Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and the Humanitarian Response: The Case of Rohingya Refugee Women in Bangladesh

Author: Ena Tripura

Tripura, Ena, 2022 Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and the Humanitarian Response: The Case of Rohingya Refugee Women in Bangladesh, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) grows acute in the context of displacement and refugee situations. In recent times, SGBV against women has received unprecedented attention in humanitarian discourse, with humanitarian organisations such as United Nations (UN) agencies adopting several legal and policy instruments and interventions to address the issue. Despite this, SGBV against women remains a significant problem in contemporary refugee camps and among the most vulnerable refugee communities. This thesis investigates the roles and responses of UN agencies and their partner non-government organisations (NGOs) in addressing SGBV against refugee women in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh. The study fills a gap in existing research by examining how SGBV against refugee women has been constructed, represented, and addressed in the literature, in the legal instruments, and by the frontline humanitarian actors working in Cox’s Bazar camps in Bangladesh. The study involves an analysis of policy documents and semi-structured interviews with the Rohingya refugees and humanitarian actors. Theoretically, the study is informed by post-structural feminist thinking, particularly by Carol Bacchi’s “what’s the problem represented to be?” approach. This theoretical perspective allows the thesis to critically capture and challenge the ways SGBV is constructed and addressed in policies and practices.

The thesis finds that there is no uniform interpretation of SGBV in legal instruments. Different legal instruments have identified the issue differently and offer multiple solutions. No single legal instrument addresses the issue adequately, although these legal instruments collectively provide adequate guidelines for humanitarian actors. As SGBV is one of the major policy concerns in the humanitarian field, humanitarian organisations have made multiple GBV interventions to address the issue in Cox’s Bazar Rohingya refugee context. However, these interventions are not positively viewed by the Rohingya refugee women as they cannot fully realise the benefits of the interventions. Humanitarian organisations’ efforts to address SGBV are significantly compromised by a series of factors: an inadequate understanding of the issue by the frontline humanitarian actors, donor-driven and top-down humanitarian interventions, encampment and mobility restrictions, the bureaucratic complexity of humanitarian response mechanisms, and mistrust between the humanitarian actors and the refugees. Based on the findings, this study suggests that the design of future SGBV interventions must be informed by a context-specific study. Also, SGBV against refugee women should not be seen as an issue that could be addressed through top-down and stand-alone gender-focused interventions, but as one that requires changing the humanitarian response mechanism with the active participation of the refugee women.

Keywords: Rohingya, Refugee Women, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Humanitarian Response

Subject: Development Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Susanne Schech