Since August 2017 approximately 800,000 refugees have fled from Rakhine, Myanmar to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, seeking refuge from persecution, discrimination, gender-based violence (GBV), and other serious human rights violations. At the same time, IOM Cox’s Bazar scaled up significantly, situating protection at the center of humanitarian action.
As of December 2018, according to IOM’s Needs and Population Monitoring, there are over 928,000 refugees in Cox’s Bazar district – roughly 52% of this population are women and girls.
Following displacement, the stressors of living in confined camps with limited resources, the restricted freedom of movement, particularly for women and girls, and the lack of economic self-reliance opportunities, contribute to poor psychosocial wellbeing and negative coping mechanisms such as intimate partner violence, early marriage, human trafficking, and other forms of GBV.
GBV is a serious issue within Cox’s Bazar, which has a high incidence of violence against women and girls. In terms of GBV among Rohingya women and girls, many of the new arrivals are visibly under distress and disoriented, suffering from the consequences of extreme violence, from the loss of or separation from family members, and from the ordeal of displacement. Rape has been widely reported among the existing perils for women and girls prior to and during flight from Myanmar but has also been reported among Rohingya women and girls living in makeshift settlements and host communities prior to the new influx.
According to community leaders and interviews with women and girls, every woman and girl in one camp (approximately 65% members of 25,000 families) is either a survivor or an eyewitness of multiple incidences of sexual assault, rape, gang-rape, murder through mutilation or burning alive of a close family member or neighbor.
Involvement of women in decision-making on camp life is practically non-existent, but this also goes for the level of information on camp life being fed back to them. Since no official systems are in place in the camps, female community members rely heavily on male family members to receive information on decisions that impact them.
This lack of a formal mechanism to inform Rohingya women affects all underrepresented groups, including adolescent girls and persons with disabilities, increasing their vulnerable position within the community. Women are expected to dedicate their time to household activities such a cleaning, cooking and child caring. Most Rohingya women also limit their movement in public space due to a wide-range of GBV risks particularly around firewood collection, latrines and bathing facilities. For adolescent girls, freedom of movement is even more restricted, as they are confined to the boundaries of their homes. All movements of women and girls are closely monitored by their male family members and should be justified with a valid reason.
In 2018, the IOM’s Women’s Participation Project was piloted in Leda camp, Cox’s Bazar, after a baseline study was conducted and identified numerous barriers to women’s engagement in camp management, participation in community decision-making and role in the public sphere. A safety mapping exercise conducted in 2018 explored the perceived risks in the community. In this exercise, women in Balukhali MS, Cox’s Bazar, reported to feel safe during the day in their homes, at water pumps, washrooms and latrines. The women felt unsafe during the day at roads, markets and distribution points, due to the presence of crowds as well as the cultural expectations of women not leaving their houses for too long. Adolescent girls stated to only feel safe at home. The reason for this did not surface in the study, but there are reports of adolescent girls being harassed in the camps, with boys throwing rocks at them, or damaging the tarpaulins of latrines. Women in Leda mentioned harassment and beatings from the host community, as well as disputes with landowners.
Building from the experience of the pilot phase, membership to the Women’s Committee (created in September 2018) will be extended in 2019 to include women and adolescent girls with disabilities and will promote their full engagement in various activities in the daily care and maintenance in the camp, in disaster preparedness and response as well as in livelihood programming.