Category: Bangladesh

Category: Bangladesh

Why Localized Feminist Humanitarian Action is Essential: Learnings from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

April 27, 2021 by Mallika Iyer

In August 2017, the southeastern Bangladesh coastal town of Cox’s Bazar was irreversibly changed when over 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled the Myanmar military’s genocidal campaign in the Rakhine State. The majority of Rohingya refugees live in 34 extremely congested camps with precarious access to food, health care, education, sanitation, livelihood, and shelter.

Rohingya refugee women and girls, most of whom are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, constitute 52 percent of the camp population. Living within these challenging camp conditions means Rohingya women refugees faced further marginalization due to their restricted mobility, access to information, basic services and limited decision-making power within camp management.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, further impacting on the lives of Rohingya refugees. Although humanitarian actors were able to successfully curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the pandemic intensified existing hardships for the refugees, along with the surrounding host communities in Cox’s Bazar. For example, food insecurity and levels of poverty soared dramatically, with poor food consumption scores rising from 5 to 15 percent in the refugee camps and 3 to 8 percent in host communities, meaning the prevalence of hunger increased significantly during this short period.

For the women of Cox’s Bazar, the pandemic exacerbated an already dire situation as the pervasiveness of sexual and gender-based violence and early, forced, and child marriage significantly increased within the refugee camps and host communities. This alarming uplift in gender-based violence followed a global trend coined by the United Nations as the ‘shadow pandemic’.

The lockdown measures imposed by the Bangladeshi government to mitigate the spread of the virus also disrupted critical gender equality programming in humanitarian interventions. Literacy and numeracy classes for women and girls, income generation activities, relief and recovery services for survivors of gender-based violence, psychosocial counselling, and family planning services have all been paused for over a year. Therefore, the pandemic threatened achievements that have been made in the protection of women’s rights and gender equality.

Conditions, particularly for women and girls, further deteriorated following a massive fire which broke out in Camps 8W, 8E and 9 on March 22, 2021, destroying countless homes, learning centers, women and child friendly spaces, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) facilities.

The pandemic also fueled tensions between Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host communities, exacerbated by long-existing poverty, and unequal access to – and competing demands for – resources and social services. Hate speech and anti-Rohingya rhetoric increased amongst host community members who accused Rohingya refugees of spreading the virus and humanitarian workers of unfairly prioritizing COVID-19 response and recovery operations within the camps.

Within the current context there is an urgent need for localized, feminist humanitarian action which moves beyond meeting basic needs to fostering social cohesion, community resilience, sustainable development, and gender equality. However, current humanitarian interventions do not invest in local women’s groups in Cox’s Bazar, including those led by Rohingya refugee women. Investment in women is essential to strengthen women’s roles as key actors on the frontlines of the crisis and foster a transition to self-reliance.

Most humanitarian decision-making structures remain dominated by international actors and exclusionary to Bangladeshi and Rohingya women and young women peacebuilders and activists. Without the meaningful participation and leadership of women, efforts to address humanitarian crises cannot lead to long-term peace, development and stability or adequately meet the needs of refugee and host community women and girls. Therefore, humanitarian interventions that promote gender equality and invest in the agency and needs of local women and girls are not only necessary—they are urgent and critical.

In 2018, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), in partnership with the local civil society group Jago Nari Unnayon Sangsta (JNUS), young Bangladeshi women from host communities in the Ramu and Ukhiya upazilas (districts) in Cox’s Bazar to advocate for sustainable peace, women’s rights, and gender equality. The young women have since organized themselves as Young Women Leaders for Peace (YWL) and have conducted peacebuilding and humanitarian activities in Cox’s Bazar. For example, they hold age-appropriate literacy and numeracy classes for 180 Rohingya refugee and host community women and girls, who have since been empowered to sign their names on legal documents, read important signs within the refugee camps, and access important information. Through these literacy and numeracy classes, the young women dispel anti-Rohingya rhetoric and create positive dialogues between the refugee and host communities.  In February 2021, following a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the YWL members were able to re-start these classes.

In December 2020, with support from Global Affairs Canada, GNWP and JNUS organized a semi-virtual (see endnote), five-day capacity building Training of Trainers to increase the YWL members’ understanding of the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace, and Security agendas and enhance their peacebuilding and leadership skills. Covering sessions on areas such as leadership, peacebuilding and literacy and numeracy the workshop gave the Young Women Leaders the necessary knowledge and tools to effectively influence decision-making on peace, security, and humanitarian action and hold decision-makers accountable to their obligations under international law.

Shortly after the workshop several Young Women Leaders from the host communities and Cox’s Bazar refugee camps participated in a closed virtual briefing organized by GNWP on the Rohingya Crisis with policymakers from Bangladesh, Canada, Indonesia, and the Netherlands. The briefing created a space for young women peacebuilders from Bangladesh and Myanmar to present their seldom-heard perspectives including the challenges they confront, their priorities and recommendations, for gender-responsive and localized interventions to the Rohingya Crisis.

Notably, this briefing was one of the few spaces which represented all key stakeholder groups in the Rohingya Crisis. The briefing was created in attempt to solicit greater commitment from the international community to pursue accountability for the genocide as well as other atrocities against the Rohingya people including, sexual violence committed against women and girls.

In addition, GNWP has worked with these Young Women Leaders to help them amplify their voices in local, regional, and global humanitarian coordination mechanisms including the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group in Cox’s Bazar, the Global Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action, and the Generation Equality Compact on WPS and Humanitarian Action.

The Young Women Leaders urged effective implementation of Bangladesh’s first National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, with a particularly focus on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis in Cox’s Bazar. The NAP serves as an important tool for responding to the gender dynamics of the refugee crisis; its ensures the meaningful participation of both Rohingya and host community women and young women in peace, security, and humanitarian action decision-making; and the investment in the economic security and relief and recovery services for refugee and host community women and girls.

To share their priorities for NAP implementation with a broader audience, the YWL members contributed recommendations to an advocacy brief published by UN Women, in coordination with GNWP, JNUS, and other civil society groups. Launched to coincide with the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, the policy brief was disseminated to local and national authorities, the Bangladeshi police, civil society, various UN entities, and the diplomatic community. The YWL members also plan to organize community dialogues with traditional and religious leaders and create media campaigns to raise awareness of the NAP and generate broad-based support for its effective implementation. 

The leadership and determination of Cox’s Bazar’s young women leaders serves as a shining example of the kind of localized, feminist humanitarian action that should be recognized, invested in, and amplified by Member States, UN entities, regional and international NGOs, civil society, academia, and private sector organizations. If we want to ensure that we are building back stronger communities and preventing further outbreaks of conflict, it is imperative that women’s voices are heard in conflict resolution. Without a more inclusive, gender-responsive approach to crisis recovery we risk not building a strong enough foundation for a stable and conflict-free future.

Endnote: Following government guidelines on social distancing, the participants, representatives from JNUS, and several Bangladeshi resource persons, convened in a training venue, wearing face masks and strictly observing proper hygiene. GNWP facilitated the workshop virtually.

Youth Leaders Demand Action: Analysis of the Third UN Security Council Resolution on Youth, Peace and Security

Youth Leaders Demand Action: Analysis of the Third UN Security Council Resolution on Youth, Peace and Security

July 17, 2020 by Katrina Leclerc

“Coming from a community where youth continue to experience violence, discrimination, limited political inclusion, and are at the brink of losing trust in the government systems, the adoption of UNSCR 2535 is a breath of hope and life to us. There’s nothing more empowering than being recognized, meaningfully included, supported, and given the agency to help build a present and future where we, the youth, are seen as equals across different decision-making tables.” – Lynrose Jane Genon, Young Woman Leader in the Philippines

On July 14, 2020, the United Nations Security Council adopted its third resolution on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS), co-sponsored by France and the Dominican Republic. Resolution 2535 (2020) aims to accelerate and strengthen the implementation of the YPS resolutions by:

  • institutionalizing the agenda within the UN system and establishing a 2-year reporting mechanism;
  • calling for system-wide protection of youth peacebuilders and activists;
  • emphasizing the urgency of the meaningful participation of youth peacebuilders in decision-making on humanitarian response; and
  • recognizing the synergies between the anniversaries of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (women, peace and security), the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the 5th anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Some of the key strengths of UNSCR 2535 build on the persistent work and advocacy of civil society groups, including the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP). As we welcome the new resolution, we look forward to their effective implementation!

Intersectionality

A highlight of the resolution is that it emphasizes the intersectionality of the YPS agenda and recognizes that youth are not a uniform group, calling for “protection of all youth, particularly young women, refugees and internally displaced youth in armed conflict and post-conflict and their participation in peace processes.” GNWP has been advocating for, and implementing, intersectional approaches to peace and security for over a decade. We believe that to build sustainable peace, it is necessary to address cumulative barriers that different people and groups face based on their gender, sex, race, (dis)ability, social and economic status, and other factors.

Removing barriers to participation

In practice, intersectionality means recognizing and removing barriers to participation in peacebuilding processes – including conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict reconstruction. Such barriers are outlined throughout UNSCR 2535, which calls for comprehensive approaches to peacebuilding and sustaining peace by addressing root causes to conflict.

This is particularly important because structural barriers still limit the participation and capacity of youth, particularly young women. GNWP’s Young Women Leaders (YWL) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) experience first-hand the “insufficient investment in facilitating inclusion.” For example, in the province of North Kivu, young women have created and run micro-businesses for two and a half years providing them with small revenues to sustain their field work and modest personal expenses. Despite the low income of their micro-businesses, and the fact that they invest all profits into initiatives that benefit their communities, local authorities have been imposing seemingly arbitrary ‘taxes’ on the young women – without documentation or justification. This has hindered their capacity for growth and economic development as many have found that these ‘taxes’ were not proportionally adjusted to their small revenue. It has also impeded their ability to reinvest their small profits to support their peacebuilding initiatives.

The recognition by UNSCR 2535 of the complex and multi-layered barriers to youth participation is important to ensure unjust and burdensome practices, imposed to young people and particularly to young women, are eliminated. Supportive systems must be prioritized to ensure the success of local youth initiatives who contribute to the overall progress and good of societies.

Young people and preventing violent extremism

The resolution also recognizes the role of young people in counter-terrorism and preventing violent extremism (PVE). GNWP’s Young Women Leaders for Peace are an example of youth leadership on PVE. In Indonesia, YWL are using education and advocacy to tackle radicalization of young women. In the provinces of Poso and Lamongan, where the YWL operate, they work to prevent and counter violent extremism by addressing the root causes within a human security framework.

Call for WPS and YPS synergies

The resolution calls on Member States to recognize and promote synergies between the Women, Peace and Security (WPS); and Youth, Peace and Security agendas – including the 20th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 (women, peace and security) and the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

Civil society, particularly women and youth peacebuilders, have long called for greater synergies between WPS and YPS agendas as many of the barriers and challenges faced by women and youth are part of the same exclusionary cultures. The discrimination, marginalization and violence girls and young women experience often continue to adulthood, unless enabling conditions are created for their empowerment. On the other hand, girls and young women who have strong support from family, school and other social institutions are better equipped to realize their full potentials as adults.

GNWP has taken this call for stronger synergies between WPS and YPS in the processes around the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) through its advocacy for an Action Coalition on WPS and YPS. This advocacy was recognized by the Core Group of the GEF with the development of the Compact Coalition on Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action within the Beijing+25 review process. While the name of the Compact does not include YPS, the inclusion of young women in decision-making has been highlighted in the Compact’s concept note.

Role of youth in humanitarian response

The resolution recognizes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people as well as the role they take in responding to this health crisis. It calls on policy-makers and stakeholders to guarantee meaningful youth engagement in humanitarian planning and response as essential to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance.

Young people have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic response, providing lifesaving support in local communities gravely affected and vulnerable to the health crisis. For example, GNWP’s Young Women Leaders in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, DRC, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines and South Sudan have been providing relief support and information dissemination to promote safe precautionary measures and counter ‘fake news’ within social media. In the Philippines, YWL have distributed ‘dignity kits’ to local communities to ensure the health and safety of vulnerable individuals and families who have been further isolated by the pandemic.

Protection of young activists and support to survivors

Historically, the resolution recognizes the need to protect the civic space of youth peacebuilders and activists – including the important need for explicit protections of human rights defenders. It also calls on Member States to provide “access to quality education, socio-economic support and skills development such as vocational training, to resume social and economic life” to survivors of armed conflict and survivors of sexual violence.

The experience of the Young Women Leaders in DRC has emphasized both the importance of multi-faceted and survivor-centered response to sexual violence, as well as the key roles of youth peacebuilders in addressing impacts of conflict. The young women peacebuilders are supporting survivors of sexual violence by providing psychological and moral support to survivors. Through awareness-raising and collaboration with local partners on the ground they have begun to shift the narrative from victim to survivor, important progress for the stigmatization and agency of young women. However, speaking out about this sensitive issue can put them at risk – therefore, it is essential to ensure adequate protections for young women activists.

Implementation and accountability mechanism

The UNSCR 2535 is also the most action-oriented of the YPS resolutions. It includes specific encouragement to Member States to develop and implement roadmaps on youth, peace and security – with dedicated and sufficient resources. These resources should be intersectional and realistic. This echoes GNWP’s long-standing advocacy for adequate resources to support peacebuilding led by women, including young women. Far too often, roadmaps and action plans are developed without dedicated budgets, which limits the implementation of the agenda and meaningful participation of young people in sustaining peace. Furthermore, the resolution encourages dedicated funding for youth-led and youth-focused organizations, and emphasizes the institutionalization of the YPS agenda within the UN. This will eliminate additional barriers faced by young people as they are often in precarious work and disadvantaged economically. Young people are expected to provide their skills and experiences as volunteers, which further increases the economic divide and forces many to remain or to live in poverty.

Young people have a role to play in sustaining peace and economic well-being of societies. Thus, it is crucial that they be included in all aspects of design, implementation, and monitoring of economic-focused opportunities and initiatives; especially, now within the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic which has created additional disparities and burdens in the state of the world’s economy. The adoption of UNSCR 2535 is an important step towards guaranteeing that. Now – on to the implementation!


GNWP is having ongoing conversations with Young Women Leaders around the world on the relevance of UNSCR 2535 and other YPS resolutions. This is their views:

“UNSCR2535 is relevant both in our communities and globally because it reinforces the importance of youth’s meaningful participation in creating a just and humane society. Given that our country has passed the Anti-Terrorism Law recently, this resolution can also be a protective mechanism for youth activists engaged in different advocacies such as peacebuilding, protecting human rights and ensuring due process.” – Sophia Dianne Garcia, Young Woman Leader in the Philippines

“Coming from a community where youth continue to experience violence, discrimination, limited political inclusion, and are at the brink of losing trust in the government systems, the adoption of UNSCR 2535 is a breath of hope and life to us. There’s nothing more empowering than being recognized, meaningfully included, supported, and given the agency to help build a present and future where we, the youth, are seen as equals across different decision-making tables.” – Lynrose Jane Genon, Young Woman Leader in the Philippines

“As a worker in the local government unit, I think we need to engage the youth throughout this peacebuilding process. Engaging the youth means recognizing us, as one of the political actors that can influence decisions. And those decisions will affect us eventually. We don’t want to be ignored. And at worst, be wasted. Participation, hence is empowerment. And that’s important.” – Cynth Zephanee Nakila Nietes, Young Woman Leader in the Philippines

“As UNSCR 2535 (2020) does not only recognize the specific situation of young people, but also leverages their role and potential for preventing conflicts, building peaceful and inclusive societies and effectively addressing humanitarian needs. That can be attained by strengthening the role of young peacebuilders, especially women, engaging youth in humanitarian response, inviting youth organizations to brief the Council, and considering the specific situation of youth in the organ’s deliberations and actions that all are needed at this age in everyone’s community.” – Shazia Ahmadi, Young Woman Leader in Afghanistan

“In my opinion, this is very relevant. Because as a member of the younger generation, especially in our region, we want to be able to participate with the guarantee of protection. So, with that, we can also be taken into account in efforts to maintain peace itself even in making decisions and other matters relating to peace and humanity.” – Jeba, Young Woman Leader in Indonesia

Solidarity & Peace Amidst the Pandemic: Young Women Leaders Meet Online for the First-Ever Global Dialogue

Solidarity & Peace Amidst the Pandemic: Young Women Leaders Meet Online for the First-Ever Global Dialogue

April 23, 2020 by Heela Yoon and Katrina Leclerc

Edited by Mavic Cabrera-Balleza and Agnieszka Fal Dutra-Santos

“Afghan women have been fighting for their right to be meaningfully included in the peace process with the Taliban throughout the past 20 years. Today, we are afraid that amidst the COVID-19 crisis, this progress will be lost, and provisions on women rights will be removed from the peace agreement.” This concern, shared by Sadaf Tahib, the Communication Associate of Afghan Women Welfare and Development Association (AWWDA), was echoed by many of over 50 youth peacebuilders from 11 countries, who came together in an online meeting to share their experiences of preventing conflict and violent extremism, building peace, and addressing the COVID-19 outbreak in their communities.

The meeting was organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), with support from NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, on April 15, 2020. It was the first-time members of GNWP’s Young Women Leaders for Peace (YWL) program from Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of Congo, Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Sudan, came together. They were joined by women and youth leaders from Afghanistan, Georgia, Kenya, Lebanon, Myanmar, and Ukraine. By discussing the peace and security problems and the solutions to them amidst the pandemic and despite network connectivity issues, the women and youth peacebuilders sent a powerful message: COVID-19 will not stop us!

The event was also an opportunity to launch the Toolkit and Film for Young Women and Girls on Literacy, Leadership, Economic Empowerment, Media, and Theater. The toolkit and film are evidence-based, context-specific resources for elevating the voices and work of young women in preventing conflict and violent extremism drawn from GNWP’s work. They were developed based on the experiences of young women peacebuilders in Bangladesh and Indonesia, and good practices drawn from GNWP’s work around the world.

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic grows including the aggravated levels of personal anxiety and stress, the women and peacebuilders underscored the need to hold regular discussions and continue supporting each other. Members of the YWL shared their frontline initiatives to reduce the negative impacts of COVID-19 on women and youth peacebuilders. This is showcased in the new podcast ‘GNWP Talks Women, Peace and Security’: Episode 25 on the Young Women Leaders Global Dialogue.

Young women’s frontline leadership

Speaking from Bangladesh, Young Women Leaders Machen Hia and Mathenu Rakhine, shared that they joined the YWL program to “make sure that there is peace and gender equality in [their] community in Cox’s Bazar.” They emphasized that there is still a lot of challenges, and highlighted their contributions to improving the gender sensitivity of humanitarian emergency response to the influx of 1.3 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. They also shared their experience pre-COVID of conducting gender-sensitive, age-appropriate fundamental literacy and numeracy classes to Rohingya refugee and host community women and girls.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Young Women Leaders are workingto prevent, support and counter increased sexualized violence during the pandemic. During the meeting, Emilie Katondolo and Nicole Musimbi, shared that this work includes using media and technology to dismantle and challenge narratives of ‘victims’ to ‘survivors’ of sexual violence, and ensuring accurate and updated information is provided to women and youth across the communities of Eastern DRC. “Through our program, we try to provide women with opportunities to make income, so that they can improve their financial situation and change their life,” said Nicole.

In Indonesia, Young Women Leaders for Peace, conduct community-level advocacy on women’s rights; gender equality; youth, peace and security (YPS); and human security. Prior to COVID-19, young women have held advocacy meetings in their communities and have developed strong relationships with district-level leaders. Nur Aisyah Maullidah, Ilmiyah Maslahatul and Ririn Anggraeni, shared that since the COVID-19 outbreak, the YWL Indonesia have held online English classes to continue their capacity-building amidst the pandemic.

In the Philippines, Young Women Leaders are also at the forefront of COVID-19 response. Sophia Garcia and Lynrose Genon, presented that young women are distributing face masks, disinfectants, and ‘dignity kits’ to ensure that the specific needs of women and girls are met. These kits are prepared by YWL members and distributed to internally displaced women and youth in Sagonsongan Transitional Temporary Shelter in Marawi, a city ravaged by armed conflict between extremist groups and the Philippine Armed Forces.

Speaking from South Sudan, Elizabeth Biniya, a member ofYoung Women Leaders, and Nyuon Susan Sebit, former Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellow at GNWP, discussed their efforts in addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on local populations. The South Sudanese young women leaders are using community radio to raise awareness of domestic violence and the available support for those affected. They also disseminate information on preventive measures such as hand washing and social distancing. Additionally, the South Sudanese Young Women Leaders organize theater performances in Torit, South Sudan to raise awareness on women’s rights, gender equality, and peace and security among local populations.

In today’s complex and interconnected world, it is important to recognize and promote the synergies between the women and peace and security (WPS) and youth and peace and security (YPS) agendas and how they are linked to humanitarian emergencies. This is highlighted during this global COVID-19 pandemic as we see young women peacebuilders who step up and become first responders in their local communities. In doing so, they not only mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis but they also secure the gains of Afghan women and all other women and youth peacebuilders who have been demanding to meaningfully participate in peace processes and all levels of decision-making.

Want to support young women leading on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic? Share and donate here.

GNWP is grateful for the support of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment; and the collaboration of the Asian Muslim Action Network – Indonesia and Jago Nari Unnayon Sangsta – Bangladesh for the production of the Toolkit and Film.

Please see also other articles produced by the GNWP on COVID-19 and the women and peace and security, and youth and peace and security agendas:

Charting a Feminist Present and Future: Young Women for Peace and Leadership Program Recognized by the United Nations Secretary-General in Report to Security Council on UNSCR 2250

From DRC to Indonesia, from Bangladesh to South Sudan, young women defy gender and age stereotypes and act as leaders, peacebuilders and agents of change in their communities. They are first responders in humanitarian crises, prevent recruitment by violent groups by building a culture of peace, and set up small businesses to increase their financial independence and support their families. In the absence of formal mechanisms and opportunities to meaningfully participate in peace processes and social, political and economic life, young women have forged their own avenues to lead peacebuilding efforts and movements for progressive social transformation.