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Refugees and migration

Responding to the threat of gender-based violence in refugee settings

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Close to one million Rohingya people live in the impoverished, overcrowded refugee camps of Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. They receive assistance to meet their basic needs but life in the camps is arduous. As The Elders mark the annual global campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, this photo essay provided by All We Can highlights some of the particular challenges faced by women in the camps.


This photo essay tells the story of Arofa*, who fled Myanmar after witnessing violence in her village in 2017. While she does not feel safe to return home, she worries daily about the risks she faces as a young single mother bringing up her daughter alone in the refugee camp. Every day she attends a women-only ‘safe space’ in her section of the camp to learn about ways she can protect herself, to access counselling in response to violence she has experienced in the past, and to connect with other women as she is vulnerable and alone in the camp setting.

*Arofa is a pseudonym and her location within the Cox’s Bazar camps is not revealed to protect her identity

In the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, one in six1 Rohingya families is headed by a single mother like Arofa. Although safe from the violence to which so many were subjected in Myanmar, Rohingya women continue to face huge protection risks in Bangladesh.


Women like Arofa have had to take on social and cultural roles that break some of the gender norms they were accustomed to in Myanmar. They also live in cramped, crowded conditions where security and privacy is difficult to maintain.


Arofa accessed help, protection and guidance from a women’s ‘safe space’ in the camp she is living in. This provided her not only with a physical location to seek safety, but also helped build a network of women around her she could rely on for emotional support and practical assistance as a young mother on her own.


Rem supports women like Arofa accessing a safe-space in a different section of the camp. She supports them through workshops, 1:1 counselling and helping connect them with vital services.


There are many contributing factors to issues faced by women living in refugee camps. The limitations imposed by camps and experienced within them, the hierarchical procedures, and the physical environment can all play a role in exacerbating the risks of gender-based violence. Having a number of different response strategies is important in addressing these risks.


At present, community decision making in the camps rests in the hands of a small number of men, yet women’s traditional roles as carers and providers for families is vitally important. Women and girls’ groups and safe-spaces are one response to the threat of gender-based violence. By providing spaces where women and girls feel comfortable and able to share their challenges it is also easier to identify women that need more support, legal assistance or specific protection.



All We Can has supported Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar since 2017, and continues to work in the camps to meet humanitarian needs. All We Can is committed to seeking gender justice across all aspects of its work – from its responses to protracted crises and humanitarian emergencies, to long term development work as well.

All We Can is an international relief and development charity. It works through partnerships with those most impacted by disasters, poverty and injustice to enable flourishing and resilient communities. All We Can’s vision is a world where every person’s potential is fulfilled.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Elders or The Elders Foundation

Cover photo: All We Can

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