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On Eve of UNGA SDG Summit, New Findings Show Marked Advances in Promoting Gender Equality in Cox’s Bazar

NEW YORK, NY – As world leaders gather for the 74th U.N. General Assembly – including a special summit on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) today released new findings showing marked advances in promoting gender equality in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. SDG 5 promises to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The findings were compiled in the report Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Rohingya Humanitarian Response in Cox’s Bazar.

Earlier this year, WRC traveled to Cox’s Bazar to assess services and conditions for Rohingya women and girls who had fled attacks by the Myanmar security forces two years earlier. Specifically, the study looked at how gender equality has been integrated into the Rohingya humanitarian response in Bangladesh.

“WRC strongly believes that if we are to achieve SDG 5, we must ensure that gender equality is prioritized in humanitarian settings,” said Sarah Costa, WRC executive director. “That is why we were encouraged to find an active commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment from service providers and others throughout the refugee camps.”

Researchers found, for example, that aid workers and humanitarian organizations are facilitating the coordination and monitoring of gender equality across programs and policies; prioritizing the prevention and treatment of gender-based violence; and had created more than 55 safe spaces where Rohingya women and girls can access a range of services and activities, including sexual and reproductive health services.

“I have seen these safe spaces in person. They are absolutely essential in helping Rohingya women – so many of whom have been traumatized – rebuild their lives,” said Costa. “It is promising to see so many of these spaces available throughout the camp and the breadth of services now accessible to the women and girls.”

Rohingya women interviewed in the report told researchers that the safe spaces afforded them opportunities that were unavailable to them before fleeing their homes. “In Myanmar, we could not come together to talk because our houses were far from each other. But now we can come together and share experiences…We came from one country to another, and we are learning about this culture,” said one Rohingya woman.

The report shows that the networking made possible in places like the safe spaces is leading to the creation of Rohingya women-led civil society groups such as Shanti Mohila, which advocates on the repatriation conditions and to seek justice for the women in their community through the International Criminal Court.

“We have a message to the women in the world. Support us and strengthen our Shanti Mohila group, so that we can extend our activities and empower women,” said a Rohingya woman and Shanti Mohila representative.

While the report highlighted more than a dozen specific areas of humanitarian response advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment in Cox’s Bazar, it also noted areas of concern including a lack of understanding about how the crisis is affecting more marginalized populations, such as women with disabilities, older women, and people of diverse sexual orientation.

“Displaced women and girls are especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of gender inequality,” said Costa. “Other factor such as race, disability, age, and gender identity can contribute to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. While we know there is still much work to be done to advance gender equality in humanitarian settings, this report demonstrates a clear fact – investing in the programs and services that help advance women’s empowerment and gender equality, even in the most complex of settings, can work.”