In April 2018 ActionAid and partners adopted the Dhaka Declaration at the International Conference on the Rohingya Refugee Crisis and pledged to uphold its clauses.

Article 14 of the Declaration holds us committed to ‘emphasize the need to constructively build on the strengths of the Rohingya population, particularly women and girls, and engage them as leaders in the design of any future sustainable development solutions in line with the SDGs’. Today on the eve of the one year ‘anniversary’ of this historic exodus and after a year of frenzied humanitarian intervention and advocacy, it is time to take stock of where we stand.

Granted, short-term physical and material needs are being addressed. Humanitarian operations are expanding, camps are abuzz with the ceaseless flurry of activities and Cox’s Bazar is seeing a constant flow of humanitarian traffic. The government, host communities, NGOs, the United Nations and the civil society are tirelessly tending to the task of relieving the plight of the refugees, round the clock. The task at hand is not only overwhelming, but it continues to evolve in new and critical ways. The needs of the population grow, socio-cultural factors pose setbacks, unease is sometimes expressed within the host community, monsoons and winter compound the problems in the camps, and humanitarian actors grapple with seasonal factors, disease outbreaks, security concerns, staff capacity and bureaucratic constraints. Despite these challenges, their dedication is incredibly inspiring. The generosity of the responders reassures us that there is hope yet for humanity.

ActionAid has adopted a women-centered and women-led emergency response from the outset. In collaboration with development partners – IOM, DEC, UN Women and Ministry of Women and Children Affairs jointly, UNICEF and ActionAid International, we built women-friendly and child- corner and child-friendly spaces  where we received capacity building support ChildFund Australia, and set up referral systems to address incidents Gender Based Violence, counseling and awareness sessions (supported by Penny Appeal, UK ) for psychosocial issues and support systems for prevention of violence of women and other harmful practices. WFP is supporting for livelihood training, especially for women and adolescents. But we know that this is a drop in the ocean.

The momentous question is how to ensure long-term success? Formulate sustainable solutions? I believe the key lies in these exact words ‘building on their strengths’ and ‘particularly women’. There is not a single case in human history where a population has been able to shape their destiny without taking the cause into their own hands. It is time for us to shift to a more proactive approach and away from the largely reactive way of providing relief to an immediate crisis. This is a protracted situation now and the only way to move forward towards a better future for this community is to help them, particularly the women, take the lead. As we are poised to enter the second year, let us resolve to re-assess and re-calibrate our methods. Let us create permanent, appropriate spaces for the women and girls to safely and freely articulate their needs and to explore their leadership strengths.  Let us responsibly support those needs with education, information and training, let us work to make the men, women and families sensitized and equally engaged partners in this process. 

Finally, let us share their voices and achievements with wider audiences. If this can be done, empowerment will be spontaneous and community-driven, and we will have accomplished all we can.

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