Thank You, Deeply

Dear Women & Girls Community,

We are excited to share our plans for the future of women and girls’ coverage at News Deeply.

In January 2018, our Women & Girls page will close as we launch the first of a new set of dedicated platforms that will allow us to dive deeper into the biggest issues affecting women and girls in the developing world.

This first platform – Women’s Advancement Deeply – will cover the pursuit of economic equality for women, from securing gender-equal access to financial services, to fighting for property rights and closing the pay gap.

We’ll also be working to launch other dedicated platforms in this space, and we are currently exploring themes of maternal, sexual and reproductive health, as well as gender-based violence. If these topics are of interest to you, please let us know here – we would love your input as we shape new initiatives.

Our trove of existing Women & Girls coverage will remain available through an archived version of the site, allowing you to explore and reference our published articles dating back to May 2016

Thank you for being part of the Women & Girls community. We look forward to having you join us in our new endeavors in this space.


Lara Setrakian, CEO and Co-founder, News Deeply
Megan Clement, Managing Editor, Women & Girls, News Deeply

Rohingya Women and Girls Fleeing Rape Find Solace in Safe Spaces

In the Rohingya refugee camps of southern Bangladesh, women-only support centers run by volunteers offer a safe space for those who have survived violence during Myanmar’s brutal military campaign.

Written by Katie Arnold Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Women friendly space
The women-friendly space at Shamlapur refugee camp, in southern Bangladesh. At the support center, survivors of gender-based violence can see counselors and psychiatrists for professional treatment or just speak to other women who have had similar experiences. Katie Arnold

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – “The military came in the night and ripped the clothes off young girls aged just 12 or 13 – they touched their bodies right in front of us,” Mahmooda Begum says. She is explaining why she fled her village in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. “Our women and our girls were not safe.”

Begum is one of the 600,000 Rohingya Muslims – more than half of them women and girls – who have arrived in southern Bangladesh since August 25, fleeing a brutal military campaign that the United Nations has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The U.N. says the majority of female refugees have either experienced or witnessed multiple incidents of sexual assault, rape, gang‑rape or murder in Myanmar.

The sprawling refugee camps offer little solace to those suffering from severe trauma – their narrow streets filled with the cries of hungry children and grieving families. But a derelict house on the outskirts of Shamlapur refugee camp, in the Cox’s Bazar district, has become a safe haven for victims of gender-based violence.

Inside the women-friendly space, an inconspicuous building with bare walls, a group of women are huddled around a board game. As the game reaches its climax, they let out a wave of laughter, a rare sound in the camp.

Set up by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the center is run by a team of Rohingya volunteers, including Begum, whose playful attitude draws smiles from even the most timid attendee. When another refugee wants to talk about her horrific experiences in northern Rakhine State, Begum listens, her hand resting comfortingly on the woman’s shoulder.

“I like this work,” Begum tells News Deeply. “There are thousands upon thousands of raped women here … [they] have no other place to go. So when they come here they feel happy.”

The women-friendly space makes counselors and psychotherapists available for anyone who needs professional treatment, but many prefer to share their trauma with fellow refugees.

“We talk to [the women] and ask them what has happened. We listen carefully because they have lost everything in their lives,” Begum says. “It’s really shocking the things we hear and when they tell us these kinds of stories, we feel pain.”

Mahmooda Begum became a volunteer at the support center after fleeing her village in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. (Katie Arnold)

More than half of the incidents of gender-based violence reported to UNFPA are of sexual assault, but centers such as this also support victims of domestic abuse, forced marriage and child marriage.

“When we go [to the women-friendly space] we can laugh, play games, make our children happy, get treatment and talk to the other women sitting with us,” says Amena Khatu, an 18-year-old mother of one.

Like many Rohingya girls, Khatu was forced to marry early to alleviate her family of the financial burden of a daughter. Unable to find a space inside the refugee camps, the young mother now lives with her husband and child in a one-room shack by the side of the road.

“I feel a lot happier and relaxed [at the women-friendly space], that’s why I like going there,” she says.

UNFPA says it has reached more that 10,000 new arrivals at Cox’s Bazar through nine women-friendly spaces, including 900 women who report being targets of gender-based violence. But the true number is estimated to be much higher. Conservative cultural values prevent many survivors of gender-based violence from seeking help, because they are scared that it will bring shame upon their family.

To meet the needs of refugee Rohingya women, UNFPA hopes to raise $13.74 million by the end of February 2018. With three months left to meet that target, the organization has received only 37 percent of that money.

Earlier this year, the United States cut all its funding to UNFPA by invoking the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which prohibits foreign aid to any organization the administration determines is involved in coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization. UNFPA refutes the allegation. In 2016, the U.S. contributed $69 million to UNFPA; now the organization relies on other governments and private donors for future funding.

“One of the issues is that people don’t automatically think about sexual, reproductive or women’s health as being an important aspect of an emergency,” says Veronica Pedrosa, spokeswoman for UNFPA in Bangladesh.

With many donors failing to recognize the importance of psychosocial care, it falls to the Rohingya community to offer survivors of gender-based violence the support they need. And women such as Mahmooda Begum have risen to the challenge.

“Even I don’t feel good when I am alone at home,” Begum says, as the sun sets on another day at the women-friendly space in Shamlapur camp. “But now that I come here regularly, and more and more women are joining, I feel happy.”

This story has been updated to correct the policy the US administration invoked to cut funding to UNFPA. It was the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, not the Mexico City Policy.

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