Since the major influx which started on 25 August 2017, an estimated 745,000 Rohingya people (as of January 2019) have taken refuge in Cox’s Bazar, creating the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis and the largest refugee settlement (911,000 ). Refugees have described a litany of violations including severe beatings, stabbings, abuses and sexual violence, with men and boys subsequently taken away or executed in front of their families , which fueled their displacement from Rakhine state in Myanmar. From the onset, the Rohingya refugee crisis has had a particularly gendered nature. 52% of the total refugee population are women and girls , while 85% are women and children and 16% of households are female headed . Girls, who represent a larger proportion (57%) of the vulnerable group, are particularly at risk of child marriage, sexual exploitation, abuse and neglect . The facts on the ground present unique challenges as well as opportunities for saving lives, protecting the basic human rights of the affected populations and for gender transformative programming.
Although the response to the refugee crisis from the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) and the humanitarian community was swift and is significant, enormous gaps remain. Basic services such as food aid, water, sanitation, health and shelter are overstretched in refugee camps and new settlements in Cox’s Bazar. The scale of the refugee influx has put great strain on natural resources and services. Whereas humanitarian actors are working to address gender and women protection and empowerment issues, it is not yet sufficiently mainstreamed into every sector’s activities, including in relation to the principle of “do no harm”, empowerment and accountability. There are gaps and challenges for which efforts need to continue. This Gender Profile No.2 provides an analysis of issues/needs and recommended actions across the sectors.
Key Commitments on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls
The 2018 Joint Response Plan (JRP) key commitments and Strategic Executive Group (SEG) key actions on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls (GEEWG) require humanitarian actors in Rohingya humanitarian crisis response to ensure:
1. All assessments collect, analyze and use data disaggregated by gender, age and diversity, as well as consult equally with women, girls and marginalized groups.
2. All sectors mainstream gender aspects into overall response including by applying the ISCG gender profile of the Rohingya crisis (both No1 and this version, No 2), ISCG sector gender guidance notes/tip-sheets, IASC Gender and Age Marker (GAM) and other IASC GiHA guidance.
3. Inclusion in leadership and meaningful equal representation of women and marginalised groups, as well as CSOs representing these population groups, in the overall response.
4. Gender balance and adequate numbers of trained female staff in the overall response and ensure they are provided with necessary safety and security measures.
5. All humanitarian staff complete the IASC Gender in Humanitarian Action e-training “Different Needs, Equal Opportunities” .
Learning from gender analyses , protection sector reporting and review of gender mainstreaming in Rohingya Refugee Response has underscored the need for:
1. Inclusion and training of men and adolescent boys to promote positive masculinities and gender equality as a strategy to end gender-based violence (GBV).
Progress Made in Key Commitments on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls
Some progress has been made in fulfilling key commitments on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls . Sectors and partners collecting and using sex and age disaggregated data (SADD) are able to identify and estimate how many women, girls, boys and men are affected by specific needs/problems. Those identified are then targeted with appropriate support. For example, remedies were developed in response to the needs of older women and men among refugees who were identified to be facing challenges in accessing humanitarian services. In the WASH sector, collection and use of SADD in household and knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) surveys and in post distribution monitoring has informed decisions to engage women and girls in siting and designing of WASH facilities. Assessments to better understand barriers to latrine access and menstrual hygiene management (MHM) have also collected and used SADD. Likewise, the use of SADD has facilitated the identification and prioritization of the most vulnerable members of the refugee community for nutrition preventive and treatment services.
To promote leadership and meaningful equal representation, women’s groups as well as youth and men’s groups are being formed in refugee camps and humanitarian actors are helping in developing their leadership skills, making their voices heard on protection issues. Men and adolescent boys are being trained to promote positive masculinities and gender equality as a strategy to end GBV. Women are included in the:
2. Health sector as assistants in health facilities; health workers in health message dissemination and psychosocial support, and as assistants to mid wives and doctors;
3. WASH sector as hygiene promoters encouraging communities to have safe drinking water from tube-wells, proper use of aqua-tabs, and promotion of latrine use; and
4. Protection Sector as team members in the protection emergency response units (PERU) providing basic first aid and search and rescue. Women are also are among trained refugee volunteers, including Community Outreach Members, Safety Unit Volunteers, and Community Health Workers to provided support in monsoon and cyclone emergency response.
Cash for Work (CfW) schemes have been designed around some of the basic services and works that are going on in the camps and Women friendly spaces (WFS) offer livelihood and skills development opportunities.
Prevention, mitigation and response to GBV and Sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) is being undertaken through:
1. Provision of services to survivors of GBV and ensuring access to sex and age appropriate medical, psychosocial and legal support/services.
2. Safe and accessible entry points for GBV case management services (78 by end of 2018) and safe spaces for women and girls across the camps (52 by close of 2018) offering psychosocial support, legal aid and clinical case management.
3. Installation of lighting in/around WASH facilities and dark/lonely areas across the camps; and
4. Protection from Sexual Exploitation (PSEA) Network and Strategy has been set up to provide guidance to humanitarian actors for (i) Capacity building; (ii) Awareness raising; (iii) Response; and (iv) Leadership and coordination.
Summary of Key Needs, Issues, Gaps, Response and Recommended Actions
Although Sectors and humanitarian partners have acknowledged the need for SADD, some still capture and report total figures without disaggregation . For instance, while sexual and reproductive health (SRH) interventions are noted as key and critical in the response, the inadequacy of SADD on SRH limits understanding of the needs and challenges of Rohingya adolescent girls and boys. On the other hand, available SADD on SRH shows that services involving physical examination of private areas are taboo if performed by a health professional considered “younger” than the client/patient. Anecdotal field reports of some older pregnant women choosing to deliver from home with the help of the traditional birth attendants (TBA) so as not to be perceived as cowards . Some older Rohingya women reportedly consider it “cowardly” to deliver a baby under the care and supervision of mainstream health professionals.
Although CfW schemes have been designed to help improve incomes of refugees and WFS offer livelihood and skills development opportunities, sufficient income opportunities have not yet been created for many refugees and members of the host communities. Rohingya women and girls are experiencing gender-based barriers including limited movement and access to humanitarian services and markets. This restrains their livelihood opportunities. Livelihoods coping mechanisms used by both refugees and host communities such as borrowing money to buy food, selling of jewelry, etc. are not sustainable. Unequal gender relations/roles affect participation of women and decisions on income earned – 51% of respondents to Oxfam Gender Analysis said men solely decided on how to spend family income.
There are still challenges to the representation and inclusion of women and marginalized groups in leadership roles. Low levels of Rohingya literacy, particularly among women, and gender norms that restrict many women from public spaces or from taking a public role. It is crucial to work with informal leaders and key persons within the community, such as schoolteachers and midwives; and to include both male and female leaders in order to promote gender equality. There is a need to integrate gender transformative approaches across the response balancing with the principle of “do no harm”. Gender awareness and gender sensitivity training should be included in capacity-building efforts for camp and religious leaders.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) was one of the security challenges that fueled the mass displacement of Rohingya people into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; Even in the camps SGBV is prevalent. Whereas there is sector-wide action to prevent and respond to SGBV and SEA, more needs to be done to strengthen systems and structures of response and to replicate successful interventions in other locations in refugee camps and settlements not covered yet. There is a felt need among refugees for access to state led justice mechanisms for refugees. Overcrowding in the camps exacerbates sexual violence risks for women and girls, and limits humanitarian efforts to provide comprehensive protection services. Emergency shelter remains extremely limited and inadequate.
Sector gender focal points are the main vehicle for extension of GiHA WG technical advice and support on gender mainstreaming to sectors and agencies. Thus, at least, all sectors should ensure they are represented in GiHA WG meetings and other organized activities. The lack of or inconsistency in sector representation limits how much they benefit from the various guidance tools and other resources specifically developed for the Rohingya refugee response. Therefore, to strengthen gender mainstreaming across the response, sectors should continue to be represented in the GiHA WG. Likewise, GiHA WG should reach out to sectors through Sector coordination meetings and other coordination forums with specific gender.
The inclusion and training of men and adolescent boys in the promotion of gender equality and positive masculinities is a practical strategy to end SGBV. This should equip men and adolescent boys to be actively involved in addressing harmful norms and cultural practices. A continuous engagement process with men and women, boys and girls should address knowledge, attitudes and practices on themes such as gender, masculinities and SGBV and family planning (FP).
In line with the principle of “do no harm”, interventions promoting gender equality and women and girls empowerment should be undertaken with sensitivity to the parameters/context of the Rohingya refugees culture and practice of the Islamic faith.