* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.Gaps in protections increase the vulnerability of women with limited mobility and economic means
Last May, on my first
"She is 12-years-old. He is 50. We know where she is, her family wants her back," he spoke into one cell phone. He translated the answer he received to another phone. A few minutes later, he hung up both phones, sighing.
"The man took her as his second wife. We know where she is but we can’t go get her," he said. "He is Bangladeshi and we are Rohingya." He had been talking to his contact at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the agency in charge of the approximately 200,000 "unofficial" Rohingya refugees and new arrivals living in makeshift camps last
Gaps in protections increase the vulnerability of women with limited mobility and economic means. Women are not inherently vulnerable, they have survived years of violence, suppression, and environmental catastrophes in both Myanmar and Bangladesh. With access to basic resources, such as stable livelihoods and reliable health care, women are resilient. Female refugee populations’ vulnerability is created by state-centered relationships among governments and agencies, relationships that often leave the needs of women and girls last.
Along with Bangladeshi women and girls, Rohingya women and girls have been sold into sex trafficking around Cox’s Bazar for years, a forced "livelihood" that many women and girls endure
Pregnant refugee women are in a uniquely precarious situation because they have limited access to medical care since the Bangladeshi government has forbidden aid agencies to work in camps after 5 pm, leaving women to deal with high-risk births on their own during the night. Experienced Rohingya midwives have been attending home births, but the overcrowded camp environment with its poor sanitation facilities, low-lying regions prone to floods and mudslides, and lack of mobility in case of an emergency, put mothers and babies at risk. Within this pregnant population, there is another set of women and girls who are in an even more precarious state: those who became pregnant as a result of the brutal systemic rape campaigns by the Myanmar military in August. Agencies say they are concerned for newborns conceived through military rape who will look physically different from the population around them. These babies will be born to mothers suffering from severe trauma and won’t have biological connections to males within the camp, further restricting the economic options of both mom and baby.
As for the 12-year-old girl who was kidnapped last May - divided from her family by an invisible yet powerful barrier of rightlessness - she still has not been returned to her family as of March 2018.
Yasmin Khan is a doctoral candidate in human geography and women and gender studies at the University of Toronto.