Cox’s Bazar :: An estimated 73 per cent of married Bangladeshi women have experienced domestic violence in their life, according to a 2015 study.COVID-19 has only exacerbated these risks, with a recent report highlighting a rise in Gender-based Violence (GBV), particularly intimate partner violence and child protection issues including child labour and child marriage across both Rohingya and Bangladeshi communities.

COVID-19 related mobility restrictions coupled with a lack of income-generating opportunities have significantly affected those most vulnerable such as single female-headed households. Additionally, the pandemic has also impacted their safe access to GBV and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services.

To mitigate and reduce the risks of GBV in Cox’s Bazar, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) inaugurated on Tuesday (02/03) its first Women and Girls Safe Space (WGSS) for host communities, with the support of its partner PULSE Bangladesh and funding the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the Government of Japan.

IOM already operates other WGSSs across nine refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, provide life-saving information and awareness-raising activities, as well as community-level outreach activities. Between December 2020 and January 2021, IOM GBV teams provided group-based psychosocial support to 6,820 women and girls via these spaces.

Situated in Ratna Palong union in the Ukhia Upazila of Cox’s Bazar District, this new WGSS will serve as a place where women and girls can access resources and support to reduce the risk 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.

In its safe spaces, IOM and PULSE Bangladesh provide a wide range of services, including individual case management. Women and girls can also access counseling and psychosocial support, recreational activities, information on safety planning, health, childcare guidance, legal rights, as well as non-food items (NFI).

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, the teams aim to reduce isolation and integrate them in social networks and the community life, ultimately improving their psychosocial well-being.

“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.”

Furthermore, the centre will focus on skills development and the empowerment of women and girls by conducting a variety of training modules, such as on sewing, the production of sanitary pads, gardening or food processing, which will lead to livelihoods opportunities.

These training 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 protection activities such as 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 and after-school classes on puberty, GBV and SRH for adolescents.-press release

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