In disasters, violence against women is the huge, often hidden story
After her son’s murder, Miriam* finally fled her village in Myanmar’s conflict-ravaged Rakhine State. Even as Miriam escaped, the few precious belongings she could grab were snatched from her, and she recalls how she was forced to drink water from bamboo to survive the long trek to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Of the nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees that have crossed into Bangladesh since August 2017, well over half are women and girls, and many, like Miriam, have reported grave human rights abuses.
The Rohingya refugee crisis is extreme, yet violence against women and girls occurs everywhere, in both developed and developing nations. Worldwide – including here in Australia — on average one in three women face some form of violence at some point in their lives. Cases spike dramatically amid emergencies, but far too often go unreported. In this, the 21st century, rape is still used as a weapon of war, and fear, shame and stigma stops many survivors from speaking out.
And for refugees like Miriam, the risks aren’t over when they reach relative safety. Forced to live in makeshift camps filled with uprooted, often traumatized people, exposure and the threat of lawlessness increase the risk of violence. In desperate situations like these, where people often have just the clothes on their backs, forced marriage, child marriage, trafficking, exploitation and cases of women selling sex to survive, typically rise. This is why, in any crisis, upholding the safety and dignity of women and girls who have survived violence, or are at risk of suffering it, must be front and centre in relief efforts.
As the monsoon rains set in over the sprawling Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Miriam has finally found some security and respite in one of the special women-only spaces set up by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with support …read more