My journey as a female logistician at Oxfam

Yasmin Begum Emergencies, Gender, Humanitarian

Yasmin is a Humanitarian Support Personnel (HSP) Logistician for the Global Humanitarian Team (GHT) since 2016.

She is from Bangladesh and has worked in the major humanitarian emergency responses and development programmes in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somaliland, Jordan, and Yemen.

Logistics and women

Logistics is at the heart of lifesaving work in the humanitarian sector. In the humanitarian and private sector, most of the logistician roles are usually performed by men. Female logisticians are rarely hired due to the lack of capacity, experience, and availability in the professional market.

Females are often not encouraged by their family or organization, and they sometimes may feel uncomfortable to join such jobs. This may be due to different challenges they think they might face in their future career development.

My journey as a logistician

At the beginning of my career, I joined Medicine Sans Frontiere (MSF) Holland, where I met my male logistician colleagues and came to know about logistician roles and responsibilities with humanitarian organizations.

Later I joined Oxfam, where I undertook an admin management role including procurement. This was the starting point of my logistician role.

After some time, when I felt that my admin role was not giving me any new challenges, I tried to find opportunities to progress my career in the programmes team. However, as I struggled to get the right support within Oxfam to build my skills and shift my career, I didn’t get a chance to join the programmes team due to my lack of experience. So, my Line Manager suggested focusing on logistics. He also mentioned that there are very few females working in this area and I was a very active performer. Logistics was a growing area in humanitarian organizations, and many are requesting logisticians and placing greater value on logistics.

Growing my confidence and skills

I was motivated and encouraged by my line manager’s comments. After that I totally focused on the logistics activities to learn and perform. By this time, I had also worked with finance and HR and learnt new skills in these areas.

I got more confident when my line manager sent me to procure some small emergency response materials from a wholesale market which was in another city. The market was unknown to me and it was the first time I had negotiated with male suppliers in a big market. I negotiated a good deal and brought those materials back to the office for distribution. 18 years ago, Bangladesh’s context was very different for women. Going to a wholesale market and negotiating deals would not have been as acceptable for a young woman.

Day by day my performance improved, and I slowly began to learn different policy and procedures of procurement, warehousing and assets management systems.

I became familiar with different logistics terms from logistics manuals, and also by attending internal logistics workshops. However, there was very limited scope to join such training in the early days, because of limited budgets and a lack of positive interest for female staff to attend training.

Joining the emergency team

But I kept myself focused. I was determined to develop my career in supply and logistics. During a big cyclone emergency in 2007 I really pushed my line manager to allow me to work with the emergency team to get some practical experience and the chance to learn new things from Humanitarian Support Personnel.

Finally, I got permission to go for a short secondment. I learnt lots of things from this practical experience and I was inspired by my international colleagues as they encouraged me to focus on logistics. In this setting I was interested in taking on new challenges, solving different work-related problems independently, taking the lead, multi-tasking, and developing myself in the logistics field.  

The Oxfam emergency team remembered my performance, and their advice and support helped me grow more as a logistician. After a few international assignments, I finally joined Oxfam’s International team as Humanitarian Support Personnel.

My practical experiences, the skills I have gained from deployment in different countries, my professional background in supply & logistics, along with my patience to develop myself as a professional logistician have all helped in making my dream come true.  

The challenges along the way

The main challenges I faced during the beginning of my logistics career was the limited opportunity to show my growth and performance and prove myself as a female logistician. I wanted to show that I could do better, or just as well, as my male colleagues.

It was difficult to show that I was capable of working in a higher position where the priority to grow internal candidates is usually taken. It was often frustrating, and it took a long time to grow as a logistician, whereas my male colleagues often got quick promotions.

Another challenge for me was staff capacity building. Sometimes I would receive no feedback from HR or my line manager. I wanted feedback to develop my capacity and move roles in the organization.

Sufficient support was not available sometimes. Training and practical experience through secondments where a staff member can get some experience was limited. I was also missing the positive mentality of knowing women can work in the logistics field.

Although those challenges were there, I kept myself focused, believing in myself and building on my role to develop myself as a logistician with Oxfam. Now I am really happy and proud that I represent Oxfam Supply & Logistics. I feel appreciated by colleagues and different country teams after the completion of my successful deployments.  

I also feel happy and proud when I can hire female staff in my department and train and encourage them with my own experience. I sometimes tell them my own career development story so they can keep motivated.

Ongoing sexism

I feel there are still some challenges in this sector to hire more female logisticians. Due to some country contexts, females are not allowed to deal with male suppliers directly, or suppliers do not feel comfortable dealing with females.

Some organizations think they might face lots of problems if they hire female logisticians or that female staff might not be able to deal with the challenges related to supply chain and logistics. Managers are concerned they may need to arrange extra security for females which they believe is not required for men. This is not necessarily true, any organization needs to ensure full safety and security for their staff, whether male or female to ensure a safe working environment.

Sometimes organizations do not fairly treat their female staff, e.g. not prioritizing female staff to attend training or capacity building through secondment or job swapping. However, males from other departments may get the priority.

So, I encourage a positive attitude from employers and ask that they promote female logisticians and ensure all the support to help them perform to the best of their abilities. Once women are treated equally as logisticians, I think we will find more females in this sector and will see them in higher positions, leading logistics functions in organizations.   


Yasmin Begum