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”It is incredibly important to have multiple views feeding into decisions”
During the last decade, the need to address Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) has gained increased focus, both in the RCRC Movement and in the humanitarian field in general. To Sarah Harrison these are not new issues. She has worked in a number of humanitarian contexts around the world as an MHPSS Advisor, Team Leader and MHPSS Coordinator.
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Sarah joined the IFRC in 2016 to become a MHPSS Technical Advisor and to take up the co-chair role of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s MHPSS in emergency settings group, which the IFRC co-chairs with the World Health Organisation. ”We [the IFRC] bring the important community, frontline and volunteer perspective in humanitarian settings to this inter-agency group. The IFRC approach focuses upon accompaniment and consistent support based on the capacities and needs of individuals affected by emergencies - whatever their age, gender or socio-economic status is.

I have worked in humanitarian settings with other large-scale organisations, such as the UNHCR and ActionAid International, but I have always appreciated the approach of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, which is grounded in dignity, humanity and volunteerism – ‘I help my neighbour or friend’. This is a different ethos to how other organisations operate.”

Sarah has work experiences from, for example Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Somalia, South Africa, Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen, which has given her many invaluable insights. She especially mentions one: ”The ability of females living in the most inhumane corners of the world to cope, to rise above and to get up every morning to study, to care for their children and their family members, to go to work, to positively and actively contribute to society when in most cases that society or community regards them as invisible - a person without rights, capacities and personal attributes. Or worse, when their bodies become the battlegrounds of (male) honour. This quiet daily resistance inspires me.”

”Women’s voices must be included if families, communities and societies are going to be able to reconcile and rebuild”

– Sarah Harrison, IFRC

”Genuine topics of concern to the well-being and functioning of humanity are grounded in the female experience – for example the integrity of the human body, discrimination, (intimate partner) violence, alleviation of poverty and unpaid labour (child care, taking care of older family members).

In conflict settings, it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier; and yet women are rarely included in peace building initiatives or reconciliation processes. Their voices, their lived experience and perspectives must be included if families, communities and societies are able to reconcile and rebuild.”

”Diversity is the spice of life”

– Sarah Harrison, IFRC

”There is a saying in English, that ‘diversity is the spice of life’. It is incredibly important to have multiple views feeding into decisions and to have a diverse set of leaders who challenge each other, challenge conventional ways of thinking, simply think differently and ask ‘why not?’, contribute with unique perceptions and are, genuinely, able to represent the communities with whom we claim to advocate for and represent.

Being female is not a qualification; however, the paucity of female leaders within the IFRC means that 50 per cent of the population are systematically excluded from international fora, key decisions and strategies. It is a question of genuine representation and equality. An organisation cannot have ‘humanity’ as a fundamental principle if 50 per cent of the population are invisible in the ranks of the Senior Management. Whose humanity do you represent? A male one. Children and young persons should also feel represented through their leaders, and this cannot happen if there are no female role models or no female perspective brought to the table.”

”No child should ever wonder ‘what is that woman doing amongst all those men?’”

– Sarah Harrison, IFRC

”Working for the IFRC is a privilege and an honour. It has enabled me to feel part of a worldwide family, which shares the same values and principles that I also hold dear. IFRC has taught me to place family members, neighbours, friends and local (affected) persons, who are also volunteers, at the centre of humanitarian preparedness and response work. They are the first people to help and respond when a crisis hits (however big and small), they are trusted and present for the long-term and they are the reason I choose to work within the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

I dream of a world where all interactions and the discourse between human beings is driven by empathy, dignity and humanity.”

Sarah Harrison

IFRC, 2016

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Did you know...

Companies where 8 out of every 20 managers are female, generate about 34% of their revenues from innovative products and services. In companies where only 1 out of every 20 managers is female, this is only 25%.

– Humanitarian Advisory Group – Drawing on our Diversity: Humanitarian Leadership Lorenzo, R. et al. (2017)

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