WPHF is rapidly mobilizing resources to support women’s organizations in Bangladesh to address the urgent challenges facing Rohingya refugee women and respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Dedicated funding in Bangladesh focuses on supporting the participation of Rohingya women across all phases of relief and recovery that is vital to building back better and leaving no one behind.
In Bangladesh, WPHF is channeling critical programmatic and institutional support to local women’s organizations working at the forefront of COVID-19 pandemic response.
WPHF has supported 5 projects implemented by 7 women-led and women’s rights civil society organizations in Bangladesh:
- Light House, Programme for Helpless and Lagged Societies (PHALS), and Loving Care for Oppressed Societies (LoCOS) on a joint project to mobilize women and women’s groups to stem the spread of COVID-19 and address its gendered impacts, including GBV and trafficking.
- RW Welfare Society (RWWS) to sustain its work providing women in Cox’s Bazar with counselling, education classes and skills training, as well as to strengthen the skills of its Rohingya women-led volunteer network through trainings on policymaking, governance and project management.
- RDRS Bangladesh on a project that mitigates the economic and health impacts of COVID-19 on both Bangladeshi and Rohingya women – particularly single mothers, women with disabilities and elderly women – by raising awareness of COVID-19 prevention measures, facilitating their access to healthcare and the distribution of hygiene kits, instant cash, food and goods transfers, while also training them on relevant skills and offering them cash grants and support to start their own income generating activities.
- Women Entrepreneur Association of Bangladesh (WEAB), together with Expeorul, Prottoy Unnanyan Sangstha, on a project to raise awareness of COVID-19 by providing trainings on prevention measures and engaging women and girls in awareness campaigns on hygiene, healthcare and environmental issues. The project increases economic opportunities for women and girls by developing local economic models in handicrafts, tourism/services and agriculture sectors through business and vocational workshops and providing women and women’s groups with mentoring, technical and financial assistance to start their own businesses.
- Research, Training and Management International (RTMI) on a project that educates women and young women on COVID-19 preventions measures through trainings, home visits, leaflets, and by establishing an online / telephone hotline to provide 24/7 counseling. The project prevents and responds to rising risks of SGBV during the COVID-19 outbreak by providing women and girls with psychosocial counseling, establishing Girls Safe Spaces, strengthening the capacity of doctors, nurses, and paramedics in SGBV case management and SRHR issues during COVID-19 and by strengthening referral pathways.
Explore our Full List of WPHF COVID-19 Emergency Response Window Partners Around the WorldCOVID-19 Emergency Response Window Projects
In August 2017, Myanmar’s military intensified its campaign of atrocities against the ethnic Rohingya minority in Rakhine State, forcing women, men, and children to flee across the border to Bangladesh. To date an estimated 646,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed over the border into Cox’s Bazar. Rohingya refugees have been traumatized by the loss of their families, assets and livelihoods, and have reported escaping widespread atrocities of extrajudicial killings, mass rape, and destruction of property. The dramatic influx of Rohingya living in settlements across Cox’s Bazar is stretching the capacities of humanitarian agencies working to provide emergency shelter, access to clean water and sanitation, health-care, food delivery and education.
Approximately 53% of the Rohingya refugee population is composed of women and girls. Lactating mothers and pregnant woman are the two highest numbers of vulnerable groups within the population, and 16% of the total number of households are female headed. Many women who have reached Cox’s Bazar have reported systematic rape and sexual violence perpetrated by Myanmar forces. According to interviews with community leaders, every woman and girl in the Balukhali makeshift settlements in Cox’s Bazar is either a survivor or has personally witnessed multiple incidences of sexual assault, rape, gang‑rape, murder through mutilation or burning alive of a close family member or neighbor in Myanmar.
The Rohingya refugee crisis has also disproportionately affected women and girls by exacerbating pre-existing gender inequalities, gender-based violence and discrimination in Rohingya communities. Restriction on Rohingya women’s mobility is limiting their access to life-saving assistance, services and information.
Humanitarian partners in Cox’s Bazar are urgently seeking the engagement of more women’s organizations and female humanitarian workers on the ground. WPHF’s focus on supporting local organizations will contribute towards localization of the response, which will ensure greater sustainability and long-term effectiveness.
Rohingya women who had already been living in the registered camps from before the recent influx of refugees have been successfully mobilizing as leaders and decision makers. In the older registered refugee camps in Ukhiya and Teknaf, a formation of 35-40 women support groups has been critical in engaging women’s voices and decision-making roles in camp management. This is an indication that transformation of gender relations among Rohingya is both possible and key to effective response and to communities’ longer-term resilience.