Women Friendly Spaces - overcoming the suspicion - Bangladesh
Women Friendly Spaces can provide women with much needed respite and support in humanitarian situations. Counselling is offered and information sessions on important issues such as health and hygiene are held. However, community attitudes and suspicion must be overcome before some women can safely join.
In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, CARE has been working to overcome some of these barriers for Rohingya refugees, ensuring the women have somewhere to gather, seek information and find refuge among each other.
Anjumara* and Amena* shared their experience of the Women Friendly Spaces in Cox’s Bazar, and some of the concerns raised by those around them when they began attending.
*Names have been changed.
Early in the operation of the Women Friendly Spaces in Cox’s Bazar, it was common to hear of women and men say that women do ‘bad things’ inside.
Fifty-five year old Anjumara was also concerned about these spaces. Her son had told her that women were taught and did ‘bad things’ inside. However, she remained curious and decided to visit one of the spaces to see for herself what was happening.
To her surprise, she received a wonderful greeting and welcome by staff. She noticed the counsellor talking with other women and sharing stories while children played happily. There was laughter. She even bumped into a relative for the first time since coming to Bangladesh.
Nowadays, Anjumara regularly comes to the Women Friendly Space, and her male relatives have come to accept that the spaces are helpful for women.
“The environment is very different here. It is not true that women do bad things here,” she said.
The journey from Myanmar to Bangladesh was a traumatic one; one that Amena made after losing her son. The trauma experienced before and after the journey to Bangladesh made her daily life in Cox’s Bazar difficult.
When Amena and her family settled in a camp, the men were able to gather together in public spaces and find some comfort in each other’s company, discussing their experiences. However, due to cultural norms, the women could not meet with other women to debrief and discuss matters affecting them. Men were quickly engaged as leaders in camps, but due to strong gendered beliefs, women were deprived of such opportunities. Most women and girls stayed inside their temporary shelters to maintain purdah. They were expected to remain at home and focus on household work and taking care of children and other family members.
Like many women, Amena yearned to have time away from her household work. She also wanted someone she could talk to about her experiences and the daily struggles of camp life.
One day, the Women Friendly Space staff visited Amena’s household, encouraging her to visit one of the spaces. But, like most of the men in the community, Amena’s husband did not permit her to go. Male ‘mobilisers’ persisted in talking to Amena’s husband, encouraging him to understand how being with other women would be beneficial to Amena. These men also explained to Amena’s husband the information shared with women in the Women Friendly Spaces – on topics such as hygiene and women’s health. Eventually, her husband relented and Amena became a regular visitor to the space.
“I felt relief being there for the first time,” she said.
“This [women friendly space] is a shantikana (house of peace) for women like me. Here, I have the space to share my sorrows. People here, especially the counsellors, are welcoming and kind. They are open and willingly listen to my dark experiences, and impart important messages on menstrual hygiene, health and other issues. I like to come here to enjoy myself by playing games, singing and sharing stories with other women.”