Icebreakers & IWD

Icebreakers. Depending on the number of workshops and conferences you attend (or facilitate) you’ve probably been asked to play bingo, go on a scavenger hunt, and share everything from dietary preferences to childhood secrets–all in the name of getting to know your fellow participants.

Here are a few of the most recent ways I’ve been asked to break the ice:

“What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?” This one is easy. Green tea.
“What is your superpower?” Drawing a blank. … Am I the only person here without a special talent? :::sweat response kicks in::: Does typing over 80 words per minute count as a ‘superpower’?
“What’s your favorite guilty-pleasure TV series?” How to answer this without letting everyone know it’s Dog the Bounty Hunter...  Doh!
“What are you most proud of?”

This last question was asked of me last Monday, at about 8am, by a very earnest and engaging public entrepreneur from Colombia. We had been put in pairs and told to ask each other this and a few other questions before introducing our partner to the wider group. I immediately shared something very personal, something I wasn’t ready to share with a roomful of 30 strangers.

So I gave him another answer, an answer I would gladly shout from the rooftops: I am extremely proud to have worked alongside of many strong, inspiring women and women’s groups in the movement to end gender-based violence. Women who, even in the chaos brought about by armed conflict and disaster, rise up and don’t back down. Women who are condemned, or put on a pedestal, or ignored for doing what they do, then get up and do it again the next day. Women who embody resilience, even when they feel broken.

This feeling of pride is made stronger today, March 8th, seeing photos of women around the world marching and striking for International Women’s Day or IWD. Check out these women rallying in front of the UN office in Sana’a:

Women rallied in Macedonia. And Pakistan. And Lebanon. And Nigeria. And New York–where some of the organizers were arrested and at least one is still detained:

Puts her feet where her mouth is. That describes many of the women in our field. In an effort to get to know some of them better, we are celebrating this International Women’s Day by spotlighting the Humanitarian Women’s Network and sharing an article by Rosalia Gitau, one of its co-founders.

As described by Sarah Spiller of Kampagnenforum:

I met Rosalia two years ago when we were working in Ebola Response in Conakry, Guinea. We also happened to live just next door. Every day work was already tough on its own, but I had to learn the hard way, that the humanitarian work environment is not exactly women friendly. The examples mentioned in the beginning of the article strike me as absolutely realistic. I was glad to meet Rosalia, a woman about my age I could trust and who would share her experience in such hostile contexts with me. Her advice was worth the world to deal with the feeling of permanent exposure, with unwanted approaches and physical contact as well as with job offers for sex.

One year later, her name became a reference as a co-founder of the Humanitarian Women’s Network, a platform for humanitarian female professionals that aims to achieve a work environment where women are able to work in the humanitarian industry free from discrimination, harassment and abuse. Their survey gained international media attention. She is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Solévolt, an off-grid solar energy company that seeks to provide light to some of the 1.2 billion people living in the dark.

In this article, Rosalia writes about “the day-to-day lives of women working in the humanitarian aid sector by sharing some of the murmurs I overhear from many women working in some of the toughest places in the world.” She connects these to Buddhist teachings around ways of thinking, speaking, and acting that form part of the Noble Eightfold Path, or practices that support the development of wisdom, ethical action, and concentrationAnd she shares the findings of their survey “about our status in the humanitarian aid sector: systemic discrimination, and harassment and assault of women in the humanitarian workspace. Wrong thoughts, wrong words, wrong actions.” As the title promises–and in line with this year’s IWD theme–she ends by outlining 5 Bold Steps for Aid Workers this International Women’s Day.

Follow the hyperlinks to read Rosalia’s article on the Huffington Post or on Kampagnenforum.
To learn more about the Humanitarian Women’s Network (HWN), visit

To set up a Humanitarian Women’s Network in your area, contact



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