World Humanitarian Day 2019, which falls today Monday 19th August, is paying particular attention to women across the sector. This couldn’t have come at a better time.  A significant number of the beneficiaries of the services of humanitarians are women, and they constitute a particularly vulnerable group. Hence, the value that women humanitarians bring, just by their mere presence alone, cannot be over-emphasised. And when they go further and hold key leadership positions, this can have a significant and very necessary impact on aid response. As such, HLA would once again like to recognise and highlight the achievements of one such visionary leader – Eva Mwai – who was already the recipient of the Pamela Steele Associates LTD African Woman in Supply Chain Leadership award of the year in 2018.

Nairobi-based Eva is currently the North Star Alliance Regional Director for East Africa, an organisation she has been serving diligently for the past decade. Prior to this, she has served in other humanitarian roles, including with St Johns Ambulance Kenya as Chief Executive Officer for  Kenya. Eva is passionate about what she and North Star Alliance have been able to achieve, setting up in the East African region from scratch. Their mission is relevant and timely – providing vital healthcare to mobile worker communities along the transport corridor. She notes in particular that they provide more than life saving healthcare – through HIV-AIDS prevention and management for example. They go over and beyond in giving dignity to these transport communities who play such an integral role in the economies of East Africa, but find themselves on the fringes of society for one reason or the other.

Admittedly, women humanitarian logisticians like Eva are not common, even less so when she started out a few decades ago. Yet, it was a career path she chose to embark on, despite the many impediments women like her face.

“I have come to appreciate how important transport is to every aspect of human life not just in aid efforts. I am motivated by the wellbeing and economic development of communities and being a humanitarian for the transport industry places me squarely in the midst of this and helps me make the necessary impact. I feel privileged for the continuity of this work that I embarked on so many years ago. Recognitions such as this makes it possible for up and coming women logisticians to see what is possible if they persevere.”

Eva Mwai

In the early stages of her career, there were fewer women working as humanitarians generally, and logisticians specifically, as the existing infrastructure was simply not supportive enough. She recalls the challenges of moving from one area to the other, with their efforts often hampered by insecurity and sometimes bad road networks. The sector was also not attractive to women for other reasons such as low wages and the unconventional working hours. However, she is emphatic that conditions and attitudes have improved remarkably over the past couple of years, and is anxious to see more women entering the sector as humanitarian logisticians and rising to leadership positions such as hers, especially at the local level.

Eva believes that yes, the sector certainly needs more women because they possess the empathy needed to perform many of the challenging tasks involved in humanitarian logistics. Furthermore, she has observed that they perform excellently at some of the coordination and communication work required, even if they are not directly at the frontlines due to the many challenges.

Women like Eva, who have persevered in the industry despite the odds, and have risen to such heights can and often do use their position to empower and encourage women constituents to better appreciate what the sector can offer, not just as a career path but more importantly, through the opportunity to make a difference to local communities during emergencies.  She is committed to providing such opportunities by coaching and mentoring, in her own small way through North Star Alliance, and looks forward to the day when stories such as hers, become commonplace.

At HLA, we believe that her well-deserved recognition through the African Woman in Supply Chain Leadership award in 2018 helps to give visibility to the incredible work that she does and her illustrious career. Eva is grateful for such awards and says that it helps her to be reminded again of the value that she brings through her daily efforts.  She acknowledges the dangers involved in these daily efforts – meeting and engaging her constituents in their communities which are often unsecured transport yards, and sometimes late at night – and says that the awards are a motivation to keep going and forget about these challenges.

“Respect is at the heart of the work that we do. I believe that beyond protection, the communities that we serve need to be respected no matter who they are where they come from. This ethos has shaped my entire career. I have seen that where I have accorded such respect to them, even in situations that can be considered dangerous, they then become my protector out there in the field.”

Eva is keen to build a team of individuals that are passionate about making an impact through their work as humanitarians, and going back to their communities to be change agents. Her desire therefore is to bring together women who are working on transport logistics directly or indirectly, no matter how few.  She wants to see more of young women being recruited, trained, and given the opportunity to thrive as humanitarian logisticians. She commends HLA for fostering such a community that makes this possible through providing a platform to advocate, learn, and share ideas and experiences.

Seasoned humanitarian logistician Tikhwi Jane Muyundo, the HLA Africa Regional Representative – and who can be credited with recent efforts to set up the Kenyan chapter of HLA – is very familiar with Eva’s story and notes that Eva stood out in the Women in Supply Chain Leadership initiative hosted by Pamela Steele Associates LTD for her passion and accomplishments in humanitarian work.  “Today we acknowledge her and tell her story to motivate other women in the sector…. It’s a glowing tribute to all women humanitarian logisticians and our male counterparts in the humanitarian sector, women and men who sacrifice and risk their lives to be part of a community whose mission is to serve and provide for victims of disaster, injustice, the forgotten, and the less fortunate in society.”