How Refugee Women and Girls Lead: Part 2

By Faridah Naimana

For 2 weeks, I wasn’t able to meet with the security guard and finish up the questions since that remained from our last conversation. I worked with Jesuit Worldwide Learning as a learning facilitator at the Regis University Institute which is an online program, and I had a lot of work to do. I facilitated different courses in the Diploma program, including sociology, introduction to business, marketing and so many others. I was facilitating 6 courses which ran for 3 years. At the Center, we were only 4 female staff out of 20, which shows how there is still a big gap for women to be involved in all sectors. When my workload reduced, I collected myself and went back to her house.

It was on a Sunday evening. The weather was very cold and it was cloudy. I told my mum that I was going to finish up with the work that I had left pending last week with the security guard. I waited to go on this day because this is the only day that I was free and I knew she would be. too. By good luck I got her doing nothing, just sitting at home watching TV.

She welcomed me into her house. She stopped the TV and said I should give her 5 minutes for her to prepare herself. When she had gone, I looked around her house. It was so amazing and very cool. Everything was in place and well arranged, I loved the place. My house is bigger in size than hers, but the way the room was well arranged and organized, it attracted my attention. The chairs were all arranged in a semi-circle and there was a big table of tea in the middle. The sitting arrangement was so good that if you’re in any of the positions in the house, you could watch the TV. The room smelled so nice with a mix of pineapple and orange scents. I took a very deep breath to feel all the aroma. She came back and said that she was now ready to continue. I took out my notebook and started:

Naimana Faridah: Who inspired you to apply for this position?

Security Guard: I was not inspired by anyone but by the problems that people were facing in the community. These problems include: fighting over resources, people falling sick at night and there was no help, people quarreling and also theft. This pushed me so much, I felt like I needed to do something to make a change and also to make people feel safe. If other women are afraid to face these challenges and the position to help, then I told myself I will stand up strongly and say yes to become a security guard in my community.

Naimana Faridah: Are you motivated or is there anyone who motivated you to join this position?

Before she could answer this question, her child who was asleep woke up and was crying. The mother excused herself and went and attended to her. She was five years old, very thin in size but she looked so beautiful. When she brought her out of the room, her dress was army green in color with some beautiful white stripes on it. My attention was brought back to the room when she started to cry again. And the mother excused herself and she went outside to babysit her. As I remained in the room, I started thinking about my own little girl who was also five years old but wasn’t staying with me at the moment. I remembered when I asked her to eat she wouldn’t put food in her mouth, she would feed me fast and ask me if the food tasted good, only then would she also eat. Or how when she gets mad at me, she doesn’t call me mum but she calls my name, her way of punishing me. She is always beautiful when she smiles because of the dark spot near her mouth. I felt like crying since I started missing her but immediately I waved off the idea and sat still. After 10 minutes, the security guard came back and told me we can continue since she has someone else to care for the kid.

Security Guard: My motivation comes from a few people in the community who truly believe in me and support me.

Naimana Faridah: Could you share with me how your family or the community reacted when you said you wanted to become a security guard?

Security Guard: At first it was very hard for them to accept a female security guard, believing that the responsibility of security is too much for a woman to handle. But now since they saw that I am really doing fine in this position, they have come a long way. My family supported me from day one and they believed that yes, I was more than able to be in this position. They are always there for me when I need them and even give me advice where necessary. Due to different nationalities, some people who we are in the same block didn’t appreciate the fact that I was becoming the security over their own people.

When she said this I felt really annoyed because how could someone volunteer to work and serve people but not appreciate their effort! I started heating up from inside with a lot of anger, wondering if she was from their tribe or nationality, would they have supported her? I didn’t want to dwell so much on this and so I immediately asked the next question.

Naimana Faridah: Are there ways that you can suggest how girls and women can be supported in order to get into leadership positions roles and remain in them?

Security Guard: Culture and religion are the biggest factors that have belittled the women and girls and thus I think we should overcome these norms and beliefs that hinder them through educating and involving parents, elders and religious leaders in awareness of leadership of both genders. Encouraging and assuring them of the importance of their involvement in leadership and how their leadership would change the world and the community. I also think UNHCR and other NGOs should create more leadership positions.

There was a knock at the door and she had to go and attend to the person. She had asked everyone to stay away from the premises since she didn’t want any interruption but yet it didn’t help. She attended to the person then came back. When she left I felt a little bit scared thinking that maybe the interview won’t be done today as last time and it will require me to come back again. I still had questions to ask and fully understand how women lead.

She told me not to worry because she could make sure that we finish the conversion today. Though she might be required to move up and down, that won’t change anything at all. I was so glad that I had such a motivated and passionate person who loves what they do. This motivated me too and I felt energized.

Naimana Faridah: Share some challenges that you think women and girls in the leadership position are facing both in the community and also in their place of work.

Security Guard: Gender gap in the refugee camp remains a big challenge and also a problem. UNHCR, NGOs and refugee community members need to move beyond culture, tribalism, religion, and discrimination in order to make women’s leadership diverse and inclusive. UNHCR and NGOs have to take steps to support women leadership in the refugee camp by treating and giving them equal opportunities. Women need to stand up on their own for leadership positions in all sectors, political, organizational or communal. They will be able to use these experiences to find more opportunities that are presented and thus build their confidence.

Naimana Faridah: Sharing your accomplishments will help other women and girls be motivated to join this leadership position. Can you share some of your accomplishments as a security guard in your community?

Security Guard: All that I have accomplished has not only been me alone but along with others leaders. I got more support from other block leaders like the chairpersons, zonal leaders and even from the youth leaders. I would say that this is what we accomplished as the leaders of my block since I joined the leadership line.

With the support of UNHCR and other NGOs, we have been able to present our case and thus to overcome the challenges that we were facing, policies were introduced in support of our favor for work-family balance. Empowering mothers to become more engaged in school-level education and decision making. Providing skills and confidence to girls so that they may be able to fight for their rights and also be leaders.

Naimana Faridah: What have you learned as security leader?

Security Guard: Being humble. If you are humble to the people as a leader, it creates a conducive environment, thus building trust. People are able to share their plight with you knowing that you are able to listen to them and act immediately. Fight for what we want. I have learned that as a female leader we should always fight for what we want and what is of benefit to our generation and the community. Many things stand in our way to become leaders, our culture, religion and beliefs may stand in our way, but overcoming these obstacles must come through fighting and being strong. Women are the light of a family and a community. Their leadership has brought great change compared to the way when only men lead. Positive and innovative ideas are always being brought by women. Any communal development that we see now in the community is due to women’s leadership.

Before I could ask the last question, she was called to take her child, who had gone back to sleep. And she excused herself and went to pick up her child and headed to the bedroom which wasn’t far from the place where we sat. All this time I was thinking of how I myself could have such leadership skills and how could I make a positive change at my place of work? Or should I also find a leadership position in the community to make an impact? I asked myself several questions and a lot was running through my mind after learning all that she had shared with me. I could hear her footsteps in the room. I could also hear her pulling the net over the bed. WhenI heard her coming out of the room, I told her this was our last question but she told me not to worry at all. I felt relieved to hear her say that because I was so worried that she could maybe say that we should stop since we had taken so long.

Naimana Faridah: What advice do you give to women and girls who would want to be leaders?

Security Guard: At first I feared to stand in the security position, since this was the first time that a woman was going to be a security leader in my community. It’s high time that no matter where we are or the situation that we are in to stand as women and lead. Leadership is not only meant for men, let’s wake up from our ancestral belief and work for ourselves to develop and change our leadership structure. Being a woman who is a leader in the organization that I work for, I am really proud that I have achieved this so far. When I applied for this position I never knew that I would be given this opportunity because of the different perspective that each person had towards me and the position, but now here I am. Women should not be ashamed but be encouraged to go for what they want. I would like to end with this quote that has been like a shield to me throughout all my leadership days:

“Leadership is taking risks to do what others are not willing to do, it’s not about age or experience, but it’s about the will to change the situation”.

Naimana Faridah: Thank you so much for your time and I apologize for taking this long today because I wanted us to finish today so that I don’t bother you again. I appreciate your time and cooperation.

I left her house and it was very dark outside. I had been inside where there was light, I didn’t realize it was already this late. my mind was filled with a lot of ideas after this conversation. Something is changing about the way I see and view things now. She made me think about myself and which role I can play as a woman in my community to bring change. If she is not exposed and yet she is brave enough to make such a big impact in the community, how about me? This question kept repeating in my mind. It was a big blow to me because I know that I can do even greater change because I am exposed and have experience, but yet I have never done anything. I started walking towards home but due to darkness I was knocking stones on the road because the roads are not smooth . But good luck, my home is not far from hers and eventually I reached it.

I found my mum still awake because she was waiting for me. I had not eaten when I had gone for the interview that day, so I was starving. My mum asked if I had finished the interview and I told her yes. I sat and she brought food for me. While she had gone to serve my food, I felt more love for her. I started feeling so grateful for everything and the sacrifice that she has undergone in order to support us. I finished my food and I went to sleep. I was so tired that the moment I reached my room I went to bed and slept.

I woke up the next day. I went outside and washed myself. I started to remember the conversation that I had with the security guard and somehow I felt I needed to rethink how impactful my own life was to the students that I facilitated. Since it was a Monday, I left for work. When I reached the office, I had to take out my notebook and write down all the research questions. I still felt that I was missing something, but it wasn’t clear what that was, so I ignored the feeling and continued with my writing.

When I was done writing, I headed home since it was already time to go. On my way home I had to stop at the marketplace and buy some food. I went to the shop and bought corn flour and sugar. I wanted salt but unfortunately they didn’t have any. I went to the next shop and I got the salt but I realized that all the people selling in these shops are male.

No female owned a shop. I asked myself, why? While I was heading out of the market, I saw all the women selling vegetables from the streets of the market and I wondered, why? Out of curiosity I went and bought vegetables from one of the women and that is where I got the idea of interviewing these women next. This was my next step.



16 November, 2022