11. Meeting the needs of women and girls in the Rohingya crisis

Juliet Whitley
UK Department for International Development (DFID)

Humanitarian responses often do not address the needs of displaced women and girls

Humanitarian responses are too often hindered by fragmentation across sectors. For women and girls, with all their intersecting identities and needs, this can be problematic. Rohingya women and girls in Bangladesh have experienced the trauma of displacement, violence, and physical and social disruption. Refugee camps in Bangladesh expose them to heightened risks, which they must be protected against. They also have ongoing everyday needs that must be met, particularly their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Developing an inter-sectoral approach to meet the needs of women and girls in the Rohingya crisis

The DFID 2018 Strategic Vision for Gender Equality includes pillars on violence against women and girls and sexual and reproductive health and rights, and a cross-cutting theme on conflict and humanitarian crises. The complex needs of women and girls affected by conflict and humanitarian crises cut across donors’ traditional policy areas, and the resulting segmentation of programmes can drive unhelpful responses. To address this challenge, DFID has established a cross-departmental Gender and Crises working group, which draws together individuals leading on a broad range of issues related to women and girls in crisis settings.

This inter-sectoral approach was put into practice in January 2018. A multidisciplinary team was formed to review the UK’s support to women and girls in the Rohingya refugee crisis. The DFID team looked across humanitarian response areas - from gender-based violence (GBV) and protection to sexual and reproductive health, menstrual hygiene management and nutrition - and considered how the UK’s humanitarian response could be adjusted and integrated to better meet the immediate needs of women and girls. The recommendations from the review had a direct impact on decisions about the United Kingdom’s future programming, and were shared widely with other donors and civil society organisations. The DFID review complemented Foreign and Commonwealth Office-led efforts on accountability to survivors of sexual violence and the documentation of abuse. DFID has worked to ensure survivor services are made available to women who have come forward, demonstrating a real cross-government approach. The review is seen by DFID as a best-practice approach to improving outcomes for women and girls affected by crises.

Strong collaboration and strategic timing allowed timely adjustment of interventions

The joint review was commissioned because the plight of women and girls in the Rohingya crisis was so clearly evident on the ground and gained huge global attention. Well-timed, effective collaboration between DFID staff and humanitarian partners enabled the review to inform advocacy and programming decisions by DFID and other donors. Many of the recommendations in the review have been taken on board and implemented. Other areas have experienced less progress due to external factors beyond DFID’s control.

What next? Integrated approaches need to be followed up

Given the protracted nature of the Rohingya humanitarian response, future reviews by DFID or other donors could ensure that funding decisions are well informed and that approaches do not fall back into silos. Review teams could also consider broader inclusion, covering issues such as disability and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual plus (LGBT+) rights.

The cross-sector approach should be adopted more consistently by donors. This would help break down divisions between the humanitarian and development sectors and incentivise our partners to think and work across sectors too.

Greater collaboration within the international system could also ensure consistently effective monitoring of international GBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) guidelines and other standards on gender and inclusion.

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