A different touch

Sanjeev Satgainya


It’s a busy day for her and it’s not unusual. Every day is full of work and activity for Erika Joergensen, representative/country director, World Food Programme (WFP), The Food Aid Organisation of the United Nations System. Since she joined WFP four years ago, Nepal has been the second place she has been stationed. Before she starts, she does not forget to mention that she too used to work as a journalist for a while. A nutritionist, Joergensen also enjoyed a teaching career for some time.

Born in one of the 300 islands of Denmark, Joergensen says, “It was a small island where I was born and after completing my early education on the mainland, I moved to Germany to complete my education in nutrition. There I opted to be a teacher and continued for a few years,” explains Joergensen. Professionally getting stuck to one business was the last thing on her mind. Joergensen enjoyed the late 70s and 80s travelling around Europe. “I just wanted to do something different. I never wanted to be involved in conventional business, I wanted to be different, look different and establish myself as a different kind of person.”

And because of the way she thought, she, along with friends, opened a restaurant, which had a small cinema lounge, art gallery and cafe in 1980.

Again the instinct to do something outstanding, nudged her on. In 1984 in her home country, she started working for refugees under the Danish Refugee Council. She began working to make a difference in society and bring changes in the lifestyles of men, women and families.

Joergensen, who worked in the Gulf during the Gulf War, also feels that she was lucky to get a job in 1991 in South Africa to help prepare for elections there. “These were challenging jobs — of my type — which I love to be associated with. Those who learn to accept challenges in their life learn to fight with any sort of situation.”

Talking about women, she says, “Women despite bearing all the responsibilities — from rearing children to looking after home and family, toiling in the fields and other jobs — are not treated the way they should be, especially in this part of the world. And this certainly has to be changed.” However, she counts herself fortunate to be born in a country and family where sex hardly mattered. “What your personality is, what you can achieve, and what you can contribute to society are the major factors that play a vital role in human life, not gender,” believes Joergensen.

Does she remember any substantial discrimination she had to face in her career or life? “Not really,” comes the reply. But she does remember working in Armenia. “It all depends on society and how society has transformed. In a male-dominated society like Armenia, where I was posted, I found many men quite reluctant to accept a woman in a decision-making position. I felt for the first time that women are valued on the basis of gender, not the potential they possess.”

“Women have immense potential and capacity, they are intelligent and capable of performing any sort of job,” she believes. The status of women in Nepal she feels is cause for concern. “I have seen women working in road construction and toiling in the fields, carrying their babies on their back, besides doing all the household chores. And yet they are not counted in society. This really saddens me,” she shares.

Education is the key factor, she emphasises. “Women have to find opportunities, access facilities and attempt to make feel their presence.” She describes Nepal as a country full of cultural complexity and expresses great concern about the situation, which has worsened. “The main challenge at this point is reaching the poor. There should not be a single person dying of hunger. But the last few months have been quite worrisome. It’s a challenge to keep an eye on whether the conflict-affected population is getting food or not. Besides that development infrastructures too has to be kept intact,” Joergensen explains.

How does she see herself as a woman in a position of authority? “I guess I am not a very patient person,” she says with a smile. “I think I should be more patient, especially while working here.”