Being a humanitarian woman in a conflict zone

This year, World Humanitarian Day is on 19 August

“I arrived in Diffa, Niger, on October 2015. One day after my arrival, two kamikaze attacks took place in the city. The people around thought I was going to quit after two months because I couldn’t handle such a situation. But not … here I am three years later, working as an Education Officer at the UNICEF office in Diffa.”

This is just part of the story. The conditions in which Bibata Dioro (Biba for short), and other humanitarians, carry out their work in Diffa are challenging.

In Niger’s Diffa Region, an estimated 419,000 people suffer the humanitarian consequences of three years of conflict and resulting population displacement. Children’s right to access education has been violated by persistent attacks — including those on education — by Boko Haram insurgents. The ensuing conflict has caused displacement and disruption of education services.

It is the second day in a row that security stops our travel to Chétimari (60 km from Diffa) due to attacks by Boko Haram the night before.  Despite my disappointment when we heard from the security adviser, I immediately understood this as the daily basis of Biba’s agenda.

A group of women holding some stitched clothes talk amid some brick huts under foliage.
© UNICEF/Niger/Haro“Encouraging vulnerable girls is the first step to get them involved in income generating activities within the site. They need to feel empowered.’’ say Biba as she carrys out monitoring interventions at the Boudouri displaced site, in Diffa, Niger.

“What really hurts me when we’re not able to access the field is thinking of children and our partners. You know, while working in these conditions you must be very flexible, patient and proactive. On many days you have to be everywhere at the same time — field, meetings, training, crises. You have to manage the stress every time.”

Minutes after the security briefing, Biba starts calling partners to find an alternative to the site initially planned. In 30 minutes, we are in a UNICEF car ready to document the actions of UNICEF and partners such as the Government of Japan are implementing in the context of emergencies.

I believe education can save lives

This time we are going to meet out-of-school children affected by conflict who are receiving training on income-generating activities in the displacement site of Boudouri, a few kilometers from Nigeria’s border where Boko Haram insurgents are still active.

“I am a woman of the field. Everybody here knows it. If I could, I would visit every day at least four schools to do the monitoring of the activities. Without follow-up, things hardly move forward.”

What message would you give to other humanitarian women?

“I would say YES! Yes we can! We, the women, we can. Anything that men can do, we can do. I have demonstrated it in Diffa, I was the only woman at this office when I arrived, and I assumed my own responsibilities. I don’t want to hear that because I am a woman I cannot carry out this job.”

“I encourage women to come help the children. Come to help other women who need us. Come help communities and to save lives.”

A group of people under the shade of a tree are looking at electrical supplies placed on a table and on the ground
© UNICEF/Niger/HaroAccess to electricity can be hard to find in displacements sites. UNICEF trains young boys out of school to repair mobile phones to earn a small income in Boudouri displaced site, Diffa, Niger.

“In Niger, education can allow children to be independent, helping them develop their potential. Here illiteracy opens the door for bad things to happen. Children must go to school and that is what we are fighting for. That’s why we must work hard and believe in what we are doing as humanitarians. I believe education can save lives.”

Every day, aid workers like Biba save lives in conflict and disaster, braving dangers and difficulties to deliver assistance to people who need it most. On World Humanitarian Day, we remember and pay tribute to those heroic workers who dedicate their lives to humanitarian service.

For every child, humanity.


Juan Haro is an Outreach Communications Officer working as part of UNICEF Niger team, providing support on digital communications and public advocacy in humanitarian contexts.

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  1. Biba is a great reference for all women in Africa. The world needs more people like her.

  2. Good job Biba, what you are doing for children is important. Thank to Juan Haro for the story.