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AHP Bangladesh Consortium in Humanitarian Response: AHP Field Story - From stigma to support for women with disability in Cox’s Bazar

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Author: Shahida Amin Prianka

Through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership’s Bangladesh response, World Vision’s Women and Girls Safe Space and People’s Corner offer skills development opportunities coupled with psychosocial support for Rohingya people displaced from Myanmar, with a particular focus on reducing gender-based violence. “The project creates a safe space for the development of women and adolescent girls in the camps by prioritising their needs and targeting practical issues to address gender-based violence and support people with disabilities,” said project focal point Elias Murmu.

Many gender-based violence services in the camps at Cox’s Bazar have been curtailed due to COVID-19 restrictions. In response, AHP partners such as World Vision have increased their outreach activities through volunteers and facilitators to reach vulnerable women in their homes as well as at the Safe Space.

These visits are a lifeline for many women, particularly those with disabilities, who may be socially isolated.

For Somira, life with a physical disability, coupled with social stigma, had impacted her confidence and freedoms. After a fall from a coconut tree in childhood, Somira’s right hand became non-functional. Her family viewed her as a financial burden due to her disability, treated her with neglect, and limited her opportunities to go outside the home. On the rare occasions she would go out, she often faced harassment and teasing. All this led to Somira feeling depressed and helpless.

When Somira learned from a volunteer about the opportunity to participate in activities at the Safe Space and to learn new skills, she expressed her interest in getting involved, but was also fearful about leaving her home to attend the centre.

The volunteer arranged for a World Vision staff member to visit Somira and provide psychosocial support. Somira said she had goals to become more active, to be able to do something for herself and to help her family, and to live like other 22-year-olds.

As Somira still did not feel ready to attend activities in person, World Vision staff visited her at home three days each week to teach her handicraft and sewing skills, setting her homework for the other days of the week. Somira now has the skills to produce handmade fans, pillowcases, tablecloths, and traditional embroidered quilts (nakshi-kantha). "Learning how to make these handicrafts benefited me,” Somira said. “I can earn money by selling them. I used to think that I have to remain dependent on others for the rest of my life. Now I can earn on my own.”

Somira says she hopes to earn enough to buy a sewing machine, to save some money and help her family. “Now no one despises me, even though I don't have a hand, because like others I can do something for myself and my family. Though not with a big amount, now I can support my family financially.” Somira’s story is not unique in the camps, said Shahida Amin, Gender-Based Violence Coordinator with World Vision. “But one story alone cannot describe how people, especially women and women with disability, are living here. In a small place, lots of dreams are confined inside houses when society and social norms stifle the independence of a woman,” Shahida said. “We, as service providers, prevent gender-based violence [GBV] through different capacitybuilding activities that create independent women in the most vulnerable Rohingya communities, with the aim of creating a GBV-free society.” However achieving shifts in gender norms and disability inclusion takes time, Shahida added. “We are observing remarkable changes in society. But we need to continue our work. It’s not possible to change society in a year. We need to mobilise more to reach all the communities.” The Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) Bangladesh response is implemented by a consortium of all six AHP NGOs and their local partners. The current phase continues until June 2023.