We still aren’t doing enough to tackle gender-based violence against Rohingya women and children

As a major aid donor and a home to a large pool of gender and international development experts, countries like the UK must act now

Kate Osamor
Sunday 26 August 2018 17:07 BST
Interview with Keya, who is working in Cox's Bazar refugee camp where Rohingya people are living in temporary shelter

Around the world women are locked into cycles of disempowerment and denied their basic human rights. This not only limits women and girls’ personal growth, freedoms and opportunities, but also makes them vulnerable to violence and abuse. It’s a serious enough issue in ordinary circumstances, but during times of crisis it has devastating consequences.

One year on from the latest wave of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, which forced nearly one million people to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, women and girls who fled shocking sexual violence at home still continue to face dangerous levels of violence now they have found refuge.

The overcrowded refugee camps, which are the world’s largest and most densely populated, lack many of the most basic protections for women and girls, such as adequate shelters with lockable doors, decent lighting and gender segregated toilets and bathrooms.

The lack of these simple facilities leaves women and girls – who make up 60 per cent of new arrivals to the camps – unsafe. It drastically increases the chances of them being attacked, especially at night.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), there are hundreds of incidents of gender based violence reported every week, and 77 per cent of women and girls across the camps have reported feeling unsafe at some point since arriving.

Just one woman or girl feeling unsafe is one too many, but when it is over three quarters of the female population, we know we need to urgently be doing more.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office reports that “levels of sexual violence against women and girls has been extremely high. Rape and sexual violence have been used by the Myanmar military as a weapon of war”.

And although NGOs working in the camps, such as the International Rescue Committee, are providing essential services including psychosocial support for those who have been victims of abuse and rape, international action has not matched the scale of need.

As the “penholder” on Myanmar in the UN Security Council, the UK government must bear responsibility for failing to turn the global outrage towards these atrocities in to tangible action and improvements on the ground.

The global response to the crisis, under the Joint Response Plan, has been woefully inadequate. Less than a third of funding needed in 2018 has been met so far, and protection services for women has received only 25 per cent of required funds.

If these funding shortfalls were met, this would go some way to ensuring women have the protections they need. But it’s not only more money that must be dedicated to the gap in women’s services; more women’s groups and NGOs with technical expertise in this area must also be allowed to support Rohingya refugees in the camps.

The next Labour government will have an unrelenting commitment to realising women’s rights.

We plan to oversee the first truly feminist UK international development strategy, and in the first years of the next Labour government we will have drastically increased funding to grassroots women’s organisations and convened an international summit to ensure tackling gender based violence is a global priority.

But concrete and fast action is needed right now for Rohingya women and girls living in danger in refugee camps today. Justice and accountability must be realised.

Countries like the UK must act now, as a major aid donor and as a home to a large pool of gender and international development experts. We must work with the government of Bangladesh to fully support and increase the work being done to protect women and girls who are being hosted in the country after fleeing conflict and danger.

One year on from the crisis that hit the headlines last summer, we must not let Rohingya women and girls fade from our minds as they continue to live their lives surrounded by danger.

It is our duty to ensure they are given the best support possible.

Kate Osamor is the Labour & Co-operative Party MP for Edmonton and shadow secretary of state for international development

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in