Katarína Rakická
“The presence of women in the field makes a real difference”
“I was always interested in humanitarian issues. Since my college years I was volunteering for different organizations that were providing help to the people in need in the developing countries. During my university studies in Italy I joined Red Cross Red Crescent Movement as a volunteer. I was impressed by the training I received and by the request on our moral credit as Red Cross volunteers.”
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Katarína Rakická

“Before joining the Red Cross I worked in the migration reception centers and had often seen Red Cross volunteers at the disembarkation of the migrants offering the basic services and provided support to the most vulnerable ones. I realized that every time any natural disaster or another emergency happened, the Red Cross National Society and its volunteers were involved, providing very wide range of support for people in need. The story of Henry Dunant, the way the whole philosophy and principles were born, met my personal principles and the way I was trying to live. I wanted to meet more people who saw the world with the same lenses of humanity, impartiality and neutrality.

I lived 15 years abroad as a foreigner, on my own. Although I belong to a more privileged community – coming from a European country, being a white educated woman, I faced a lot of challenges indeed. That’s why I realized how hard it is to start a new life in a foreign country for people coming from hard conditions, without proper language knowledge, education nor family background. I understood very quickly, that if these people decide to set out on the journey that might be lethal for them, they simply do not have any other option. Helping these people has become my philosophy.

As a volunteer I was mostly focusing on the social vulnerability interventions, supporting homeless people, abandoned children, or single mothers with children, migrant that were trying to start again their life in a new place. But when the Ukraine crisis started I had a feeling that the right time arrived to focus on more emergency set up. This operation gave me a lot of learning, personal challenges and opportunity to work as a part of the National Society – the Slovak Red Cross, in the country where is was born. It was an opportunity to contribute in my own country while it was struggling with a new and difficult situation. For almost two years I have worked as an Operation Manager for the Ukraine crisis. We have helped those affected by this conflict. We have set up a unique shelter program for displaced people, have built a network of humanitarian service points and community centers across Slovakia, providing psychosocial help, language courses and overall assistance to them.”

“The presence of women in the field makes a real difference - in building trust, creating networks and engaging with the affected communities”

– Katarína Rakická, Slovakia

“I have had an opportunity to compare and experience working with men and women in important leadership positions. Unfortunately, there is still difference when being in the managerial position as a woman and it takes longer to demonstrate your capacities. I have noticed in different contexts and mostly directly in the field, that it is very important to have an inclusive approach among the volunteers and Red Cross staff, to make sure there is gender balance. The presence of women in the field makes a real difference - in building trust, creating networks and engaging with the affected communities and its individuals.

During my experience as a volunteer, I have to say that I witnessed very good gender balance in the structure of my local branch. In the Slovak Red Cross I am extremely lucky to work with very strong women leaders not only on the national level, but also on the local level as the majority of the branch directors are women. We respect the gender balance. I believe that this is not common among other National Societies, that is why I am so lucky to have the opportunity to learn from women leaders in my National Society.

I have never experienced an incident in my own branch, but mostly when meeting volunteers of other organizations or when collaborating with local actors, they always see the female volunteers as more fragile and not as strong as male volunteers. It has never happened to me to be asked not to do something because I am a woman, except when it came to hard physical work - in that case the male volunteers were always able to support. A struggle for me sometimes was the perception of being emotionally weaker and I had to learn to not get emotional in work but keep the feelings for later.

I believe that living in emergency settings, traveling and not having the sense of stability is more difficult for women in terms of finding a solution for the family life. I have met different strong women leaders, extremely capable of doing their jobs, but they have had to resign in that particular moment of their careers in order to be able to take care of their children. I consider this kind of decisions very brave, and they deserve full respect. It is just sad to see that even in 2024 there are still women who have to choose (even though temporary) between their career (personal mission they love) and their families. That is why I would appreciate more support for Red Cross Red Crescent female workers with children. There is a need to raise awareness among women that they have the right to build their career and to sensitize men on inclusivity and respect to the women leadership, recognizing the difference and complementarity of both approaches, and genders.”

“There were days that we felt like we are not doing anything and few seconds later we were called for “ready for rescue” and we were saving lives of dozens.”

– Katarína Rakická, Slovakia

“I started as a field person, volunteer, first line responder, dealing and meeting people in need every time when I was in service. My current position is Operation Manager for Ukraine at the Slovak Red Cross. But I dream to return to the field. I miss the touch of the reality and I wish to return to the emergency context on board of the Humanitarian service point at sea, in central Mediterranean. That was the most empowering experience – being on a rotation as a Protection team leader on the board of the Ocean Viking, an operation run by SOS med in collaboration with the IFRC. The unpredictability of our days was putting us on a constant challenge and under pressure. There were days that we felt like we are not doing anything and few seconds later we were called for “ready for rescue” and we were saving lives of dozens.

Seeing people safe on board of the vessel, looking at them and ensuring them that they are safe and the hell they have passed through is over – this feeling goes beyond any tiredness. Taking their hand or simply offering a smile or hug makes a huge difference in incredibly tense moments. Feeling the responsibility for another unknown human being is one of the strongest feelings that is possible to experience, and it is possible only in the field. The unpredictability and challenges related to direct work with human beings who are under extreme pressure and recovering from very difficult experience again allowed me to challenge myself, my skills but as well my capacity to be a good Red Cross worker and for that I do deserve to wear the Red Cross Red Crescent emblem.”

Katarína Rakická

Slovakia, 2005

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DID YOU KNOW...

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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