Rohingya Crisis: GBV Policy and Advocacy Task Team Inter-agency Briefing Paper

The Policy and Advocacy Task Team of the Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility (GBV AoR)[1] recognizes the continuing generosity of the Government and people of Bangladesh in keeping their borders open to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict and violence in Myanmar.

The GBV AoR, in support of the Bangladesh GBV Sub-Sector, calls upon donors and states to:

  • Release funds immediately to cover Gender-based Violence (GBV) needs for at least one year. The GBV needs of this crisis are too large and too complex to be responded to with smaller, short-term funding. The Response Plan estimates that the funding required to meet the affected population’s needs currently stands at US$434,000,000, with $13,400,000 requested by the GBV Sub-sector to meet humanitarian need until February 2018 alone. Further, the Response Plan estimates that there are currently at least 448,000 people [2] in need under the GBV sector – 92% of whom are female, and 58% are under the age of 18.[3]

  • Work with the Bangladesh government to ensure that humanitarian space and access is secured and that clearance for agencies to provide humanitarian assistance is granted swiftly for new partners.

  • Use the 2015 Interagency GBV Guidelines and the 2006 Gender Handbook in Humanitarian Action as a criteria on which the release of all humanitarian funding is based. Agencies failing to meet these minimum standards of humanitarian action should not receive funding in line with the humanitarian principle of do-no-harm. Donor assistance is requested by the GBV AoR in requiring that the above guidelines are incorporated into humanitarian agencies’ response plans and strategies.

  • Immediately fund: (1) the expansion of scaled-up life-saving interventions, in particular clinical management of rape survivors, using mobile and facility based approaches in existing settlements and establishment of these services in new settlements; (2) integrated sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence response services for survivors; (3) interventions which seek to mitigate risk and support a protective environment through mainstreaming approaches in other sectors; (4) Safe Space Centres for women and adolescent girls which provide case management and other psychosocial support programming.

  • Put in place funding mechanisms to support interventions which prevent and respond to intimate partner violence and child, early and forced marriage.



The Rohingya represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine State. The 2014 Myanmar census did not include the Rohingya population as a category, which makes it extremely difficult to understand the sex and age disaggregation of the population. However, we do know that in 2016 the Rohingya population inside Rakhine state was around 1 million.

Since violence erupted in North Rakhine, Myanmar, on 25th August, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled into Bangladesh. As of 11th October 2017, the cumulative number of newarrivals in all sites of Ukiah, Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar and Ramu was 536,000. The total Rohingya population in Bangladesh is now estimated to be approximately 800,000. The IOM Needs and Population Monitoring Report of 21st September reported a 53% female:47% male split [4] in the 23 displacement sites in Cox’s Bazar surveyed. However, a comprehensive registration system has not yet been implemented and anecdotal evidence suggests that in many of the settlements, the proportion of females to males it much higher.[5] Further, there are reports that 12% of households are female-headed.[6] The number of new arrivals to Bangladesh is likely to increase as people continue to cross the border and additional groups of new arrivals are identified.

Gender-based Violence prior to the most recent crisis

By understanding and contextualizing GBV prior to the most recent crisis, we are able to better understand and prepare for trends in GBV perpetration as the current crisis develops.

For decades evidence of sexual violence perpetrated against the Rohingya in Rakhine State have emerged,[7] but incidents have rarely been reported to authorities and even more rarely have survivors received access to justice.

Intimate partner violence was present within the Rohingya community prior to this humanitarian crisis  taking place.[8] This was exacerbated by long-term displacement and a lack of livelihoods.

Sexual exploitation and abuse by lenders/landowners, engagement in risky economic sectors (domestic work/farm labour), and targeting women for inclusion in drug/sex trafficking all exist in the backdrop to this crisis. Anecdotally, there has been an acknowledgement that survival sex was prevalent prior to the most recent crisis with self-appointed community leaders amongst the perpetrators. Women were disproportionately affected by this.

Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh has hosted Rohingya refugees since the late 1970’s, with the Rohingya crossing the border during different times of crisis. This earlier displaced population has either settled in the host community or in cluster settlements. Intimate partner violence was reported (in 2016) to have been the most prevalent form of GBV, whilst sexual harassment was reportedly perpetrated by the host population against women and girls – especially whilst they were out collecting water.[9]

A recent assessment carried out by CARE Bangladesh revealed that the majority of women and girls in the camps aged between 13 and 20 years already had children and/or were currently pregnant. This suggests that child marriage may be taking place within the community prior to this crisis. There is also ample academic and I/NGO evidence available which demonstrates that child, early and forced marriage is commonplace amongst the Rohingya population.[10] In addition, a UNHCR report shows that more than half of Rohingya girls who have fled Myanmar since 2012, married prior to the age of 18,[11] we therefore know that in times of crisis, the Rohingya population have previously engaged in child marriage as a negative coping mechanism and mitigation of this is needed in this crisis. The health consequencesof child marriage can be disastrous: pregnancy and childbirth complications are the second leading cause of death among 15 to 19 year olds globally,[12] and the health risks are even more acute in humanitarian contexts.

Gender-based Violence as part of the current crisis

The GBV AoR and its members are deeply concerned about the reports of sexual violence that have taken place against women and girls in Myanmar.13 14 Reports of cases of sexual violence continue to be high. herehavealsobeenwidespreadreportsfromserviceprovidersandfromfocusdiscussion groups

conducted by a number of agencies, of multiple-perpetrator rape and sexual assault. Girls as young as 5- years of age have been reported to have been raped – often in front of their relatives. There are reports of rapes being extremely violent, with sexual violence accompanied by mutilation of the body and the face.15 There are reports of pregnant women being attacked and their fetuses removed from their bodies.16

According to a Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) completed by CARE Bangladesh,17 from the 25th of August, there was a marked increase in gender-based violence, there had been a steady increase inboth frequency and severity over the last two years – perpetrated by both community members and armed actors. Rape and gang rape were so frequent in the last two years that every respondent who participated in CARE Bangladesh’s assessment reported that they had a family member or neighbor who survived or who had died as a result of rape.

Many women and adolescent girls reported having given birth to children conceived as a result of rape. Many women and adolescent girls have also reported that they have independently sought abortions since arriving in Bangladesh. According to community leaders and interviews with women and girls, every woman and girl in one camp (approximately 65% members of 25,000 families) is either a survivor or an eye- witness of multiple incidences of sexual assault, rape, gang-rape, murder through mutilation or burning alive of a close family member or neighbor.18 When women compare their situation in settlements to those in Myanmar, they report that they do not have any security concern in the camp and feel relatively safe. Nevertheless, there have been reports of rape within the camps which were shared during focus group discussions and during key informant interviews. These incidents of sexual violence often go unreported to police and are dealt with by the community. It should be noted that although some women report feeling safer than they did prior to and during displacement, the settlement areas and pre-existing camps havevery few and largely overwhelmed protective mechanisms. Minimum standards outlined in the SPHERE guidelines and in the 2015 Interagency GBV guidelines are not being met – making these locations extremely unsafe places for women and girls. Overall, there is a perception that women and girls are less likely to be targeted here for systematic rape and/or torture – however, the protection threats which exist in all crises and displacement contexts are still very much present.

The most commonly reported needs within the four most affected Upazilas19 in Cox’s Bazar were money (73%), household goods and non-food items (61%) and food (52%). Over 3/4 of the surveyed population rely on harmful coping mechanisms in relation to food, including opting for less preferred and less expensive foods (90%), reducing number of meals eaten in a day (69%), and restricting consumption by adults in order for small children to eat (68%).20 In addition, food consumption scores are extremely poor. The Response Plan has highlighted that both human trafficking and survival sex are also taking place during flight, and we should assume that this is also occurring in settlement areas – particularly in light of the current level of food insecurity.21 Awareness around the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse is a particularly important area of concern given the current conditions.

Crowded living in spontaneous settlements and in ad-hoc collective centres have meant that women and girls do not have access to safe, lockable, well-lit, centrally located latrines. Nearly one-third of families surveyed reported open defecation – increasing risk to GBV. Further, the overcrowded nature of the response has meant that women and girls are unable to access private space to change clothes, bathe or sleep – seriously impeding their dignity and their safety. A lack of menstrual management materials in addition to a lack of dignified space restricts women’s and girls’ movement thereby increasing isolation and further increasing risk to GBV. This restriction on movement inside the camps also limits women’s and girls’ ability to access GBV response services or other humanitarian aid. Harassment of women at distribution points,  child  early  and  forced  marriage,  forced  engagement  in  the  drug  and  sex  trade,  and sexual exploitation from lenders and landowners continue to be pervasive.22 A lack of legal status has impeded the ability of survivors of GBV (in its multiple forms) to access formal justice, as reporting acts of violence (or any crime) could lead to arrest and detention under the Foreigners’ Act.

General recommendations:

Many of the following actions are already being delivered or are being set up by humanitarian actors on the ground. However, the AoR urges the humanitarian community to prioritise the following recommendations and for donors to support this.


  • There is a need to strengthen the existing coordination mechanism: to ensure safe access to services, referral pathway development and promotion, the implementation of safe and ethical practices for data collection and information management. In addition, a fully funded coordination mechanism will: (1) develop inter-agency SOPs that clarify roles and responsibilities for GBV prevention and response; (2) establish a referral pathway to promote survivor’s access to services; (3) mainstream GBV risk mitigation and survivor support across all humanitarian sectors in line with globally endorsed IASC GBV guidelines – including, most urgently in the CCCM, WASH, Shelter and Food Security sectors.

  • The UN and NGOs should immediately implement a coordinated sexual exploitation and abuse reporting and assistance mechanism: reporting and the promotion of the system (as with all other accountability systems and information provision) should be cognizant of the low literacy rate, particularly for women and girls, amongst the population. The set-up and roll out of this coordinated mechanism is to be accompanied by training to all humanitarian actors.

  • There is a particularly strong need to ensure that women and adolescent girls are involved in leading the humanitarian response in all sectors: women and adolescent girls are always in situations of the greatest vulnerability in any humanitarian crisis, however, this crisis is particularly sexually violent and there is an even greater need to ensure that women and adolescent girls take on leadership positions and that grass-roots women’s rights organizations are not only engaged on the periphery, but also encouraged and funded to deliver GBV response and prevention programming.

  • The humanitarian community should remain vigilant not to reinforce, or to exacerbate, gender inequality in its response and to engage women and girls in the design and delivery of aid.

  • Ensure that the host population are engaged and involved in coordination: this will serve to strengthen integration, and ameliorate tensions across communities.


  • Prevention and response should be prioritized in the camps now and for the long-term: all forms of GBV occur and increase during displacement and camp contexts. Psychosocial and higher-level mental health programming is highly encouraged.

  • Family planning, SRHR and GBV health responses should be immediately integrated: the provision of menstrual regulation with medicine (MRM)23 is legal in Bangladesh and given that 25% to 50% of maternal mortalities in emergencies result from unsafe abortion,24 this preventative method, along with the delivery of the sexual and reproductive health Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) and emergency obstetric care (EMOC) is vital and should be prioritized for funding.

  • The provision of information to the community on the health and social impacts of child marriage accompanied by the provision of economic alternatives should be developed and implemented within the next month: there is already evidence of child, early and forced marriage and it is likely that the practice will increase for a number of reasons including economic drivers and a misunderstanding of marriage as a means of protection. Early, targeted, information provision is important and should begin in the coming weeks. This should accompany the provision of information on GBV services (health, psychosocial and legal responses in particular) and on where to find safe spaces for women and girls. This programming should be accompanied by cash interventions (where appropriate), livelihoods opportunities (where appropriate) and other income generation opportunities which target families with women and girls who may be at risk of child, early and forced marriage.

  • Interventions should be immediately implemented which specifically target the prevention, mitigation and response to intimate partner violence: intimate partner violence is a major concern and its incidence is highly likely to increase.


The GBV AoR encourages actors with experience and technical specialisms in GBV to engage in responding to this crisis: the needs are too great for current actors to be able to meet alone.

This document is endorsed by the following agencies, currently responding to the crisis in Bangladesh: CARE International; Christian Aid, DanChurchAid; International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF); International Rescue Committee (IRC); International Organisation for Migration (IOM); Norwegian Church Aid (NCA); Plan International; Refugees International; Save the Children; UNHCR; UNFPA; UNICEF; and Water Aid.

This document is endorsed by the following agencies, in solidarity: ABAAD; International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW); Mercy Corps; The University of Botswana; and Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC).

1 The Cluster Approach has not been activated in Bangladesh, but a sector-based approach with an Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) is currently in place to allow the humanitarian community to work together to develop and deliver strategic objectives, maximize the use of
resources and avoid duplication. Sectors liaise with relevant Government counterparts. The GBV Sub-Sector is led by UNFPA.
2 448,000 people are in need of: specialised case management services for GBV survivors, community-led GBV risk mitigation, and psychosocial support and enrichment activities for women and girls intended to improve help-seeking behaviour and access to life-saving services.
3 This figure covers both response and prevention.
4 IOM., Needs and Population Monitoring, 21st Sept 2017
5 CARE Bangladesh, Rapid Gender Analysis, October 2017 (Unpublished)
6 IOM., Needs and Population Monitoring, 21st Sept 2017
7 Supported by academic literature, UN OHCHR reports, anecdotal evidence from earlier refugees and current refugees
8 Murray, R., Strategies for Improving the Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in Burma, 2016
9 Islam, F., Khan, M., Ueda, M., Awal Chowdhury, N., Chowdhury, S., Delem, M. and Rahman, A. (2016). 724 Situation of sexual and gender
based violence among The Rohingya migrants residing in Bangladesh. Injury Prevention, 22 (Suppl 2), pp.A260.1-A260.
10 See for example: become-child-brides-in-malaysia-idUSKBN15U009
11 UNHCR, Mixed-movements in South East Asia, 2016–%20April%202017_0.pdf
12 WHO, Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative, 2014
13 Ekin, A. (2017). Rohingya refugees share stories of sexual violence. [online] Available at:[Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].
14 UN News Service Section. (2017). UN News – Horrific accounts of sexual violence against Rohingya ‘just tip of the iceberg’ – UN agency. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].
15 Mission report of OHCHR rapid response mission to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (13-24 September, 2017)
16 Mission report of OHCHR rapid response mission to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (13-24 September, 2017)
17 CARE Bangladesh, Rapid Gender Analysis, October 2017 (Unpublished)
18 CARE Bangladesh, Rapid Gender Analysis, October 2017 (Unpublished)
19 a geographical region in Bangladesh used for administrative or other purposes. They function as sub-units of districts.
20 International Rescue Committee, Relief International., (Oct 2017) October 2017 Assessment Report: Undocumented Myanmar Nationals Influx to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
21 Response Plan, 2017
22 Response Plan, 2017
23 Menstrual regulation with medication (MRM) is the use of one or more medications to establish non-pregnancy. The most effective MRM method is the combined use of mifepristone and misoprostol. Where mifepristone is not available, misoprostol used on its own is also considered a safe and effective MRM method. Misoprostol is endorsed by the WHO for treatment of incomplete abortion. MRM is legal in Bangladesh.
24 International Rescue Committee (2015). Impossible Nowhere. 1st ed. [ebook] New York: IRC. Available at: