Having fled persecution in Myanmar, a growing number of women are at risk of harassment and attack in Bangladesh after being deserted by their husbands
Sara Khatun is deeply cynical about marriage. One of many Rohingya women trying to cope alone in the refugee camps of Bangladesh, she was left by her husband and has five children to look after.
Sitting in the bamboo porch of a meeting place, out of the monsoon rains, she relates the serious problems that men cause in the Cox’s Bazar camps. “If I was unmarried I would never get married,” she says.
On top of the trauma caused by gang rapes in Myanmar, and pressure for girls to get married at a young age, a new issue is emerging for women in the camps: abandonment. Those working there report a rising number of husbands simply leaving – either to slip off into the black economy of Bangladesh beyond the Rohingya settlements, or with other women.
The ramshackle and chaotic camps are already beset by violence. Men routinely beat their wives and girls are now forbidden to leave their sweltering huts unless in full burqa, in the hope that it will make them less likely targets for rape.
The problems associated with abandonment are so common, with such grave ramifications, that it is classified as gender-based violence.
Women who do not have husbands are at greater risk of harassment and attack, and have to undertake – single-handedly – a huge number of arduous tasks to help their often large families survive. These include cooking, collecting water, monsoon-proofing their huts, fixing roofs, breastfeeding, chopping and carrying firewood, and collecting rations.
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