Thousands of Rohingya women and girls entering Bangladesh to flee violence in Myanmar since August 25 are at the risk of sexual harassment and trafficking in absence of adequate protection and privacy in the camps in Cox’s Bazar.
In almost all camps and makeshift settlements, women and teenage girls said that they did not feel safe while using latrines even in daylight.
Toilets are not segregated and those are far from sheds. Women and girls said that they preferred waiting until night for using toilets. Afraid to go too far or into the forest in the dark, many resort to open defecation close to their shelter.
Some women take less water and food to avoid the use of toilets, said aid workers.
‘Women are afraid of cleaning themselves when people are around, so they use toilets or water points at night or early morning, and they have no safety. Some women drink less water and stop consuming food to avoid using toilets,’ Oxfam Bangladesh gender justice programme manager Nazmun Nahar told New Age on Thursday.
Oxfam spoke to many women who said that they had only washed once since crossing the border in the last two months, said Nazmun.
‘The camps are extremely overcrowded, and the limited facilities and safety put women and girls at the risk of further harassment and sexual exploitation,’ she said.
Nazmun Nahar and UNICEF Bangladesh child protection officer Fatema Khyrunnahar said that many of the toilets are not well protected for women and teenage girls. They said that lack of proper lighting was a big issue for safety of women and girls after sunset.
‘Women need to walk for long in the dark to use toilets exposing them to all forms of harassment,’ said Nazmun Nahar.
She also expressed fear of possibility of trafficking of women and sex trade.
‘These women were not used to bath in open place, they are not feeling safe while going out,’ said Fatema.
Both Fatema and Nazmun said that lighting was inadequate for ensuring safety for women and girls.
‘We are also concerned about women’s protection and privacy,’ said Cox’s Bazar refugee relief and rehabilitation commissioner Mohammad Abul Kalam. ‘With assistance from humanitarian agencies, we have set up at least 60 street lamps run on solar panel for security of women at night,’ he said.
‘We will set up another 100 street lamps run on solar panel soon,’ he added.
According to UN estimation on Tuesday, 6,04,000 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh in the new influx what the United Nations called the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency.
Officials estimated that the new influx already took to 10.23 lakh the number of documented and undocumented Myanmar nationals in Bangladesh entering the country at times since 1978.
The new influx began after Myanmar security forces responded to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s reported attacks on August 25 by launching violence what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing.
More than half of the Rohingyas entering Bangladesh are women. A good number of these women and girls faced sexual harassment back in their homeland Rakhine State of Myanmar and many of them were still haunted by horrors of sexual violence committed allegedly by Myanmar military.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report in early October reported that women and girls, as young as five years, were raped by men in army uniforms as they fled their homes.
Rapid protection assessment by Save the Children, UNHCR and two other NGOs Codec and Tai based on Focused Group Discussion with 10 groups of Rohingya women and 6 groups of men said that women and girls indicated that they did not feel safe using the latrines, even in daylight, mainly due to absence of gender-segregated latrines. They also reported that men made holes in the plastic walls with cigarettes to peek through.
Others claimed that they were embarrassed because the latrines were close to the mosque. In one site, girls mentioned that they limited their food and water consumption to avoid using latrine.
Females said that they used toilets mostly at night, and preferably walk there with a male companion. Females in four of the six sites, however, said that they defecated in the open
because of lack of light and fear of harassment, said the report.
In addition to existing cultural and religious constraints to movement for Rohingya girls and women, the participants indicated that lack of appropriate clothing and fear of harassment/ trafficking/ kidnapping limited their movement, it said.
National Liver Foundation of Bangladesh in a statement on Thursday said that pregnant Rohingya women were at high risk of Hepatitis C infection.
While conducting free Hepatitis B and C screening of Rohingya pregnant women at Balukhali Union Health Centre under Ukhia upazila on October 21, the foundation found 9 women with Hepatitis B, 24 with Hepatitis C and 3 with Hepatitis B and C.
Three hundred pregnant women were screened and all these screening tests were subsequently confirmed by confirmatory test, said the statement signed by foundation secretary general professor Mohammad Ali.
Transparency International Bangladesh in a statement on Thursday expressed concern over World Bank’s proposal for credit in place of grants to Bangladesh in order to meet the need of Rohingyas.
It also urged Bangladesh government to continue its diplomatic efforts to get interest-free grants from World Bank instead of taking loan from The Global Concessional Financing Facility of the bank.
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