Rohingya women take a seat at the table & share stories in a growing rights movement


Rohingya women are coming together to feature their own work, plight and stories in mainstream conversations about their community — a space they say they’ve been left out of.

“If we think of revolutions or liberty or think of any ways to liberate ourselves from the shackle of suffering and being dubbed as ‘the most persecuted minority on earth’, women have to be part of it,” Yasmin Ullah, president of the Rohingya Human Rights Network, told IPS.

On Jul. 24, the first ever Rohingya women-only panel, facilitated by Ullah and other organisations, brought together Rohingya women leaders from around the world who shared their experiences and knowledge at the “Her Voices, Her Journey: The Gendered Experiences of Rohingya Women” webinar.

It featured Azizah Noor, a refugee ambassador for the Refugee Council of Australia; Hasnah Hussin,  a refugee advocate who works with refugee support organisation Tenaganita in Malaysia; Razia Sultana, chairperson of the RW Welfare Society; and Zainab Arkani, co-founder of the Rohingya Association Canada.

“There are lots of challenges that Rohingya women face such as gender-based violence, societal and community expectations and these are things we need to address in our community,” Noor told IPS.

The webinar aimed to provide Rohingya women with the agency to tell their own stories and be included in the larger conversation surrounding Rohingya rights, the genocide and refugee crisis. Rohingya women are often not seen at the forefront of advocacy efforts for the community. Ullah said that often Rohingya women were invited to speak only around a certain narrative, or the same woman speaker would be invited to different events and talks.

According to Reliefweb International’s 2018 report, more than 52 percent of Rohingya refugees were women, but that was not reflected in panel talks or rallies for and by Rohingya refugees. 

“Not having a proportionate representation of our voices in different discussions at different tables is just so unjust,” Ullah said.

Moreover, it risks trapping Rohingya women in a constrictive narrative where they are only seen as victims. Ullah said when more women were included in the conversation about the refugee crisis as well as about the trials of Rohingya women, the narrative would eventually shift to also include their triumphs.

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