Using personal experience and knowledge to provide tangible support
Gop Gai, Regional Manager of the Migration Support Program at Australian Red Cross, has been part of the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) Movement since she volunteered with the American Red Cross in Connecticut as a high school student in 2004. Gop joined Australian Red Cross in 2012 as a case manager, where she worked with people seeking asylum who were being released from detention centres into the community. She has also worked on the organisation's responses to the Afghan and Ukrainian crises.
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Gop's exposure to conflict at a young age led her to recall the pivotal role Red Cross played in helping people around her, and this inspired her to join the RCRC Movement. When the opportunity to work with Red Cross arose, it felt like a natural fit. She finds the Fundamental Principles of the organisation to be grounding and helpful in leading and navigating issues and situations she comes across at work.

When Gop joined as a case manager to help people seeking asylum, she recalls not having a full understanding of Australia’s Migration Policy, but clearly understanding the direct impact that policies have on individuals. For Gop, it was a relief to see people being released from detention full of hope, with aspirations to live out their dream of what Australia could offer, while expecting a permanent residence visa. What was most confronting for her, was that within 3 months, those same individuals were faced with the reality of not having a permanent visa pathway or family reunification as an option. Gop shares, “It is one thing to hear announcements in the news but another to witness the decline of the mental health of individuals, and people who were once hopeful lose all hopes and go into complete mental crisis. The most challenging was the consequential impact on their children. Being a witness to their suffering stays with me.” It was being part of an eco-system that also had capacity to apply humanitarian diplomacy for change of those policies which helped to sustain her in the field.

Gop is adamant that she belongs and has worked hard to be in the spaces she occupies.

– Gop Gai, Australia

Gop feels fortunate to be part of the Australian Red Cross response to the Afghan and Ukrainian crisis. It was the first time that she can recall people being evacuated to safety in real time during a crisis. Gop says, “Although we underestimate the extent of resourcing required to respond, I would say I am proud of my team for meeting the challenge and the organisation for their response to support local teams.” Gop feels proud and lucky to work with a diverse team, who often balance the support they provide to Red Cross clients with their own lived experience and having their own loved ones overseas during conflicts.

Working for Red Cross Red Crescent has given Gop a platform to provide tangible support to people experiencing vulnerability and allowed her to grow professionally. She is in a leadership role because her line manager encouraged her to apply for her first leadership opportunity. Gop sees the main challenge that women face regarding leadership, is feeling that they need to tick all the boxes before giving something a go, which can be a barrier to embracing opportunities. She encourages women to “believe in their abilities to lead considering they are leaders in their personal lives”.

As a woman leader in the humanitarian field, Gop is adamant that she belongs and has worked hard to be in the spaces she occupies. She reminds herself not to “be in her head”. Reflecting on her intersectional experiences between her race and gender, Gop feels that race is often more prominent than her gender, irrespective of the space she occupies – something she finds interesting.

Gop sees several practical ways that we can effect change. These include women sharing their thoughts, speaking and/or standing up, and becoming a mentor.

In closing, Gop dreams of every girl having confidence in her abilities and not allowing gender to be a barrier to pursuing her dreams, despite the cultural and structural barriers in place.

Gop Gai

Australia, 2012

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Analysis shows that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic than men’s jobs: Women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses as of May 2020.

– McKinsey 2020

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