Photo credit: VOA.
Since August 2017, an estimated 655,000 Rohingya refugees have joined the other 300,000 refugees in the camps in Bangladesh. There are now in excess of one million refugees in fear for their lives. Among them are countless vulnerable women and young girls.
A rapid needs assessment from the Inter-Sector Coordination Group shows that 60% of these new arrivals are women, who urgently require for their reproductive and sexual health needs to be met.
The five biggest concerns faced by Rohingya women and girls are:
1. Emergency obstetric and newborn care
Home deliveries are a frequent occurrence. Unhygienic conditions, coupled with the scarcity of ambulances and transport, means women are at high risk of potentially life-threatening health complications.
2. Safe abortion
Abortion is illegal in Bangladesh. Despite the fact that menstrual regulation through medication is practiced in Bangladesh, it is scarcely available and little understood. Menstrual regulation is a type of abortion that uses a concept called “vacuum aspiration” to empty the uterus in early pregnancy. There are currently only ten health care facilities around the camps which provide this service, but its use remains low due to a lack of awareness of its process.
3. Post-rape care
For many Rohingya women, rape has been an inevitable by-product of the Burmese military campaign. The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, NGOs and journalists have provided evidence of widespread rape against Rohingya people in Rakhine State, in Myanmar. Yet, post-rape care, including emergency contraception and safe abortion, remains largely unaccounted for.
4. Voluntary contraception
Refugees are required to provide their proof of address to access the most effective contraceptives, which they often do not have due to being displaced.
5. Treatment and prevention of STIs
The combination of a lack of awareness and the lack of trained (female) service providers or privacy makes this a great challenge. HIV/AIDS treatment is available in hospitals, but refugees have their freedom of movement restricted and they can only access the treatment if referred and escorted to hospital.
What can we do to help?
Among the global mainstream, there is a noticeable lack of awareness and understanding of women’s health issues and their rights in not only in the Rohingya community, but in many other displaced communities around the world. The recognition of these key issues is the fundamental first step to addressing and ultimately overcoming them.
Recognise the obstacles
There is an ongoing stigma epidemic surrounding women’s health rights, which is a barrier to tackling and solving the main issues. We must recognise the reality of cultural and historic taboos surrounding issues such as sexual health and abortion and seek to build a constructive dialogue with those directly affected, while engaging with the societal background from which they come.
Provide ongoing support and cooperation to NGOs and the Bangladeshi government in tackling the problems
Women’s health rights are a global issue, which means they require collective and cross cultural action, whether from grassroots, bottom-up movements, governments, local communities or INGOs. All together, we can make a difference.
In response to the imminent global health issues facing women, The Lawyers Circle has partnered with the UN Every Woman Every Child campaign to reduce maternal mortality in Tanzania, which remains prevalent. It has set out to help the Tanzanian government with incorporating international conventions on maternal health rights into its national jurisdiction, through legal advice, negotiations and multi-stakeholder initiatives, to generate recommendations for the ratification of international conventions into Tanzania’s domestic law. In addition, The Lawyers Circle is helping to raise greater awareness among the Tanzanian public through the dissemination of information identifying maternal health rights. This is an incremental step towards overcoming stigma surrounding women’s health as well as a testament to cooperation between an INGO and national government.