Abstract: A mass exodus of over 6 million people from Myanmar (to Bangladesh) began from mid- August 2017, following a brutal military campaign against them. The mass people experienced unimaginable atrocities including women who had been subjected to systematic rape, torture and seeing family members killed. While safe from violence, they were subjected to in Myanmar, Rohingya women continue to face the stranded life in the form of continued displacement including psychological distress which makes them vulnerable more than ever before. This paper explores the impact of violence and historical trauma on Rohingya women living a normal and healthy life. As international organizations continue to provide assistance, they have a choice to overcome the trauma they experienced by transforming themselves to resources or assets or they can succumb to the dark era they faced.
Beginning in August 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing violence arrived in Bangladesh and since then the pace of arrival has made the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world. The Rohingya people were being killed, hanged, burned, and slaughtered as a result of a systematic, organized and ruthless campaign of violence of Myanmar Security force. In the case of women and young girls, sexual assault and gender-based violence had been used as and deliberate strategy to terrorize and to annual the movement of them.
‘The crisis situation disproportionately affects women, girls, and the most vulnerable and marginalized Rohingya refugee population groups by reinforcing, perpetuating, exacerbating pre-existing, persistent gender inequalities, gender-based violence, and discrimination.’ -UNWomen | Asia and the Pacific. (UN Women | Asia and the Pacific, 2018)
Widespread sexual violence perpetrated by Myanmar Military soldiers has been a hallmark of the culture of abuse and impunity in Burma’s decades-long civil war with its ethnic groups, the Rohingya -Human Rights Watch. (Human Rights Watch, 2019)
The survivors of sexual violence faced numerous obstacles as sharing their stories threatening for them. The women were hit hard with a wooden stick, stripped can be naked, raped, gang-raped and they were witnessed of much more brutal experiences. (Amnesty.org, 2017)In the case of gang rape, some were taken for days and assaulted often. For those able to flee, the journey toward relative safety in Bangladesh was fraught with pain and hardship as a gang-raped survivors reported to Human Rights Watch of days of agony walking with swollen and torn genitals through the jungle to Bangladesh. (Human Rights Watch, 2017)
One of the excruciating facts that women were conceived through rape as immediate action was not accessible to them and the exact number of conceived women is unknown. The most unfortunate matter is that ‘they have the stigma of pregnancy as a result of rape, which makes it harder for them to come out openly with the fact of their pregnancy’ – Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.(Hart, 2018)
Although safe from the violence in Bangladesh where they are now assisted by some of the Organizations, the memories of the agony still have its fresh mark. Moreover, the legacy of prolonged exposure to conflict and persecution compounded by protracted conditions of deprivations and displacement is likely to increase the refugees’ vulnerability to a wide array of mental health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. (Tay et al. 2019)
According to Alam (2018, p. 20) ’despite the lack of spaces and resources, Bangladesh’s ability to absorb such a vast number of Rohingya is commendable.’ Yet the naked truth is that ‘the government, and broad swathes of the public, is growing increasingly exasperated with having to serve as the host nation for the displaced Rohingya.’
According to the Needs and Population Monitoring Report, approximately 4.9 percent of the total populations in Bangladesh were pregnant and it was estimated that more than 48000 were expected to be born in 2018. (The Daily Star, 2018) Some women had been dangling between to keep the baby who is the only they left with or to give them away who has been the everyday reminder of the Rohingya horror they survived. Both Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children had given aid to support the Rohingya women throughout this period.
Presently, The Bangladesh Government, together with many national and international community and humanitarian medical agencies, has provided services to assist the Refugee Women health facilities such as water and hygiene facilities, proper sanitation, adequate medical kit, counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), adequate medical checkup during pregnancy, emergency referral system and so on.
These days the government of Bangladesh and all other international and national agencies involved in providing humanitarian assistance also aim at meeting specific needs and self-recovery of women and children. To empower the Rohingya women UN Women works with other humanitarian agencies in order to enhance the self-reliance and decision making of Rohingya refugee women and mitigate their risks of being exploited.(UN Women | Asia and the Pacific, 2018. Oxfam International also supports women to overcome barriers and to create an environment where they are listened to and valued and such activities can involve providing solar lamps to reduce women’s feelings of insecurity, creating women-friendly spaces to create more opportunities.(Oxfam.org, n.d.)Health promotion and both psychological and psychiatric assistance are carried out by the Doctors without borders/Médecins sans Frontièrs (MSF) to ease down the acute depression of Rohingya people, especially women.(Doctors Without Borders – USA, 2018)
It has been more than one year that the Rohingya crisis started and Rohingya women started to respond and participate in the various development works of many Governmental and Non-governmental activities. For instance, women are now participating in World Vision’s innovative cash-for-work program where they are involving themselves in the construction of roads, pathways, and bridges across the Rohingya Refugee camp (Serao, 2019). To involve Rohingya women in enterprising and productive activities, Oxfam collaborated with two architecture students from Edinburg University and the University of Newcastle to work with refugee women on user-centered designs for latrines and laundry areas. (Sang, 2018) Furthermore, Rohingya women are now provided with a Tailoring training course along with knowledge of health and nutrition and hygiene management which can turn into life-saving skills for them later on. To become more self-reliant through craft production, Rohingya women are working on delicate embroidery for flower designs, using a mix of different stitches and colorful threads which is followed by training program and this training program grew out of a partnership between UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the Ayesha Abed Foundation, the Humanitarian arm of BRAC, the world’s largest nongovernmental organizations. (Gluck, 2019)
Now, the main question is, with the new skills and built community cohesion will they be able to regain their self-esteem and dignity? Although International communities are helping and assisting them as much as possible they seem to be ignorant of some main facts. First, these people are Refugees in Bangladesh and they were violated and exploited by their own natives. The result of various types of assistance for women will turn into zero if they are exploited all over again in case of returning home. Second, living in Bangladesh may not be permanent and ideal solution for both Bangladesh and Rohingya Refugees as Bangladesh itself is a small country with limited opportunities for its own people. Third, the environmentalists seem to turn a blind eye to the loss of forests and of biodiversity associated with providing space for Rohingya camps and firewood collection. Last but not least, the responsible party for one of the worst abuse cases and the grave violation of human rights have to take the liability of their own actions. Without having the assistance of Myanmar this scenery may not be changed.
Considering all the facts, returning or not returning, in both cases, Rohingya women will have to face distress and trauma all over again. While every effort must be made at the international level to persuade the government of Myanmar to take back its own citizens and protect their rights, Bangladesh must also face the reality on the ground as we did when we took them in. (Huq, 2019)
The future will tell us if they are strong enough to stand in the midst of storms with all the assistance that they are provided with. Throughout the time by promoting the participation and leadership of them and by creating opportunities for women and girls can be a fruitful tool for both Bangladesh and Myanmar. We also must increase the protection of them through the provision of recognized protective status.
writer, Shafqat Jahan Charu student of MSS Department of International Relations University of Chittagong
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