Breaking barriers for Rohingya refugee women

Since August 2017, over 700,000 Rohingya people have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh seeking safety and lifesaving assistance. While safe from the unimaginable atrocities they suffered in Myanmar, refugees managed to find shelter in improvised and overcrowded refugee camps such as Cox’s Bazar. Rohingya women in particular face additional challenges: insecurity, violence, very limited mobility or ability to speak up and influence decisions in their communities. Oxfam support these women and girls to proactively overcoming these barriers through the following approaches:

Clothes and tailoring vouchers – As the camp situation forces many women (particularly those from female-headed households) to move outside the ‘home’, it is important to ensure they have access to the clothing that helps them feel safe and dignified. Oxfam is providing families with a tailoring voucher using local vendors from the host community.

Women refugees co-design hygiene facilities – The lack of enough latrines in a big overcrowded camp like Cox’s Bazar is a big issue, especially for women, which leads to very poor hygiene practices, lack of privacy and unsafety, increasing the risk of sexual abuse and harassment. Apart from building more latrines and hygiene facilities, Oxfam has collaborated with architecture students to work with Rohingya refugee women to design toilets and laundry areas that afford more safety and privacy and truly meet their needs. “Women told us it’s important for them not to feel stared at when entering or leaving the toilets. We want to make the routes into the toilets and washing facilities less obvious and more private so that women feel more comfortable to use these facilities” says Freya Emerson, one of the architects.

Solar lighting in the communities – Lack of privacy and fear of assault contribute greatly to women remaining in their shelters. When asked whether they felt safe walking alone in the camp, 29% of women said ‘no’, compared with 5% of men. Furthermore, over a third of women did not feel they had safe access to a water point, bathing facility or latrines. Apart from providing portable solar lamps to the families, Oxfam helped design a solar lighting community-based program in Cox’s Bazar.

And as part of our humanitarian response, we are working with local organizations and communities to tackle wider issues such as early marriage, gender-based violence and men and women’s traditional roles, through women’s groups and musical performances.
[Oxfam International]

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