MS. JENNY LEE
Lunch time at the AHA Centre’s office has become merrier since the beginning of 2019. The laughter, casual conversations, as well as thought-provoking discussions shared during the break involves a new friend from a neighbouring country – Australia. Ms. Jenny Lee has been assigned to support the AHA Centre as a Senior Civil-Military Coordination Specialist through the Australia Assists Programme – for the first half of 2019. Her temporary assignment with the AHA Centre aims to strengthen humanitarian civil-military coordination, safety and security policies for the ASEAN-ERAT members, and AHA Centre staff. With more than 12 years of experience in the humanitarian sector, Jenny has established her expertise in civil-military coordination, safety and security, and gender. She has contributed to numerous emergency responses, in parts of Central America, Asia and the Pacific as well as supporting the search for missing MH-370 in the Southern Indian Ocean. The AHA Centre is pleased to share with you one of our in-depth conversations with Jenny.
“I was drawn to the humanitarian work because of my late grandmother. She did not introduce me to organisations like the United Nations, or different NGOs or other humanitarian agencies, but she showed me the positive impact a person can make if they have the right attitude and intentions for the community”, Jenny explains when asked about the start of her professional journey. As she recalls her childhood memories, Jenny remembers her grandmother being the unofficial “community leader”, whom neighbours turned to whenever they needed help, often creating a safe space to listen and provide support for others. This experience created a lasting impact leading Jenny to believe that becoming a humanitarian starts in one’s own home and community – regardless of education or experience.
Having worked in the humanitarian sector for over a decade, Jenny saw the impact of conflict and disasters from the affected communities. In the topic of gender, she saw similar challenges for men, women, boys and girls in 12 countries. It was common to see women and girls consistently experiencing the same obstacles that stem from gender inequality. Challenges to accessing schooling, challenges to balancing professional lives as mothers and wives, to difficulty in accessing basic female hygiene kits and health services to mention a few things. This exposure has drawn her to realise that addressing root causes of gender inequality would need to be a collective effort from everyone in all parts of the community, organisations and at the political level regardless of gender. She’s also learned that perspectives do matter, and it is crucial to understand different perspectives are important for suitable solutions.
Adopting gender lens and understanding the impact of inequality takes time and effort, and may not come naturally for many people. In this context, advocacy is difficult, and “buy-in” (convincing people that this is worthwhile) from the right people is also difficult to achieve. Advocating for anything that deals under the umbrella of gender – from organisational policy, safety and security in the field, gender balanced representation in leadership and staff, emergency humanitarian aid – can be very challenging. However, the courage to raise such issues and empowering both men and women that their perspectives are important, and can be rewarding and lead to better solutions to different issues.
Jenny has learned over the years that “how” you start the advocacy discussion makes all the difference. She’s come across soldiers, military officers and police officers who were not only keen to addressing gender inequality and wanted to make a difference on changing the structural discrimination for women to ensure they have a more effective force. However, many did share insights of how it wasn’t pleasant to be cornered into a “gender-insensitive” individual by many activists. To Jenny, she’s learned this from a friend who admitted that understanding the concept of gender perspectives and seeing what this looks like from a practitioner’s point of view was difficult as this is asking him to shift away from the mindset that he has built for over 30 years in the security sector.
Moreover, Jenny acknowledges strong leadership is a key to achieve gender equality. Leadership starts with individuals at all levels, but executive leadership is crucial for an organisation to learn and adapt to the needs and requirements to ensure that everything within the work of an organisation is gender sensitive. She’s observed different approaches of senior leaders on how they do this. Some show leadership on this as a result of personal experience and ideas, some leaders who are new to this concept choose to rely on their gender expert and rely on them to ensure that all issues are addressed.
Jenny learned that with all these leaders (male and female), when asked why they decided to take this forward, they simply stated that “it is the right thing to do”. Organisations should reflect the global 50:50 male/female ratio at all levels to ensure that the work they do sees better quality, better effect and better solutions. Another key characteristic of their leadership was that they empowered those who were working for them, giving them chances to make “productive mistakes” which always helped everyone to become better at what they do. This helped everyone on their learning journey on understanding the intricacies of gender sensitive policies and what this looked like at the practitioner level which made a huge difference.
She concludes that, “Back in Australia, in my previous role without the leadership support, I would never had the freedom and the confidence that I have today to advocate for this. So, leadership support is key, and their empowerment of my work was also a key. On reflection, the amount of trust they gave me, was quite phenomenal and I think this helped in achieving a lot of huge tasks – as well as their open-mindedness to learn new things to make the world a little bit better than yesterday. Everyone has a room to contribute and no contribution in this sector is small.”
Written by: Shintya Kurniawan | Photo : AHA Centre