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IOM: Committee Empowers Rohingya Refugee Women in Pursuit of Aid

FILE - Rohingya refugee women wait outside of a medical center at Jamtoli camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Jan. 22, 2018.

The International Organization for Migration reports some Rohingya refugee women in Cox's Bazar have formed a committee that will enable them to present their concerns and needs to U.N. camp managers directly, without having to go through a man.

More than 100 Rohingya women have formed this first-of-a-kind committee. These women represent only a minuscule fraction of the nearly one million refugees who have fled to Cox's Bazar to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar.

Nevertheless, the committee is seen as a ground-breaking achievement. In Cox's Bazar, as in most refugee settings, men dominate. Women live in the shadows while the male members of their families decide on aid, work, and living priorities.

The International Organization for Migration says this first-ever all-female committee will flip this scenario around. IOM spokesman, Joel Millman said men are not always aware of the issues women consider to be of utmost importance. He said the women in the committee will be able to raise and pursue these issues themselves with U.N. staff who are in a position to help.

"They point out that two of the goals in the near term are to bring concerns of gender violence, improving lighting for example around latrines and places that are often risk centers for sexual harassment and abuse. But, also to discourage or at least to advise people on what IOM is referring to as forced or early child marriage," he said.

Millman said other issues the women are pursuing include health, water, sanitation, hygiene, protection and camp management and development. He said the women also think it unfair that men only are able to participate in Cash for Work programs. They say they too want to work.

He said IOM has heard their call and plans to have these Cash for Work programs equally distributed in the camps between men and women by the end of the year. In the meantime, he said the women have their own ideas for making money and enhancing livelihoods. He said they are planning to make soap and handicrafts at the community center to sell.