Making a difference amidst war and disaster

May Maloney, a graduate of La Trobe’s Bachelor of International Relations, is a Gender and Diversity Advisor for the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Red Crescent Societies in the Asia Pacific regional office. Her work with the IFRC – a network of grassroots humanitarian organisations across 38 countries – is changing the lives of women and girls around the world.

Addressing war and disaster

‘I've gained a lot of experience working in post-conflict, displacement and disaster settings in the Middle East, East Africa and Asia Pacific regions. I feel extremely satisfied that I get to work with amazing people from so many countries.

‘A lot of my work focuses on how we can prevent gender-based violence in and after disasters. I’ve worked with Save the Children and now IFRC in disaster in the Asia Pacific, such as during Typhoon Haiyan where I was helping children voice their opinions about the type of assistance they most wanted and needed.

'In the early 2000s nearly three quarters of the people who passed away in natural disasters in the Asia Pacific were women or girls.

‘I previously worked with UNHCR and the University of NSW in India, Jordan, Colombia, Uganda and Zambia to better understand the needs of conflict-affected women and girls—particularly asylum seekers and refugees.

‘In the early 2000s nearly three quarters of the people who passed away in natural disasters in the Asia Pacific were women or girls. This isn’t because of inherent weakness. It’s because of norms that can undermine their resilience—for example, women and girls not being taught ‘unladylike’ skills like swimming or climbing a tree. In reality, such skills equip us all for the climate change-induced disasters that are becoming more frequent.

Working in gender and diversity

The most striking aspects of working on gender and diversity issues in emergencies is that gender roles and norms are so different everywhere. But humanitarians are reluctant to consider how gender roles and diversity factors affect a person’s vulnerability and access to assistance in a disaster.

I’ve seen many great triumphs of humanity, solidarity and deep change in attitudes, behaviours, laws and practices, so I take heart that things can change if we can actively work together.

I’ve had many moments of pessimism and even of deep trauma, but that pessimism is not mine to own. The people I meet with who are grappling with these issues in their everyday lives are most often optimistic, and I take inspiration from this.

'I’ve seen many great triumphs of humanity, solidarity and deep change in attitudes, behaviours, laws and practices, so I take heart that things can change if we can actively work together.

Studying international relations

‘I studied international relations at La Trobe. I’ve always had an interest in social justice and power relations. I wanted to understand why there is so much racism, injustice for migrants and refugees, conflict, disaster and prevailing gender inequality in the world.

‘At La Trobe I learnt about power, conflict, humanitarian principles, law and social justice. Out of the classroom I saw these values lived every day by the diverse students around me. The students I met at La Trobe are now professionals who I continue to run into in my work.

‘During my studies I did placements with the High Commission of Timor-Leste and with the International Women’s Development Agency. My interest in conflict-induced displacement led me to apply to work for UNHCR and from there I started to focus more and more on the diversity and gender aspects of conflict and peace.

The future of international relations graduates

'International relations is a unique field of study that combines philosophy, development, economics, politics, foreign policy, business and humanitarianism. International relations graduates have already created great diplomatic, humanist and policy breakthroughs that generate global harmony.

'I believe that future graduates will continue to contribute to a more just, fair and equal world. I certainly hope that La Trobe’s future graduates will make a lasting contribution to the reduction in global conflict, war, disaster and famine.

'I believe that future graduates will continue to contribute to a more just, fair and equal world. I certainly hope that La Trobe’s future graduates will make a lasting contribution to the reduction in global conflict, war, disaster and famine.

How you can make a difference

'There are many ways to help others, including donating money or time to a humanitarian cause, becoming aware of and acting on injustices like gender inequality and xenophobia in our own communities, and divesting of the privileges that create inequality.

'I think that to help on a global scale you have to be self-aware and have the passion to keep at it, recognising that aid agencies aren’t the only or best means to create localised and grassroots change.

'I think that it takes passion, and conviction to keep learning about the changing world and the ways we can help.'

See yourself changing lives and communities.

Study International Relations at La Trobe

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