Empowering Rohingya women: Issues and challenges

Published : 13 Nov 2019 06:23 PM | Updated : 05 Sep 2020 06:57 PM

The development of confidence to do something by own capacity and increasing the spiritual, political, social, educational, gender or economic strength of individuals and communities of women is referred to as women empowerment. It acts as a defensive weapon against all forms of violence. 

Rohingya women are deprived from enjoying all fundamental rights – especially economic freedom, decision making power, access to quality health services, quality education, freedom of speech; in a word – sense of freedom of breathing. Rohingya women are extensively lagging behind compared to women in other countries, both developed and developing. 

One of the most highlighted issue for this backwardness is social stigma related to menstrual myths and prejudices. We will now attempts to analyze the situation of Rohingya women and try to find out the challenges for their empowerment. Primarily menstrual myths and stigma are the prime cause of their current situation. In the future we must root out the barriers and create effective policies and guidelines and be able to put a footmark on Rohingya women’s empowerment and development.

A descriptive cross sectional study was conducted among 101 adolescent girls, residing in Kutupalang Rohingya refugee camp by interviewing using a pre-tested close ended questionnaire with informed consent of the respondents.

From the study it was found that in between the respondents, the most surprising matter is – only 27.6% of girls were unmarried, 58% of them had child. 78.3% of them didn’t use any family planning materials, 87% pointed out that, their husbands forced them not to take or receive any contraceptive methods due to religious stigma. 

Above 50% of them were victimized in domestic violence mainly for dowry and 83.8% of them didn’t have any decision making power in their family. Due to religious and social restrictions, 66.3% of the respondents remained at home basically behind the screen – they couldn’t go out of home, 73.6% couldn’t participate in any income generating activities. 70% of them reported that the workplace was not safe for them – due to fear of sexual violence, harassment, kidnapping, trafficking. 87.3% of them didn’t go to school after menarche, some 26.9% of them never had access to any type of education.

Some 78.6% of them indicated social stigma for school absence and drop out. 68.4% of them stated they should not go to school because they were growing adults and men can study further, but 38.6% of them want to study more. 56% stated that they were even neglected in case of quality treatment rather than men. 

The findings may lead to further research looking into the interventions and innovative approaches that contribute to Rohingya women’s empowerment. Findings from focus group discussion [FGD] showed most of the girls had not even dreamt to be educated, developed and empowered. Their early marriage led to – ill health of girls; maternal, infant mortality and population explosion. Without attaining proper education, women empowerment seems to be an unrealistic dream. The most common barriers were – male dominated family structure, religious, cultural stigma and moral degradation of males.

It is the high time to identify the loopholes, that are mainly responsible for such a state of women’s status and initiative must be taken from the women folk itself and policy initiative must be taken by the state and society. 

The alarming need is to create an egalitarian society where everybody whether men or women enjoy equal opportunities to express and uplift one’s well- being and well-being of the nation as a whole. Everyone should change social perception, belief that – “When women are empowered, the family upgrades, the village upgrades and ultimately the nation upgrades”. 

Rohingya women empowerment will be ensured and effective when they are inducted in mainstream of development, endowed in income and property and allowed to participate in social, political and economic life of the state with a sense of gender equality.  

There is a significant need for improved guidance, policies, and innovative insights across all relevant sectors for Rohingya women empowerment along with increased evidence on effective approaches for integrating on existing developmental approaches.

Dr Kashfi Pandit, Manager Public health, in an international NGO- Good Neighbors Bangladesh