International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Posted on: November 25, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

“Listening is very important and then understanding the messages that come out of that.” 

Heba, a humanitarian workers from Jordan

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

The United Nations has designated November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In this age of COVID-19, the UN calls gender based violence (GBV) the “Shadow Pandemic”. Though gender based violence is as old as humanity, change can happen through actions -big and small- at both the personal and organizational level.

I have talked with humanitarians in various places around the world and each has observed this distressing pattern. As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, so does GBV.

Zooming in to Kurdistan
I was honored to contribute today to a Zoom conference jointly organized by the Kurdish Regional Government, the Ministry of Culture, and the Youth Department of Gender Equity. Along with one of my students, Megan Casner, I presented in a session addressing the topic “Violence via Social Media.”

As part of our preparation I reached out to a my Rohingya contacts. Listen to the words of one young Rohingya woman.

“I am a Rohingya refugee living in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. After fleeing to Bangladesh in 2017, gender based violence, domestic violence, child marriage, forced marriage, abortion, physical violence, divorce cases and traffickings have increased in refugee camp.

As you know, we are living in over crowded shelters. We have to share a bathroom and a latrine with five to ten families. There are male and female separate bathrooms and latrines but women and girls are not safe at night. They often experience sexual abuses, molestation and verbal abuses while going to latrines.

Most of the women and girls shy to speak out about their assaults and the cycle of violence continues. Rohingya women and girls who work at NGOs and INGOs often face verbal abuses, bullying and mocking in the streets from fellow Rohingya men. Community members also criticize them for working outdoors.

Shelters are very close to each other, and girls are not safe. So many parents arrange early marriage of their daughters to save their dignity. Most of the parents don’t ask the will of daughters. They don’t think it is important although young women have the right to get married ‘only with their free and full consent according to Islam’. Even this right is being violated. According to Islam, dowry is ‘haram’, illegal, but dowry system became a tradition in Rohingya society. There are many parents who can’t manage to pay dowry for their daughters. These kind of girls marry married men. Men are marrying two or three wives and domestic violence and divorce cases increase. Some girls choose to go to other countries. In this way, they get into traffickers hands where they have to face sexual abuses.

It is a sad reality that many parents think girls need not to be educated and girls are not allowed to go out to work. Girls lose their rights to education. They are dependent and only housewives. They don’t have any knowledge about their rights. They silently face all kinds of abuses.

There are GBV spaces in every block, and they raise awareness about GBV. But this is not enough. It is important to have further training and raising awareness of UNHCR staff regarding SGBV, gender inequality and discrimination and to develop close cooperation with governments and different organizations to improve prevention and response to SGBV. The most important thing is that there should be a legal team who will help the victims and give them protection.

Girls should be given a special priority to education. In the case of sexual assault, it is important to react properly and enable access to justice, legal remedies and reparation. It is very serious issue. Women and girls must be saved from cruel, inhuman and degrading gender based violence. Rohingya women are vulnerable, helpless and voiceless. So please raise your voice to end this assaults. Thank you.”


Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He recently published his second and third books related to the humanitarians sector with 'Confronting Toxic Othering' published in 2021 and 'Dispatches from the Margins of the Humanitarian Sector' in 2022. A revised second edition of 'Confronting Toxic Othering' is now available from Kendall Hunt Publishers

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