In Myanmar, violence against women and girls is a silent emergency. It takes many forms: domestic and intimate partner violence perpetrated within families; unwanted touching and sexual harassment on public transport; and violence occurring in conflict zones where women are particularly vulnerable. In a national survey carried out in 2015 and 2016, one in seven women in Myanmar reported that they had experienced violence since the age of 15. The real number is likely to be many more.
On World Refugee Day 2019, representatives from the Rohingya refugee community in Camp 1W of Kutupalong Extension Site in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, gathered at an event organized by Community Partners International (CPI) and the Rokeya Foundation to honor the spirit and courage of the millions of people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
Meredith Walsh (back row, fourth from right), CPI Board Chair Dr. Tom Lee (second row, third from left) and CPI Board Member Dr. Adam Richards (second row, second from left) with CPI Bangladesh staff and Community Health Volunteers in Cox's Bazar in June 2019. Photo: Reza Shahriar Rahman for Community Partners International
Meredith Walsh, Community Partners International (CPI)’s Country Director in Bangladesh, reflects on the last 20 months working to support Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar.
I arrived in Bangladesh in early November 2017 to help Community Partners International (CPI) set up operations in Cox’s Bazar. Just over two months earlier, this small sliver of land squeezed between Rakhine State in western Myanmar and the Bay of Bengal, became the world’s largest refugee camp virtually overnight.
Community Partners International (CPI) supported and participated in community gatherings in Myanmar and Bangladesh to mark International Women’s Day 2019 and emphasize the importance of building a gender-balanced world. In the communities where CPI works, women and girls are under-represented and continue to strive for equal rights and equitable access to opportunities and services. Violence against women and girls remains a significant problem, though often hidden by stigma and cultural norms. These gatherings were held to raise awareness of the continuing challenges faced by women and girls in these communities, to celebrate progress where it has been achieved, and to re-affirm the commitment to building gender equality.
In support of the international campaign ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’, Community Partners International (CPI) is engaging in events and activities with partners and communities in Myanmar and in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) until December 10 (Human Rights Day). During these 16 Days of Activism, CPI is working closely with communities to raise awareness and understanding of sexual and gender-based violence, promote rights and protections, and provide information about care and support needs and options for survivors.
Each month, community outreach teams from Community Partners International (CPI) and the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) travel together for two weeks across Kayin State, southeast Myanmar, promoting sexual and reproductive health, and helping to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls. So far this month, these teams have visited nine villages in Kawkareik Township.
Many thousands of people in Kayin State, Myanmar, continue to be affected by severe flooding caused by heavy monsoon rains. The floods have displaced many families from their homes and thousands have sought shelter in flood relief camps. For women and girls, displacement often makes it more difficult to access key services such as sexual and reproductive health care and can place them at higher risk of gender-based violence.
On August 9 and 11, 2018, Community Partners International (CPI) distributed Dignity Kits to 500 women of reproductive age, including pregnant women and adolescent girls, affected by ongoing flooding in Kayin State, Myanmar. The Dignity Kits contain a range of items to support female hygiene and protect the health and safety of women facing displacement and other challenges due to the floods. These include a sarong, a bra, underwear, sanitary pads, a blanket, soap, laundry detergent, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
For Rohingya women and girls sheltering as refugees in Cox’s Bazar, the shadow of gender-based violence (GBV) is never far away. While many have directly experienced or witnessed traumatic incidents during the recent violence in northern Rakhine state, the precarious circumstances and lack of protection that they experience as refugees continues to expose them to a high risk of GBV and human trafficking. Among Rohingya communities, as in many communities in Myanmar and elsewhere, stigma and cultural norms can hinder discussion and acknowledgment of these issues, making prevention and response more challenging. Survivors of GBV often have little or no access to support, and awareness-raising and prevention efforts can face resistance. Community Partners International (CPI) is working in partnership with Rohingya communities in Cox’s Bazar to find creative and innovative ways to break the silence around GBV, and support community initiatives that help ensure women and girls are protected from violence.
On March 12, 2018, in Yangon, Myanmar, Dr. San San Aye, Director General of the Department of Social Welfare (DoSW), and Dr. Si Thura, Executive Director of Community Partners International (CPI), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) supporting a three-year initiative by CPI to provide Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and Gender-based Violence (GBV) prevention and response services to conflict-affected communities in four townships of Kayin State, Myanmar.