Turning hardship into motivation
Christina joined the Movement as someone with a passion for helping people in need, rooted in her own experience of hardship growing up in rural Zimbabwe.
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Christina joined the British Red Cross in 2017 as a Finance and Admin delegate in Sierra Leone and has gone on to become Programme Manager. After losing both her parents at a young age, she grew up in a child-headed household, providing for herself and four brothers with support from her older sister. As a result, Christina was determined to pursue a career that would make a difference to people in need. She initially worked on HIV/AIDS prevention in Zimbabwe and later joined an International NGO where she worked in several countries empowering young people, including Sierra Leone. There, she met Red Cross volunteers and learnt about the Red Cross Movement, inspiring her to join the British Red Cross.

The project that has affected Christina the most is the Integrated Resilience programme she is currently managing in Sierra Leone. The programme empowers vulnerable women from slum communities in Sierra Leone to improve their livelihoods, combining support to set up small businesses and microfinance initiatives with sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) prevention.

This programme has really impacted her because female empowerment is at the heart of her personal goals. For Christina, the SGBV prevention element of the programme has been key to challenging the patriarchal norms preventing women from improving their situations. “After the trainings on SGBV prevention, the women came up to me and said: ‘Thank you so much, I never even realised that this was violence – I thought it was just something that happened to every woman.”

Christina’s own journey of empowerment has added value to the programme, inspiring the women to overcome the obstacles they face.

“Because of my background, I have a lot of determination and resilience”

– Christina Mangunda, Sierra Leone

“I sometimes use examples from my own life to help the women understand it’s possible to achieve things despite challenges from childhood and family. Because of my background, I have a lot of determination and resilience, and I have the courage to say ‘I don’t care that this is a patriarchal society, I’m going to push myself and not let anybody hold me back’.”

Indeed, being a woman leader in the humanitarian field has come with its challenges. Sierra Leone is a highly patriarchal society, which is reflected in the dynamics of the National Society – for example, she has noticed that when a woman says something during a meeting it’s ignored, but when a man says the same thing it’s taken on board.

Christina has sought to overcome these challenges by developing her diplomacy and communication skills, and says that for women in the sector, resilience is key: “Resilience counts because you face a lot of challenges and you need to be able to withstand some of the criticism that you get”.

That said, she has noticed some positive changes regarding inclusivity and diversity during her time in the Movement. “When I first joined the British Red Cross, there weren’t many women in leadership positions, but now they even have a female CEO for the first time!”.

Sierra Leone is changing too: the Senior Management team now has a 50/50 gender balance and there’s an increasing push to address the gender imbalance in recruitment, as well as to improve representation from different ethnic groups. Yet, Christina thinks more systemic change is needed, particularly when it comes to increasing diversity in the sector: “Sometimes people from diverse backgrounds don’t even apply for roles because they don’t believe they can do it and they think: ‘they’ll never choose a person like me’.”

“It’s never a linear trajectory, just do something you’re passionate about and push those boundaries”

– Christina Mangunda, Sierra Leone

Christina thinks the main challenge women face in taking leadership positions in the Red Cross could be self-doubt: “It’s a highly patriarchal industry and women often question their own abilities”. She has always tried to get involved in as much as she can, and her colleagues even started calling her the ‘iron lady’ because she did everything. Her advice to other women is to take small steps and give it your all. It’s never a linear trajectory – just do something you’re passionate about and push those boundaries!”

“For me the sky is not the limit. I want to go beyond the sky where I can’t see the clouds anymore”

And Christina is only getting started. In her spare time, she is working with two community-based initiatives formed by Red Cross volunteers to improve their organisations, and has been inspired by seeing young people willing to do extra to change their communities for the better. Her dream is to set up a social enterprise for disadvantaged women with disabilities in Sierra Leone.

Christina Mangunda

Sierra Leone, 2017

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Between 1990 and 2017, women made up only 2 per cent of mediators, 8 per cent of negotiators and 5 per cent of witnesses and signatories to global peace processes.

– UN Women

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