People admire creativity of Rohingya refugee women at Dhaka art fair

Date: Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Author: Syeda Samara Mortada

Dhaka, Bangladesh — The artistic creativity and the resilience of Rohingya women living in Bangladesh’s crowded refugee camps has been displayed at an exhibit organized by aid agencies.

The fair features a variety of handiwork by Rohingya women. Photo: UN Women/Monon Muntaka Shova
The fair features a variety of handiwork by Rohingya women. Photo: UN Women/Monon Muntaka Shova

The Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group, which UN Women co-chairs, organized the Rohingya Women’s Art Exhibition and Handicrafts Fair in Dhaka on 20 June to celebrate World Refugee Day. The hundreds of visitors admired items the women made, including clothing, patterns, wall hangings, art work, photos and decorations. Some gathered information on how to buy them.

The working group helps the Rohingya, an ethnic minority from Myanmar, living in camps in Cox’s Bazar. According to United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR), more than 723,000 Rohingya have fled there since August 2017.

Hundreds of people attend the fair. Photo: UN Women/Monon Muntaka Shova
Hundreds of people attend the fair. Photo: UN Women/Monon Muntaka Shova

The working group comprises United Nations agencies, civil society organizations, and local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Those participating in the fair were ActionAid, Action Contre la Faim, BRAC, CARE, Community Development Centre, MUKTI, Help Cox, Oxfam, Pulse Bangladesh, Relief International, Save the Children, Terre des hommes, International Organization for Migration, United Nations Population Fund, UNHCR, UN Women and World Food Programme.

This year, under the theme #StepWithRefugees, instead of doing it in Cox’s Bazar, the working group brought the women’s work to Dhaka in order to raise more awareness of their plight and to celebrate their resilience.

The refugees created the items at “women-friendly spaces” in the camps. The United Nations and NGOs run these spaces, where women receive different kinds of training, including on soft skills like leadership and negotiation and vocational skills like handiwork and tailoring. Women also gather there to spend time and talk with other women.

Representatives of aid organizations, the Bangladesh Government and others pose for a group photo at the fair. Photo: UN Women/Monon Muntaka Shova
Representatives of aid organizations, the Bangladesh Government and others pose for a group photo at the fair. Photo: UN Women/Monon Muntaka Shova

Shah Kamal, Senior Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said at the fair that the Bangladesh Government is committed to ensuring the safety of the Rohingya, especially the women, and to creating more women-friendly spaces in the camps.

ActionAid was among the organizations that set up stalls at the fair to display the work of refugees they helped.

Shehtaz Jahan Tithi of Action Aid Bangladesh said it all started out as a three-month pilot project in which he worked with Rohingya women to make notebooks. When the project was in full swing, the women made Nakshikatha [a traditional Bangladeshi handicraft], covers of notebooks, hand embroidery and sanitary pads.

Sharmin Afroz of WFP said: “We have all gathered here today on the occasion of World Refugee Day, where we are displaying the works done by Rohingya women. [...] In the future, we hope to collaborate with various development partners and come together to celebrate their resilience on a more regular basis.”