"Together we are stronger"

Stories from MSF's women leaders and changemakers

MSF celebrates the women that keep our programs running.

© 2020

Many women working with Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) at our medical projects around the world have had to overcome huge barriers to reach the positions they hold today. They have faced down gender stereotypes, restrictive cultural norms, lack of access to education, and exclusion from opportunities.

These women are leaders, changemakers, role models, and advocates within the MSF movement and in their communities. They are challenging perceptions and expectations about women and raising their voices to ensure our medical programs are inclusive and accessible to everyone.

We asked women working with MSF to share their stories: the journeys they've taken, the challenges they've faced, and the advice they'd give to the next generation of leaders.

Fatmata Jebbeh Sumaila, midwife activity manager, South Sudan

Fatmata Jebbeh Sumaila worked with MSF as a midwife and midwife supervisor in her home country of Sierra Leone for 17 years

Fatmata Jebbeh Sumaila worked with MSF as a midwife and midwife supervisor in her home country of Sierra Leone for 17 years before taking on an international position working in Bangladesh and South Sudan. 

As a leader, I have to set an example for my team by doing the hands-on work as well as providing training for many junior staff in all aspects of sexual and reproductive health and sexual and gender-based violence care.

My message is that women need to encourage each other, share opportunities, and form a strong community of women by empowering each other... Together we are stronger.

I have faced challenges as a woman, such as men ignoring my opinions. I’ve overcome these challenges by being a good communicator and talking about the importance of equal rights and respect for all people and their ideas.  

I have inspired my staff by telling them the story of how I became a midwife. Now, some are even in school studying midwifery and registered nursing. 

My message is that women need to encourage each other, share opportunities, and form a strong community of women by empowering each other.  If you are a woman in a leadership position, recruit other women and provide training opportunities for women. Together we are stronger.

Shorouq Madmouj, social worker, Palestinian Territories

Shorouq Madmouj is a social worker with MSF in Nablus, the Palestinian Territories. She is visually impaired, but has not let that stop her from providing much needed assistance to her community.

Nur Bar Binti Islam, mental health community case worker, Malaysia

Nur Bar Binti Islam is a Rohingya woman who arrived in Malaysia from Myanmar at the age of six. She faced many challenges related to her safety and protection, and never had access to formal education. Today, she volunteers with MSF.

Nur Bar Binti Islam is a Rohingya woman who arrived in Malaysia from Myanmar at the age of six. She faced many challenges related to her safety and protection, and never had access to formal education. Today, she volunteers with MSF.

The scope of my work is to assist survivors of sexual violence who need mental health support and medical care. I support mostly women and girls—some of them victims of human trafficking. I come to know most of the people I assist through phone calls because I am very close with the community. I ask them to come to the MSF clinic in Butterworth where we will sit down for a conversation on what they are going through, their condition, needs, and capacity. 

Leadership means becoming the voice of women who have been oppressed—becoming the energy, becoming the power for other women who really need humanitarian aid.

If the survivors need counseling, I will refer them to the mental health team. If they need medical care, I will refer them to the MSF doctor. If they need shelter or any other support, I will refer them to the relevant departments.

To me, leadership means becoming the voice of women who have been oppressed—becoming the energy, becoming the power for other women who really need humanitarian aid. I do not only support women, but anyone who needs help.

In the fight to become a leader, you have to be strong, mentally and physically, to face all the challenges and dangers. This strength will carry you forward in your community, and future generations. My reminder to women out there: We have to be strong and independent. We need to have skills, a little bit of education—only then we can help ourselves.

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