IOM Opens First Women and Girls Safe Space for Host Communities in Cox’s Bazar
TDS News – Nearly three-quarters of married Bangladeshi women have experienced domestic violence in their lives, according to a 2015 study, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the risk. A recent report highlights the rise in gender-based violence (GBV), particularly intimate partner violence, and child protection issues including child labour and child marriage in both Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities.
COVID-19 related mobility restrictions, coupled with a lack of income-generating opportunities, have significantly affected the most vulnerable, particularly single female-headed households, and the pandemic has impacted their safe access to GBV and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services.
In the lead up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) opened its first Women and Girls Safe Space (WGSS) for host communities on Tuesday (02/03), with support from its partner PULSE Bangladesh, and funding from the Office of US. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the Government of Japan.
“This is a space where women and girls can feel physically and emotionally safe and have the freedom to express themselves without fear of judgment from their peers,” said IOM’s Deputy Chief of Mission Manuel Marques Pereira. “We hope that this space will eventually become a women-led multipurpose community centre and evolve depending on the needs of women and girls and the wider community.”
IOM already operates WGSSs in nine refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, providing life-saving information and running awareness-raising and community-level outreach. Close to 260,000 women and girls have been assisted by IOM’s GBV teams via these spaces since the opening of the very first WGSS in 2017.
Situated in the Ratna Palong union in the Ukhia Upazila of Cox’s Bazar district, this latest Safe Space will serve as a place where women and girls can access resources to mitigate and reduce the risks of GBV. The space will also act as a vital entry point for GBV survivors looking to access information on specialized services and referrals to health, legal and protection actors.
IOM and PULSE Bangladesh provide a wide range of services there, including individual case management. Women and girls can also access counseling and psychosocial support, recreational activities, information on health, childcare guidance, legal rights, as well as core humanitarian items.
Many of the women who come to these safe spaces report receiving little to no support at home. By giving them the opportunity to engage with their peers, IOM and its partners aim to reduce their isolation and integrate them into social networks and the community life, ultimately improving their psychosocial well-being.
Furthermore, the centre will focus on skills development and the empowerment of women and girls by conducting a variety of training modules, such as sewing, the production of sanitary pads, gardening or food processing, which will lead to livelihood opportunities.
These first women graduates will ultimately be engaged as peer trainers and support with coaching other host community members. Community volunteers will be trained to conduct community-based awareness-raising activities and referrals, which will further define the curriculum depending on the needs expressed by the women and girls themselves.
Acknowledging that male engagement is key in reducing the risks of GBV, IOM will be piloting in this new space innovative models of programming. This curriculum will include community days for men and boys as well as after-school classes on puberty, GBV and SRH for adolescents.