A lot of my work in Cox’s bazar focused on understanding and finding ways to prevent Gender Based Violence. I read reports on this issue as well as had multiple conversations with men, women, boys and girls around violence against women. I found the level to which women had internalized violence to be shocking. Women considered it to be completely appropriate for their husbands and fathers to beat them in order to ‘discipline them’.
I also realized the power that language and words have on our understanding of society and our lives. The Rohingya language is not a written language but a spoken dialect. The translators I was working with found it hard to translate words like ‘sexual violence’ because these words seem to have not existed in the Rohingya language. This made me wonder the level of victimization of Rohingya women if words describing their plight hadn’t even been invented in their language.
My interactions with women who had internalized violence left me feeling extremely sad and disheartened. I wrote the following few lines to express what I was feeling:
Victim I’ve always hated that word Makes you feel so weak So powerless And its amazing, how when I say victim I immediately picture a woman A woman in a sari Sad, violated and beaten
But today I realized another form of victimization Met an even scarier form of a victim Its she who doesn’t even know that she’s a victim She’s internalized it all Internalized patriarchy so much That to her, a man can treat his wife anyway Use her when he pleases Kick her when he doesn’t Words like marital rape, intimate partner violence do not exist in her vocabulary If these are words that don’t even exist in her language Words that were considered so insignificant, that they weren’t even created in her language Then how can she ever understand their context, their meaning
She will tell you she was a child bride Married off at the mere age of 13 - an internationally accepted form of GBV But if you ask if she is a GBV survivor She’ll say no
She’ll tell you that her husband beats her regularly Assaults her physically and emotionally But if you ask her if that is ok She’ll say yes She’ll say it is ‘ok as he is teaching her to be better’ If you ask her if she is a GBV survivor She’ll say no
These are the worst forms of victims Victims who’ve been so dehumanized They don’t even realize that they’re victims anymore
The Rohingya are a particularly marginalized community that hail from Myanmar. They have not been given citizenship rights in Myanmar and have been systematically persecuted. The recent wave of violence in August 2017 triggered the largest and fastest wave of influx of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. Since then, it is estimated that north of 800,000 refugees have crossed the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and settled in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
Kutupalong in Cox’s Bazar houses more than 800,000 refugees and is the largest refugee camp in the world. There are multiple aid organizations providing much needed relief to this highly traumatized and persecuted population.
I was working with UNICEF and looking specifically at issues of gender based violence (GBV ) and child protection. My work involved field visits to understand the realities faced by women and children in the camps to try and figure out better programming opportunities for UNICEF. The Rohingya are a deeply conservative and religious society with men being the main power holders in the family. Any discussion on reducing gender based violence is incomplete without buy-in from Rohingya men. Hence, a lot of my work also looked at ways in which men can become champions of preventing GBV and move away from their current role as perpetrators.
I spent the second half of my summer interning with UNICEF in Cox’s Bazar. The city was culturally very different from Geneva and gave me the opportunity to understand and observe a different part of the world.
Cox’s Bazar is a town on the southeast coast of Bangladesh which also serves as a major domestic tourist destination. The town has beautiful sandy beaches which are a major tourist attraction. The majority of the population is muslim and conservative in outlook.
Since Cox’s is a border town with access to the open water, there are reports of trafficking rings operating in the city making it particularly risky for female expatriates. The town also seemed to have a very conservative outlook on the role of women outside of homes. I was barely able to see women out and about on roads. Conversations with local colleagues filled me in on nuances like women are encouraged to not step out of the house alone but be accompanied by male family members. Also, staying outside post dark is not considered appropriate for women.
The recent influx of refugees has brought in a lot of international humanitarian workers to the city and one can observe this changing the dynamic of this beautiful coastal town. On one hand, drinking and partying is frowned upon with it being illegal for local Bangladeshi citizens to drink, but on the other hand, one can see certain night clubs offering drinks and music to internationals. Several restaurants have also opened up providing Thai, Indian and Continental cuisine for expatriates. The locals are warm and curious about foreigners and it is interesting to see this dynamic play out in day-to-day interactions.
As I have mentioned before, Geneva is centrally located and gives the opportunity to travel to multiple European cities over the weekend. I took full advantage of this situation and travelled to Amsterdam, Malta, Paris, Rome and the Vatican City. I thought of using this post as a photo blog to show you the beauty and experiences that Eupope has to offer!
Walking around the canals in Amsterdam and eating European foods! (Fun fact – the canals in Amsterdam have been designated as UNESCO world heritage sites.)
Enjoying the beautiful island nation of Malta. If you are even in the country, do not forget to try their famous Pastizzis!
The quintessential picture of the Eiffel Tower from my trip to Paris!
I am happy to report that the repair work on the Notre Dame is underway and the building seems to have held up well after the unfortunate fire.
The beautiful ruins in Rome!
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel featuring the iconic ‘Creation of Adam’ painting.
And we end with a picture from the women’s march in Geneva!
Living in Geneva gave me the opportunity to explore Europe over the weekends. I have always enjoyed adventure sports and used this opportunity to try my hand at deep sea diving. I flew to the island nation of Malta to check this off my bucket list. (Fun fact – Malta is the place where multiple episodes of Game of Thrones were shot. Malta was essentially ‘King’s Landing’ for all you GoT fans!)
Scuba diving was a divine experience for me. It started with a mild panic attack when my instructor explained that the pressure exerted underwater could rupture my lungs if I didn’t breathe properly. However, a couple of underwater exercises and training sessions later, I felt comfortable enough to take my chances – phew!
The very experience of being underwater and having to use machines to perform a task as basic as breathing was surreal to me. I could feel each and every breath that I took. I could feel the adrenaline and basic instinct for survival in my body.
Once I got used to living like a fish (hehe), the views were stunning. It seemed like a whole new world had opened up to me. It was a visual treat to see colors and movements of fishes, plants and other underwater creatures.
Having done sky diving, river rafting, rock climbing and multiple other adventure sports in life, I can comfortably rank deep sea diving as my favorite. For all you water babies out there, this is an experience that I would highly recommend!
I was interning with the IOM in Geneva and did a substantial amount of work on issues related to unaccompanied minor children. These are children who have been separated from their family members and other caregivers. UMC (Unaccompanied Minor Children) form a particularly vulnerable group and are a major programming priority for international organizations.
A part of my work on UMC required me to review the current literature available on their numbers, migration patters, protection needs etc. The sheer volume of the literature overwhelmed me. With hundreds of thousands of children identified as UMC by international organizations, services need to ramped up to support them.
I was bother by the idea that we have led our world to come to a place where children need to grow up alone, separated from families due to wars, violence, climate change migration etc. The following poem captures some of my responses to this issue.
Us and our first world problems Getting upset over the food not being delivered on time Of assignments to work on Deadlines to meet
When there are kids moving around the world Alone All alone With no one to call their own No one to call home
It breaks my heart to see this kind of programming for UMC (unaccompanied minor children) The sheer amount of resources concerning UMC movements and protection Guidance papers and documents to improve services to such vulnerable children The amount of structurally organized labour Multiple teams within organizations working on this issue
For a problem that shouldn’t exist right There shouldn’t be so many documents focusing on family tracing, reintegration, unaccompanied children support Because this should have never happened in the first place We should have never let these kids come to a position where they are all alone We should have never waged all those unnecessary wars Never been so blinded by fascist ideas that lead to young innocent children becoming orphans The world should have never come to this
Where children have to grow up alone in fear Running away from their homes Getting separated from family Crossing international borders, fleeing for their life and safety Many having seen violence they were too young to endure
They deserve better A Better world, a more empathetic world A world they can call their own With people they can call their own
For a girl who spent most of her adult life in India, coming and studying in the US was a welcome opportunity to experience another culture and learn from varied experiences. I tried pushing this learning further by deciding to spend one half of my summer in Europe. And so it was decided, Geneva will be my home for May and June 2019.
The city is exquisite and offers a variety of opportunities to understand international relations and diplomacy. Home to headquarters of some major UN organizations, there is a distinct international, multicultural and inclusive flavor to Geneva.
This can be seen in the day to day hustle of the city, with most people moving around with blue colored UN badges belonging to IOM, WHO, ILO etc. Summer is an exciting time to be in the city as interns from all over the world come to work for various multilateral in Geneva. There are loads of fun activities organized during the summer around the famous Geneva lake as also the UN beach, yeah, there is a UN beach in Geneva!
The food in the city if worth dying for. There are multiple restaurants and food trucks near the lake that offer international cuisines ranging from South East Asian to Middle Eastern to European cuisines. Being bordered by France, there is significant influence of French culture in Geneva in terms of food as well as language. So if you’re looking for an opportunity to eat some croissants as well as immerse yourself in the beautiful French language while being in a metropolitan international city, then Geneva is the way to go!
This is my blog detailing my experiences over the summer of 2019. I will be interning in Geneva, Switzerland and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. I am excited to work on issues of voluntary return of vulnerable migrants, child protection, prevention of gender based violence and cash based assistance.
I would like to thank the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School for their generous support to my projects over the summer.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton