely to be injured or killed, particularly in rural areas or when traveling on the road. Others (Gaul et al) have documented that men and women aid workers experience differences in types of security risk: men are more often involved in violent confrontation, whereas women are more likely to experience sexual assault or harassment.
Beyond the data, however, are the varying perceptions men and women aid workers have about their safety and security. Their sense of safety and security will vary as a result. As one example, I have heard both a man and a woman who experienced the same kidnapping event tell their version of what happened. During the man's narrative, rape was not raised nor considered as an issue. But when the woman told her version, she talked at length about her fear of being raped from the beginning to the end of the ordeal.
For the past four years, I have been facilitating a seminar about gender security as part of Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) for aid workers. At this point I estimate that I have engaged approximately 25 groups (about 600 individuals) and heard their views on what they consider to be their personal gender security issues and what they would like others to understand about what it is like to be a man/woman aid worker in hostile and fragile contexts.
Diversity is a critical influence on issues of gender security. Because gender is culturally defined, there are widely divergent perspectives. These fascinating conversations have taken place among aid workers diverse in not only in gender, but in every other demographic you can imagine: ethnicity, age, religion, marital status, education, etc. As a facilitator of discussions around gender, I am constantly aware of the differences, not only between men and women, but also among men and among women.
Continue reading: Gender Security for Aid Workers Part 2 for more about these discussions.
If you would like to read more about our partnership with HEAT trainings please read the following resources:
Julia Brooks. Humanitarians Under Attack: Tensions, Disparities, and Legal Gaps in Protection. Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. ATHA (Advanced Training Program on Humanitarian Action.
Christina Wille and Larissa Fast, “Aid, Gender and Security: The Gendered Nature of Security Events Affecting Aid Workers and Aid Delivery” (Insecurity Insight, 2011).
Alexis Gaul et al., “NGO Security: Does Gender Matter?,” Capstone Seminar in International Development (Save the Children; The George Washington University, May 8, 2006),. For another study that notes the relevance of gender considerations, see Emily Speers Mears, “Gender and Aid Agency Security Management,” SMI Professional Development Brief (Security Management Initiative (SMI), July 2009).
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