Women's Rights

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$72 million needed to protect Rohingya refugee women missing out on vital aid

Rohingya women living in Bangladesh are developing health problems, missing out on aid and are at greater risk of abuse due to unsafe and unsuitable facilities in many parts of the refugee camps, Oxfam warned today. 
 
The international agency called for 15 per cent of new funding to be set aside for humanitarian programs designed to better support women and girls – including $72 million of the nearly half a billion dollars recently committed by the World Bank. Currently, there is no standalone budget for meeting women’s specific needs in the overall emergency response.
 
The Bangladesh government and agencies have provided emergency aid to more than 700,000 Rohingya people who have arrived over the past year, but the speed at which the world’s biggest refugee camp sprang up has made it difficult for support to keep pace.
 
More than a third of women surveyed by Oxfam and partner agencies said they did not feel safe or comfortable going to collect water or using toilets and shower cubicles – many of which lack a roof and a lockable door. Half the women and three quarters of adolescent girls said they didn’t have what they needed to manage their periods, including a female-only place to wash sanitary cloths without embarrassment.
 
As a result, women are going hungry and thirsty to avoid needing the toilet as frequently, suffering abdominal pain and infections by not relieving themselves or using unhygienic sanitary cloths, and resorting to defecation by their tents, which increases the risk of a major outbreak of disease – especially in the monsoon. 
 
Poor facilities are also increasing the risk of sexual abuse and harassment. Hundreds of incidents of gender-based violence are reported each week.
 
Oxfam’s Advocacy Manager in Cox’s Bazar, Dorothy Sang, said: “The breakneck speed at which the Rohingya refugee crisis unfolded meant that many emergency facilities were installed in a rush and women’s specific needs weren’t considered. Women and girls are now paying the price in terms of their wellbeing and safety. 
 
“This needs to be rectified urgently with substantial sums set aside to support and protect Rohingya women, such as lighting to improve safety, toilets and wash rooms that provide privacy, and extra assistance for the most vulnerable.”
Single mothers whose husbands are missing or dead head up one in six families in the Rohingya camps. They face particular problems, having to take on public roles that challenge cultural and religious assumptions about women’s place in society. Oxfam is calling for more to be done to support these vulnerable women, such as help collecting aid packages and more community dialogue about men and women’s traditional roles.
 
Oxfam is working with local organisations and refugees to tailor its humanitarian response to more effectively support women and girls. This includes installing solar-powered lights along pathways, distributing portable solar lamps, running women’s groups to discuss issues like safety and early marriage, community work to tackle violence against women, and working with refugees to design new toilet facilities with features like lockable doors, shelves to keep clothes out of the mud, and screens to afford privacy.  
Sang added: “The Bangladesh Government should be commended for allowing Rohingya people to seek refuge in Cox’s Bazar. We join them and others in calling on Myanmar to address the discriminatory policies that are the root cause of this crisis.”
Close to a million Rohingya people have sought refuge in Bangladesh following a military campaign against them in Myanmar that has been described by UN officials as ‘ethnic cleansing’. 
 
 
ENDS           
 
CONTACT: 
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson-Lyons, Oxfam Ireland, on +353 (0) 83 198 1869 or at alice.dawsonlyons@oxfamireland.org  
 
NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org
 
Rohingya refugee Ayesha with her daughter in her shelter in the camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo Credit: Maruf Hasan/Oxfam
 
Rohingya refugee Asia Bibi* with solar panels provided by Oxfam, in her shelter in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.  Photo Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/ Oxfam

Women in South Sudan plow forward in their fields—and in their homes

An Oxfam program supplies female farmers with the tools to manage their crops and to redistribute power in their households.

“When our leaders told us that Oxfam was coming to train us to use oxen to plow our fields, we protested,” says Lucia, a farmer from Wau County, South Sudan. “Our tribe does not know cows and even so, it is a man’s work to train them and lead them through the fields. This is not for us women at all!”

Yet, 12 months later, she’s changed her tune. Lucia grins from ear to ear as she shows off Malual—the young bull that tills her land. Women in Lucia’s community—as in most parts of South Sudan—typically shoulder a huge workload. They do all the domestic work and much of the agricultural tasks. For many, this means waking up early to collect water, light a fire, make tea, and cook lunch, all before heading to a small plot of land to cultivate crops.

Farming often takes from morning to evening, and even then, doesn't always provide enough food to feed the family. This was Lucia’s experience until last year.

That’s where Malual come in.

Traditionally, people in Lucia's community use malodas—small tools with a sickle-shaped head—to till the land, but because the tools are so small, it takes a long time to work the land. Using oxen and employing techniques like planting in rows means women can cultivate much larger plots of land in less time.

“I am growing sorghum, okra, and peanuts, and I have been able to increase the size of the land I plow from half a fedan [half an acre] to more than two fedans [two acres],” she says. “Some of the food I eat as soon as I harvest; some I save for the lean season to eat or to sell. I’m also saving some for planting later this year.”

In the past, Lucia and her family skipped lunch because they only had enough food to stretch between breakfast and dinner. “My children are much happier and I can see they are looking well,” she says.

Lucia is earning enough money to pay some bills, and the time she's saved using oxen is going into a side business selling cakes—all of which has earned her the deep respect of her husband.

As part of the same project, she and her husband took part in workshops focused on women’s rights. “Now he respects me so much more,” she says with a grin. “The way we are together is completely different. Now we share all the tasks in the household. He is cleaning more, mopping, bringing water, and washing clothes. I am able to rest a bit more now.”

Testing the Waters

How the local community and the government are joining forces to make a change in Jordan

A water community group meeting in Allan, Salt. Photo: Alixandra Buck / Oxfam

In Jordan, it is not common for government and citizens to talk face to face on issues of common concern. There is also skepticism on the role of civil society. (Chatham House).

Together with the Water Authority of Jordan, a group of people in Salt govornorate, Jordan are working to change that.

Abir Suleiman Mrooj, Buthaina Al-Zubi, and Majde Algharagher are three of the twelve men and women who comprise a water community group in the town of Allan, Salt. Now, people of Salt can collaborate freely with government officials, air their grievances, and work together to improve water access and governance in their community.

Rapid population growth, a mountainous landscape and neglect have frequently left people in Allan with insufficient access to water. Community members, including Mrooj and Al-Zubi, highlighted the issues to Algharagher, the Water Authority’s Director of Salt District. In turn he was able to convince the Water Authority to respond with extensive improvements to the local water network, valued at over 150,000 JOD (Approx. 210,000 USD). Now, leakages in Allan have gone down significantly - and further improvements are expected to reduce losses even more.

This is of particular importance in Jordan, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. Water use far exceeds the replacement rate, and leaks, breakages and interrupted water supply are all too common - pointing to the need for systemic changes to water infrastructure, water governance and water use patterns.

Majde Algharagher was quick to recognize the issues: “There has been a huge increase in population in Jordan, so there is less water available per person,” he told Oxfam. “We are also seeing illegal pumping, which is making water even scarcer.”

Over 40% of water in Jordan’s network is lost through leakages and other losses [USAiD].

Majde Algharagher, the Director of Salt District for the Water Authority of Jordan, speaks with community members. Photo: Alixandra Buck/Oxfam

Abir Suleiman Mrooj, of Allan, told Oxfam, “The sight of wasted water all over the streets used to hurt us, as we were working so hard to save water in our homes... So at first, we were like a beehive around Mr Algharagher – always pushing until we got a solution to each issue.”

Collaborating with the community has made it easier for the Water Authority to find and stop water losses. According to Algharagher, “Now that I am in the water group, people can contact me directly by phone. Before they had to come to the office or call the ministry and it would be a long process to speak to me. We also have a Whatsapp group, so they can send me a picture of a broken pipe or any problem, and I can respond. I can immediately send maintenance staff, and they can fix it. The response is easier and faster than before.”

Mrooj told Oxfam, “We housewives were able to achieve something for our community. The Water Authority heard my voice, and through me, the voices of many people in Jordan. We feel so proud that we could impact our community and the government.” But things are still not perfect: “Now, my water is good. But honestly, other places still struggle.”

Abir Suleiman Mrooj, a water Ambassador from Salt, Jordan, is a leader in her community. Photo Alixandra Buck/Oxfam

With the support of Global Affairs Canada, Oxfam is working with community members, partners, and the Government of Jordan to improve water governance. We want to ensure that more people in the country can meet their basic water needs and participate in decision-making at the community and national level.

One woman leading the way for healthy mothers in Bangladesh's refugee camps

By AJM Zobaidur Rahman, Campaigns and Communications Officer, Oxfam in Bangladesh

Rajiah, sitting here in her home in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, is a community health volunteer who helps share health information with pregnant refugee women. Photo Credit: OXFAM

Rajiah, 46, fled violence near her home in Myanmar 6 months ago, with her younger daughter, who is 15 years old. She is now living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh with thousand other Rohingya. Rajiah is one of close to a million Rohingya people have fled violence in Myanmar to seek refuge across the border in Bangladesh. This unprecedented number of refugees, of whom more than half are children, has caused a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

Left: Rajiah sharing health information with a pregnant woman in her home in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Right: Rajiah walking through the refugee camp to visit her pregnant neighbor in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo Credit: OXFAM

WOMEN HELPING WOMEN SURVIVE AND THRIVE

Rajiah has been surrounded by women throughout her life as the eldest of 10 sisters. She herself has 5 daughters, two of which are also in camps living as refugees in Bangladesh with their husbands, while the other two remain in Myanmar. Tragically, Rajiah’s husband disappeared when the violence broke out in Myanmar and Rajiah has no way of knowing where he is. Like so many women in the camp, Rajiah must head up her household alone.

Oxfam has come to know Rajiah as a leader when she was unanimously selected to represent her community during an Oxfam assessment of what their most pressing needs were. Rajiah is well educated and has been working with and for her community throughout her life. She told us that she delivered some 10,000 babies as a midwife in Myanmar.

Now, as a refugee in Bangladesh, she is making sure she puts her experience to good use and supports and provides information to the pregnant women in her community. Her name means “Hope” - a true reflection of her personality and life’s work.

Left: Rajiah and her younger daughter inside her house in the refugee camp. Right: Rajiah taking notes about International Women's Day. Photo Credit: OXFAM

RAJIAH BRINGS LEADERSHIP TO COX'S BAZAR

Rajiah was born in a relatively affluent family in Myanmar. Education was an important part of her childhood, and her family made sure all the girls had 8 years of schooling. Rajiah speaks particularly highly of her father, who she says was the greatest influence in her life.

Rajiah honed her leadership skills from a young age, starting at school as a class leader. Later, organizations who were working in her community, including the UN, selected Rajiah as one of their volunteers. She continued working as a health worker and played a major role in the vaccination process in her area, helping to prevent children dying needlessly from preventable illnesses.

Rajiah is outspoken and confident, a full believer in women’s role outside the household. That way, she says, women can get knowledge and they can advance – and then other women can also come forward simply by seeing these role models. She is very keen on working and further helping her community, especially the women in her community.

OXFAM IS THERE

Oxfam is planning to organize women’s groups in the camps and Rajiah is the ideal person to lead this process in her community. With her leadership skills, kind and warm personality, she will undoubtedly make great progress with the women in the community. Oxfam is also currently focusing on providing water and sanitation and adapting to better deal with the crowded conditions and sheer numbers of people. We are drilling wells and installing water points, toilets and showers. We’re also helping people stay healthy and hygienic by distributing soap and other essentials and working with community-based volunteers to emphasize the importance of clean water and good hygiene, especially as monsoon season approaches. So far, we have reached at least 185,000 people, and hope to reach more than 250,000 in the coming months.

Donate now to help those in refugees camps in Bangladesh

The Oxfam training putting women on the right track

Knowledge is power – just ask these women from Nairobi. They are all members of the Oxfam project, Wezesha Jamii – Swahili for ‘empowering communities’ – which, among others, provides training, supports job opportunities and promotes equality.

The majority of these vulnerable women, who live in informal settlements across the Kenyan capital, are either domestic workers or small-scale traders. Before getting involved in the project, many of them knew nothing about their rights or entitlements – and were often exploited by their employers.

Left: Sheillah Achieng and her baby in their apartment in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam Right: Doreen styles a woman's hair in her salon in Mukuru. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

Sheillah Achieng (28), who left school with few qualifications, says domestic work is the only job she can do. She describes how a former employer once threatened her with a knife when she asked for her wages. But since becoming a member of Wezesha Jamii, she understands that she can go somewhere for help.

“Now I am enlightened and if something similar happened,” says the mother of three. “I would go to the police station. I know there are some offices we can go to.”

The project also taught Sheillah about her rights around maternity leave. Before her youngest child was born, she asked her employer if she could have some time off. “They told me I could have three months… I understood that if you are pregnant you are due some leave. I didn’t know that before."

“I am very happy that I learned my rights about maternity leave. I didn’t know before that three months is my right. Normally you would get two weeks and then find someone in your job.”

The advice she’s received through Wezesha Jamii (WJ) has made Sheillah realise that she wants better treatment at work: “What I want is for more employers to treat us as human beings. I feel very bad to see employers not treating us well. “I feel more confident and I have more energy. I feel encouraged that I know my rights.”

Elsewhere, Doreen Muththoni has tried to make a go of various business ideas down through the years. But from selling bread, to cooking and selling goat meat, she has struggled to earn enough money. After becoming a member of Wezesha Jamii, she was trained in how to develop a good business idea, how to budget and how to manage her money.

Now running a thriving beauty and hair salon, Doreen says: “The project helped me choose the business I could do and one that could bring me more income than the meat business. What I do now is sell hair products and also do women’s hair.

“Through the training they showed me how to save, I didn’t save before… I can save more than 10,000 KSh through my business.”

These days Doreen has no problem paying school fees for her three children – not only that, she has opened savings accounts for them too.

“We enjoy many things now we don’t have so many problems,” she says. “We feel free and happy now. I am filled with joy. The things we are doing, WJ has been able to help me so much and now I know more than what I used to know.”

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