Rohingya_Women in niqabs sitting on the floor while other lady explains lesson from a book
Photo: Farzana Hossen/CARE

Six years into the Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Women's journey of empowerment in the camps

Today marks six years since the start of the Rohingya refugee crisis. Since 2017, nearly 1 million people have fled to Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, forming the largest refugee camp in the world. Conditions in camps are extremely challenging, with people living in crowded and temporary shelters, with little privacy and limited access to essential services. The environment is particularly difficult for women and girls, who face increased risks of violence and harmful social norms.

Ayesha Khatun is a camp resident and has seen firsthand the impacts of gender-based violence (GBV) in the community. It ignited in her a flame to support women and girls around her. At CARE’s Women and Girls Safe Space initiative, she found the opportunity to help. After receiving training in several areas, including Psychosocial first aid, she became a GBV volunteer which involves household visits to GBV survivors and awareness-raising activities:

“I attentively listen to the survivors, providing emotional support. If I come across a case that requires specialized intervention, I connect the survivor with appropriate legal support agencies or specialized care providers”, explained Ayesha.

Working as a GBV volunteer has also helped Ayesha strengthen her confidence and increase her financial independence. This is particularly important in the cultural context of the Rohingya community, where social norms often hinder women from working outside of the home.

Rohingya_Woman in blue hijab and dress looking away from camera

Ayesha, a member of the Community Outreach Group (CoG) working to educate other Rohingya women on gender-based violence and its effects. Photo: CARE Bangladesh

“I am empowered and earning money which I can contribute to my family; this makes me much proud and happy,” said Ayesha with delight.

Starting to work outside the home proved to be particularly challenging for Fatema, who is also a Cox’s Bazaar camp resident. Her husband opposed the idea fearing judgement from the community, even though family needs were rising as their children grew older:

“I did not receive his support, as he feared the social backlash against women working outside the home. Even when I went to the market to buy groceries, my husband would intervene. Living in such conditions, I started to believe that the kitchen is the only place where women belong, and domestic chores and raising children are their sole responsibilities,” she expressed with despair.

Fatema, however, did not conform to these restrictions. Encouraged by her neighbors, she started attending CARE’s gender equality awareness sessions where she found more tools to challenge harmful social norms. Fatema convinced her husband to join her in the sessions, which helped her experience more equality at home. She now works as a volunteer trainer at CARE, supporting the empowerment of other women:

“Throughout this journey, I heard numerous whispers and gossip about me working outside.”

“However, now I have the confidence to move freely in my community and go to the market by myself. I also truly enjoy teaching other women and contributing to their empowerment,”
she concluded happily.

CARE’s work on gender equality with the Rohingya community

CARE and our partners seek to support women’s and girls’ empowerment in all programs implemented in the Rohingya refugee camps, from healthcare services to disaster management responses. Volunteering opportunities are provided to women to enhance their economic independence, reduce vulnerability to exploitation, and include them in leadership and decision-making processes. More equal participation and increased economic opportunities benefit the entire community.

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