2. Barriers to Participation & Decision Making

Barriers to Participation – Girls 0 – 12 years:

And the more sad thing is that there is a stigma related to giving birth to a baby girl. If there is a newborn baby girl, the family feels sad, they are just feeling dishonoured that we are making a baby girl

Refugee Woman 2019

The main barrier to participation in decision making for this age group was identified as the cultural expectation that children should be seen and not heard. There is no expectation that girls would be allowed to participate in decision making.

Barriers to Participation – Girls 13 – 17 years:

Again, there is little expectation that girls in this age group should have any part in decision making. The women said that girls who did demonstrate some outspokenness or leadership are put down and discouraged from expressing their opinions. “If a smart clever girl tries to do something, it is not seen as good, she is shamed and called a bad girl”.  Dropping out of school, early forced marriage and pregnancy also present huge barriers for their participation.

The simple fact of danger of harassment on the way to meetings stops girls from participating – their parents do not like them going out alone.

The more you are left out, the more you become incompetent. … and the child feels that they don’t want to do anything for their life decision. Sometimes because they have been abused kids.

Refugee Woman, 2019
“This is the world. This is the Man – have so many chance. They can enter the noble places, can drive the plane, drive the car, they can go everywhere they want to go. women cannot enter in this world. So and then see the women world. The woman is very pregnant, The woman is look after the children.” (Refugee woman, 2019)  

Barriers to Participation – Women 18 – 24 years:

Our culture might stop us women and girls to be a leader, but that does not stop me to lead my community, my family and my own self!

Refugee Woman, 2019

Women reported that there is a cultural expectation that fathers make decisions on behalf of their daughters until they are married, then husbands take on that role. They said that this is very hard to challenge and that women who do are often victims of domestic violence.

Women also take the major responsibility for child-rearing, care for the elderly and disabled, and home duties. This is very time consuming and also precludes them from participating in meetings and training opportunities.

The main barriers identified to the participation of women and girls in decision making, training and other activities critical to the life of their communities were cultural restraints including gender discrimination, other forms of discrimination and disrespect. Once again SGBV and the constant fear of SGBV and harassment, with the severe impacts they have played a major role. Lack of access to formal education or information is a major barrier.  Many participants were angry that they had no opportunities to make decisions about their lives and were not allowed to choose their own leaders.

The women described a culture in which traditionally it is men in their community who are consulted about decision making. Women and girls’ opinions, skills and capacities are not recognised or respected. Their ability to participate is also limited by the social norm that women do not leave their houses as freely as men and have all the responsibility for childcare and home duties. Once again, the lack of security in the camps and ubiquitous risks of sexual abuse and harassment are major barriers to women and girls’ participation. 

Women and girls are the victims of eve teasing[1]. They can’t go out freely and can’t attend meetings or any community engagement.

Refugee woman

Participants identified four major barriers to women’s participation.

  1. Discrimination towards women – lack of respect for their opinions and voices
  2. Lack of security going to meetings and trainings held in women friendly spaces especially for younger women and girls
  3. Lack of access to formal education for women and girls
  4. Fathers, elder brothers, and husbands who forbid women and girls from going out, as often for safety reasons as for cultural expectations

Sometimes women want to go to the women-friendly space, but the parents don’t allow them to go to the space because they are not secure. They are not confident to send them.

Refugee woman facilitator

When service providers, including UN agencies, INGOs and NGOs wish to consult with the community about issues other than things very specific to women, (such as reproductive health), they make little effort to include women in the broader discussion, inviting known senior men and other influential male refugees, who are sometimes not trusted by the community, and who have very little gender analysis.

Barriers to Participation – Women 25 – 50 years:

“So here, the effects in this picture is represent all … as a woman. This can impact the woman mentally and emotionally. She has a lot of negative thought, falling into [depression] because mental health is [affected]. Her children are crying and asking for attention. But she cannot do anything because her thoughts are consuming her and her mental health is affecting her”  (Refugee Woman, 2019)

Women are second class – they even have to eat after the men

Refugee Woman, 2019

The situation of these women is in many ways similar to the women 18 – 24 age group. As their children get older and particularly in light of the reduction in rations and services, they are forced to work outside the camp illegally. They reported that the increase in drug use and alcoholism is widespread among men from these age groups, and this puts even more stress on the women to hold the household together, leading to even less time for participation in other activities, even if these were available. They reported depression, suicide and suicidal thoughts.

Barriers to Participation – Older Women:

In a reversal of the respect that the elderly would have expected as part of their culture, in the harsh conditions in the camps older women are often seen as a burden and discriminated against. Their wisdom is no longer sought or respected, leading to depression and despair. They are not even considered to have a role in decision making. If they are given a role it is that of childminding while their adult children work.

First they spend their lives caring for their own children, then they end their lives caring for their grandchildren, they have no other life

Barriers to Participation – LBTI Women:

Women who are known to be LBTI are stigmatised and marginalised. This places a very big additional barrier to participation in decision making.

Barriers to Participation – Women with a disability:

This group is also stigmatised and marginalised. Additionally, those with physical disabilities are often unable to move in the camps due to lack of transport, wheelchairs and other aids, and the condition of the roads and pathways. Women and girls with mental illness are ignored, shamed and at times confined to their homes. These situations effectively prevent women with disabilities from any form of participation.

Barriers to Participation – Widows/single mothers:

These women experience all of the barriers to participation listed above, with the additional stigma and burden of being a single mother.

[1] Eve Teasing is a euphemism commonly used in South Asia including in Bangladesh to describe public sexual abuse and harassment of women and girls.  It can include both verbal harassment, involving lewd and suggestive comments as well as physical sexual abuse.  The government of Bangladesh has legislated against the use of this term but it remains in common use amongst the refugee and local community.