Gendered Nature of Safety - Rohingya Women

By Shucheesmita Simonti

Image result for rohingya women
Source: Anadolu Agency  Myammar soldiers raped Rohingya Women - US Rights Body

"I am much more open about categories of gender, and my feminism has been about women's safety from violence, increased literacy, decreased poverty and more equality." Judith Butler



Outside the refugee camps, the Rohingya women often complain of sexual harassments they experience when they try to find work to support themselves. Especially women from divided families and those who lost the male head of the household are more vulnerable as they often have no way out but to accept exploitation.

Rohingyas do not have enough access to education and the women are mostly confined within their households, as a result they find it difficult to gain employment in host countries. Lack of educational and technical skills and language barriers make the process of finding job tedious. Those who possess technical skills such as dressmaking have better prospects of earning. Others are often employed as maids. Another challenge is the lack of valid work permits, which leads to exploitation of labor, i.e. refugees are often paid much lesser compared to local workers. 

The exploitation is not limited to only lesser salary in case of women; often they are sexually exploited and they have no choice but to give in because they often find the job after struggling for weeks, or months. For instance, Rotna, a Rohingya woman who worked as a cook in a hotel was assaulted by the hotel owner and could not stop him due to her need to preserve her job and was afraid to speak up due to the fear of being socially stigmatized: 

He asked me to bring tea to his bedroom. I felt very uncomfortable but again I had no choice. So I prepared the tea and went to the bedroom. The owner then suddenly locked the room….and I tried to run away, but he grabbed me hard. At first I tried to shout and fight, but then I realized that I would lose my job. So I gave up the fight and reluctantly let him do what he wanted. I was not able to share this story with anyone because I would not only lose my job, but also be socially stigmatized.


According to the concept of Human Security, it is the individuals and not the state that should be the security referent. According to UNDP (1994) school of thought, the idea of human security revolves around two key indicators - physical safety and well-being and dignity of individuals. However, the concept does not take gendered dimensions into analysis which could enrich the concept as a gendered approach will demonstrate how sources of insecurity for individuals vary on the basis of their gender. 

As the preceding section reveals that violence experienced by the refugees are manifold and gendered in nature; it is essential to adopt a gendered analysis of human security to understand how gender-based violence impinges upon the notion of human security. According to the UNDP report 1994, there are seven types of localized security threats: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political.19 As the narratives of the refugees reveal, they are subjected to all the localized threats, some of which have a clear gender dimension

  • The highly patriarchal nature of the Rohingya community causes their women to be economically more vulnerable then men, since in most cases they do not have possess sufficient education or technical skills to be employed. Moreover, their restricted mobility further restricts their scope of earning. 
  • Due to the unhygienic conditions of the refugee camps and lack of sanitation facilities, the women, especially the elderly and the pregnant women are at a high risk of contracting diseases. 
  • With regard to personal, community and political threats, the experiences of refugees are gendered whereby women are more vulnerable than men because the women are subjected to violence within the household, inside the refugee camp and outside the camp as well. 

According to Kusakabe and Akhter (2014), their field study reveals that no male refugee had reported experiences of sexual violence; how-ever, it could be due to the stigma attached to the idea of masculinity whereby the men perceive that acknowledging experiences of sexual violence is a threat to their masculinity. 

Therefore, a gendered approach will enrich the notion of human security by developing an understanding of how the very notion of individual‘s safety and security is gendered in nature. To put it simply, acts of violence against individuals jeopardize an individual‘s security. If violence is gendered, so is security and well-being of individuals.

This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'Gender Based Violence and Subsequent Safety Challenges experienced by Rohingya Women'  in Chapter 3 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.

The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:

  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.

SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.


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