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UNFPA helps restore dignity of women and girls amid armed conflict in Rakhine

Buthidaung, Myanmar – “When I first fled my village due to the armed clashes, my family got no chance to bring the clothes and other belongings. I had to leave my home and ran to the displaced site. I was so desperate,” said Han Thein, 35-year-old, mother of two children who stays with her family at one of the displaced camps in Buthidaung of Rakhine.

In times of crisis, women and girls are forced to leave their home and the particular needs of women and girls are overlooked. “I was overwhelmed by financial constraint and my priority always goes to fulfil the basic needs of my family for example like daily food. I couldn’t afford to buy any new longyi (I.e., Myanmar traditional cloth to be worn around waist), clothes and sanitary napkins for my personal hygiene. I was in a vulnerable situation with regards to health and wellbeing.”   

UNFPA's Dignity Kits distribution improves psychosocial and well-beings of displaced women and girls in conflict affected areas. Photo ©UNFPA Myanmar
UNFPA's Dignity Kits distribution improves the well-being of
displaced women and girls ©UNFPA Myanmar

According to UNOCHA, there are more than 60,000 IDPs in Rakhine State (as of 16 March 2020). Among those IDPs, women and girls are in needs of specific supports and protection in response to the humanitarian crisis. UNFPA has played a critical role in providing safe spaces for women, mental health and psychosocial support and sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls.

With the funding support from DFAT- Australia, Japan, CERF, UNFPA distributes thousands of dignity kits to women and girls of reproductive age in Northern Rakhine. Each kit contains basic hygiene supplies such as soap, detergent cream, and menstrual hygiene supplies such as sanitary napkins and basic clothing items and other essential supplies needed for women and girls. UNFPA is also working on making the dignity kits more relevant to the COVID-19 preparedness and prevention by including additional items such as soaps and sanitizers. UNFPA will also include mobile phone cards to help people remain connected.

UNFPA is distributing dignity kits in many displaced sites in northern Rakhine since 2019. The dignity kits not only promote the dignity of women and girls but also somehow fulfil the financial needs of the families as they don’t need to spend extra money on those items. Dignity kit improves the psychosocial and physical well-being of women and girls.

During UNFPA’s dignity kit distribution, the women and girls receive the awareness session on gender-based violence which heightens various kinds of violence against women including intimate partner violence and where to get help if needed. Displacement should not be an excuse that women and girls suffer violence, threats or harassments. She continued, “This awareness session helps displaced women and girls like me to know our rights and encourage to amplify our voices boldly. I will share my knowledge not only to my husband but also to my fellow women and girls in this community.”

Han Thein said: “Because of the armed clashes, women suffer its terrible consequences most. We lost everything that we possessed. Additionally, displacement from one place to another makes us more and more vulnerable. Thanks to UNFPA, displaced women and girls have the dignity to live healthily and confidently.”