Women’s day: A tribute to the falling soldiers, our Rohingya women
By ERC spokesperson Dr. Anita Schug
There are increasing reports on Rohingya and the ongoing genocide and strategic approaches to merciless torture reaching the mainstream media, in addition to many discussions on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The Burmese military is getting more offensive against Rohingya civilians after 09.10.2016 attacks on its 3 border posts. What is most striking is that under a female’s leadership Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Rohingya women and children are increasingly being targeted to nonstop abuse and violence. Increasing numbers of Rohingya women are adversely affected by the ongoing clearance (physical elimination) operations, their sufferings, special needs as women are underestimated and under-reported and sacrifices made by our Rohingya women have largely been unacknowledged and are forgotten as a resultant.
As a very young child I remember being surrounded mostly by Rohingya women and girls. There were hardly few male Rohingya around in Burma. Some turning up before dawn after hard work on the rice or other crop fields or returning from fishing. Some stayed at home for security purposes. It is widely believed that the presence of male members at a house would protect their properties and its female members in their respective homes. Under very limited resources and under the oppressive Burmese government´s policies an ordinary Rohingya family hardly manages one time meal. Because of the instincts and the sacrificing nature of a Rohingya mother, she first serves meal to the male family members and children and then only the remaining or the leftover would be happily shared between her and other female adult family members. Many times, she feeds her children even the remaining left overs while she would more than often go to bed hungry. At the time, I was too young to analyse why and to question this prevalent practice.
Next day women and girls do all the house chores including fetching water, looking after the crop fields, milking their farm cows, gathering and carrying woods and repairing homes, almost everything was done by the adult females who were also fully responsible for rearing their children. Rohingya women were and still are literally doing all the jobs of Rohingya men. Despite of a female’s irreplaceable roles, she is very vulnerable outside her home and very frequently subjected to gender bias and associated violence. Due to extreme poverty and direct government discriminative policies, Rohingya girls and women at times face indirect hideous traditional practices demanded by their communities. Many Rohingya female child faces discrimination and limited access to food, education, privileges and abuse including forced early marriage. Already hit hard by repressive state policies like restriction of movement and denied access to education, sending Rohingya girls to school is not encouraged by many Rohingya families. Thus, there is a high illiteracy rate among Rohingya girls and women which further deepens their economic dependence on their spouses and other male family members. This further chains them to the ongoing vicious cycle of community imposed repression and freedom becomes impossible.
Thus, Rohingya women suffered and continue to suffer under two repressive states namely under central government apartheid policies and other within their own Rohingya and Rakhine community. They continue to suffer gender inequality.
Rohingya men, meant to defend their Rohingya women are forced to flee when the Burmese military raids their villages leaving them vulnerable to all forms of sexual violence and humiliation. In addition to this, Rohingya women are left with their children to survive on their own. Many die of diseases and torture of Rakhine extremist and Burmese military. During the recent clearance operation by Burmese military at least 400 Rohingya women were raped including very young girls. During the physical sexual harassments, they are forced to watch helplessly how their children are killed in front of their own eyes. Also, human trafficking for forced marriages and sex trade have become increasingly thriving businesses. Some girls are impregnated because of rape during their boat journeys, promising them safety. They are held in captivity unless they pay heavy amount as a ransom that is simply not affordable. Many have been abused and have died from brutality imposed in captivity.
Majority of Rohingya community in exile are also not free from poverty. But the situation of Rohingya women diaspora is a bit better in comparison with their sisters in Burma. Many have better access to education but again when it comes to deciding between a son and a daughter to pursue further education, inclination towards the son is observed. This leaves them again dependant on their male family members and the cycle of repression goes on and the apparent situation is hopeless unless changes in attitude and belief are attained.
In health care, Rohingya women are hit the hardest. Rohingya in Myanmar cannot get treated in public clinics and hospitals. The are no trained midwifes for Rohingya women to assist during deliveries. 99 percent of Rohingya women deliver in unsanitary conditions at home and with any pain management. There is a high maternal and fetal mortality and morbidity. Even in exile, Rohingya women have no choice but to remain at home due to remain home due to expensive doctor and hospital bill leaving them with excruciating pain and chronic diseases. Rohingya women are forced to fight two wars; one against the hostile extremist Rakhine and Buddhist community including their own community practices blindly followed for generations and the other against their government for their ethnic rights. Despite of all these dangerous and repressive policies both imposed upon by their neighboring community of different race and their government, these invisible soldiers have shown enormous strength and solidarity to resist and survive. Despite of being raped and forcefully displaced, Rohingya women continue to lead as real architects of our society and we can confidently promise you this much that our steadfastness to survive would remain unshaken.
Today, on international women’s day, we Rohingya women call on the world to show your solidarity for the oppressed Rohingya sisters and daughters in Myanmar. Violence coming from any level can only thrive in silence. Speak up and act to allow little Rohingya girls with dreams to become women of vision.
The government of Myanmar should keenly ensure all the rights of people regardless of race, colour, religion and gender. With it the community aggravated violence and misuse of authority on women would as a result cease to take place.
Video: Special thanks to Dr.Ambia Perveen, Ms. Lili Mbezele
Poem: A Tribute to The Rohingya Rape Victims
By Dr.Yasmin Haroon
With a frown, down you look at me,
Naked and torn you watch me lie,
You can bear me cry I see,
Rather having survived ashes are what I´d rather be,
Wont you calm my fears,
Wont you wipe my streaming tears,
Wont you protect me from accusing stares and disgrace,
Wont you help me face the world so cold,
You are my strength isn’t this what I have always been told?
A promise you gave beside me you’d stand bold.
You teach me to stand for my rights.
Then why have you turned away your sight,
Why have you dimmed your guiding light?
I have been brutally and repeatedly raped,
They had my mouth gagged,
They had my lips taped,
They had my limbs tightly tied,
They had a knife to my throat so I don’t make a sound.
It wasn’t just their lust,
It was also the revenge they had built.
Then how is it that I’m responsible?
You had me believed that you’d be more sensible.
I did no wrong to accept the blame,
To no one I’m a shame.
I faced all alone what had come,
I will continue to do so what will come.
I no longer need you,
I have my hope to a better future as the guiding sun.
Author`s note: The above poem is dedicated to all the Rohingya women to strive in every possible way to make it to another sunrise in the midst of battling all the atrocities surrounding them. I dedicate this poem to my Parents: Mr and Mrs Haroon and my sisters: Dr. Ambia and Dr. Anita.
Happy Women’s Day