UNICEF women leading the fight for children in a COVID-19 world

On the International Women's Day 2021, we celebrate the stories of strong and talented women working in UNICEF

Photo collage of UNICEF female staff
04 March 2021

In the humanitarian sector, evidence exists that more women in leadership positions bring greater results. Women are more likely to adopt a transformational approach to leadership, motivating staff through intellect and connection and displaying more collaborative, rather than competitive behaviors, thus creating a better work environment as well.

In a COVID-19 world, this evidence remains. UNICEF's strong female leaders are central in ensuring that the fight for children continues, while they continue to make decisions and act, monitor and adjust, perform and deliver, motivate and inspire. And they have to do this while they carry disproportionate burdens themselves.

On this year's International Women's Day the theme is "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world", celebrating the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. At UNICEF, we commemorate the day and celebrate the achievements of women not only in leadership positions, but also those who display leadership qualities. Whether it's leading and/or moving forward UNICEF's programmes and efforts, they never compromise their impact on delivering results for children and young people in a COVID-19 world, and beyond.

UNICEF's women are leading by example, achieving a more equal future and recovery from the health crisis, while nurturing a workplace where everyone is encouraged to uphold and live the Organization's values of Care, Respect, Integrity, Trust, and Accountability.

As UNICEF constantly strives for more Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, it sets specific targets for women's participation. Due to the historical underrepresentation of women in senior positions, UNICEF is committed to achieving gender balance at the P5 (Chief) level by end 2021 and will prioritize eligible and suitable women candidates for P5 positions.

Cynthia Brizuela
Inclusive Education Specialist, Latin America and The Caribbean

Find the three to four things you love the most about the work you do, it is important that you can name them and become very concrete about those things. Feeling passionate about what you do has always been the key ingredient for successful outcomes.

Cynthia and her son Marco embracing each other
Cynthia Brizuela
Cynthia and her son, Marco, had to make big adjustments at the outbreak of COVID-19

"I have been working from home, and my teenage son, Marco, with Asperger Syndrome, has been schooling from home. As a single mother with no live-in help, Marco and I had to make big adjustments: routines, cooking and cleaning, working/studying spaces. If you know a little about Marco’s syndrome, you’ll know that “uncertainties” are a huge stress factor that generates high level anxieties which manifests in many unpleasant ways.

Imagine being an indigenous girl with a disability, living with your single illiterate mother in a rural area in Latin America. Before COVID-19 there was a school she could go to, and where she not only received basic education in her language, but also food and basic health check-ups. With the pandemic, schools in this region were closed. The lives of those two women I just described “the indigenous illiterate mother and her daughter with disabilities” were drastically impacted. Several millions of such girls are at a very high risk of never going back to school and to become invisible".

Sangita Jacob Duggal
Nutrition Manager, Nigeria

Women understand emotions well. As a woman leader, I used every opportunity to do counselling and supportive interaction to minimize the stress level of teams

"I lead a team of Public Health and Nutrition professionals to be consistent, efficient and relevant in the delivery of Nutrition response for children and women in Emergency situations including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic impacted my professional life to a large extent. Initially, it came as a shock because of the fear of the unknown, the lockdowns, travel restrictions, gaps in interpersonal communications with communities etc. But as I moved forward and lived with it, I identified alternative methods to do the business.

I am one of the survivor from the virus attack. As I got cured, I became the support to my teams and family in keeping all the protocols on prevention".

Shelly Abdool
Regional Gender Advisor, Latin America and the Caribbean

Find passion and meaning in your work, without letting work define you. Remember that we are never 'too senior' to learn, and we are never 'too junior' to contribute.

"I count myself lucky to still have a rewarding job that allows for flexibility to be able to work from outside of my duty station; a privilege many other women do not have.

Women listen and engage in consultative processes, they prioritize work-life balance given their own care burdens, process and not simply result/outcome is prioritized and they understand the ways that discrimination operates as they will all have had to deal with multiple forms of discrimination".

Adele Khodr
UNICEF Representative, Ethiopia

I stayed almost 11 months without seeing my family! We get tested during difficult times: our capacity to adapt, to innovate and to find something positive despite all the challenges around us will make us go forward.

Adele, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia, surrounded by children
Adele Khodr
Adele Khodr, in the middle, is always excited to be in the field surrounded by children.

Christine Nylander
Chief of Learning and Development
Division of Human Resources, NYHQ, USA

Be courageous, try out new things, innovate.
Offer help. Offer your time so that you can learn new skills.
It’s okay to make mistakes if you learn from them! Ask for help if you need it. Try to build your networks, connect with peers and senior colleagues. Lookout for other female staff (Junior and senior) - mentor and help them, Care for yourself to maintain personal and professional fitness!

"As a female leader I have tried to:
Show empathy and compassion for team members.
Support others as best as I can.
Think of the collective and not about myself.
Seek those whose voices are not normally heard and speak up for them.
Provide safety – psychological and otherwise, so that the team can speak up, grow, make mistakes and learn from them.
Share information on my personal failures so colleagues can see that we are all human"!

Brigitte Pedro
Chief WASH, Madagascar

I did not see my kid since January 2020. Even if it is difficult, it is a great opportunity for women to demonstrate capacity to manage job, family and private life. It will help you in your future career to deal with complex environment.

Anna Mensah surrounded by children
Anna Mensah

Anna Mensah
Senior Executive Associate, Ghana

There was increased violence among girls and women and early marriages as evidenced in Ghana.
But women have high resilience level and are better managers of crisis. We can do it! Look for the opportunity in every situation and grab it!

Priscilla Idele
Deputy Director, Office of Research - Innocenti | Florence, Italy

Don’t let stereotypes and cultural and social norms weigh you down. You can go to school and excel in any subject, including science, technology and mathematics. Think about what you want to achieve in your career and your life, and then explore the steps in how to get there.

Portrait photo of Agnes
Ijuka Agnes Barongo

Ijuka Agnes Barongo
Communication for Development Specialist, Uganda

When you educate a girl, you educate a nation. Women are naturals when it comes to nurturing people in their spheres of influence. In the context of COVID-19, women leaders have further demonstrated that they can make the positive difference in curbing the rapid spread of the pandemic.

"I hail from Hoima District, in mid-western Uganda that has a total population of 45.7 million people. As a Communication for Development Specialist, my main responsibilities center on ensuring that bottlenecks to the adoption of positive behavioral and societal practices are addressed. I work in 30 focus districts and with eight government line ministries to ensure that both at the community and national levels, there are systems running in place to support vulnerable children to have access to education and child protection social services. It is an extreme period but post COVID-19, I believe the aftereffects would make our human selves more empathetic because COVID-19 has demonstrated that when everyone works together, they can defeat a common enemy to Life, Development and Prosperity".

We invite you to learn more about a few of the many women, who make a difference in UNICEF. Come back to read the full stories of women at UNICEF that will be published throughout March 2021.

Happy International Women’s’ Day!