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‘Women should not be victimized twice for what happened to them during conflict’

  • Published at 05:29 pm July 3rd, 2018
  • Last updated at 01:23 am July 4th, 2018
Dr Natalia Kanem meets a new mother and her baby at the D5 reproductive health clinic in Cox’s Bazar in MayUNFPA Bangladesh/Lauren Anders Brown
Dr Natalia Kanem meets a new mother and her baby at the D5 reproductive health clinic in Cox’s Bazar in May UNFPA Bangladesh/Lauren Anders Brown

The Dhaka Tribune interviewed Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Natalia Kanem who made her second visit in the Rohingya refugee camp while accompanying the World Bank president and UN secretary general. 

What are your findings from your second visit to the Rohingya refugee camp?

I am delighted to be back in Bangladesh. It is an honour for me to travel with the secretary general of the UN and the president of World Bank. And it was also inspiring for me to see how all of the agencies of the UN, the civil society of Bangladesh, the host community in Cox’s Bazar, and the World Bank, have come together to assert two things—one is the gratitude to Bangladesh, this is a country which opened its heart at a time when there was real crisis. The second point is to show full solidarity with Rohingya people who have suffered so much.

Give us a brief on UNFPA’s efforts for women in the camp.

Speaking as a leader of UNFPA, you can imagine how heartened I was after all the work that our midwives have done. These are Bangladeshi skilled midwives, … protecting women, teaching them about safe birth; as well, our teams worked together with UN women, USG on sexual violence and conflict criminal patterns to make sure the victims of rape [as they came across from Myanmar] are treated with dignity. 

What are the changes you observed among Rohingya women in the camps?

I was very pleased with Rohingya women who spoke to the secretary general of UN and the president of World Bank. There was a woman with her baby, the baby was about six months old and it was a beautiful baby boy and she declared her son was the result of rape. And she is treating the son with full love and she was being treated with full respect of her community in whichshe exists. So, I think this shows that we have made some progress. Women should not be victimized twice for what happened to them during the time of conflict. And we also believe that no matter what happened to you in the past, the future should be different. 

Already we see that in a conservative culture, women are being treated with respect and the women are speaking directly to the powerful figures—like the heads of the United Nations and World Bank. They allowed these men into their “Shantikhana” (safe spaces) because of the trust that they have built up working with UNFPA, with others in the community, and UNHCR. So, I believe that it is going to be possible and that should be the expectation. For these citizens of Myanmar, to be protected on the journey back and during this medium term, we do have to work very closely to make sure that they are sheltered and find some confidence at the time they are being hosted by Bangladesh. 

Tell us more about Shantikhana

Shantikhana means the haven of peace, and UNFPA working with the UN, has built 19 women-friendly spaces. These are safe spaces where women only come in. They can relax, they can meet a counselor, they can have psychological support to overcome, nonetheless, what happened to them in the past and also imagine a brighter future. And two of them are for the community of Cox’s Bazar, because we also want the women of Bangladesh to have the same space to be able to find peace in their hearts and in their homes.