Conflict has a serious impact on the life of women and their role in family and society. Through the ages, the presence of heightened insecurity and fear has forced many women and children to flee their homes, forming inadequate settlements for refugees, displaced, and stateless communities. The roles of family and society, dictated by culture and history, disintegrate in the presence of conflict. Women are forced to assume new responsibilities, roles, strength of character and resilience.
The Rohingya of Burma are one of the most persecuted, vulnerable and forgotten ethnic minorities in the world. Classified as illegal foreigners by Burmese state legislation, they have been deprived of basic human and civil rights for more than 40 years. As a result of the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya are denied access to basic education, participation in the legal economy, health benefits, and the right to marry or own property. This systemic discrimination has made their existence difficult and precarious.
In June and October 2012, inter-communal violence erupted and marked the culmination of ethnic tensions between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. This conflict was classified by Human Rights Watch as a crime against humanity and a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. The result of this violence has forced the majority of the Rohingya population to flee and live in exile in neighbouring states. On top of this, more than 125,000 have been sought refuge in unregistered IDP (internally displaced person) camps in different regions of Rakhine state in the northwestern part of Myanmar/Burma.
Those fleeing from abuse are now suffering extreme insecurity and imprisonment in IDP camps. Barred by immigration security forces, they are forbidden from accessing markets, healthcare or other necessities found outside the IDP camps. At the same time, these forces restrict access to the camps for humanitarian aid. With the arrival of the monsoon season, the risk of flooding and a sickness epidemic has become a reality and the situation threatens to evolve into a full-scale humanitarian disaster.
Faced with the silence and ignorance of the media and the international community, the Rohingya are condemned to a bleak existence. In the overcrowded IDP camps makeshift straw-covered structures are meant to remain a temporary solution, but these soon turn into a permanent settlement and way of life. The lack of appropriate food and shelter, clean water, sanitation, and medical care is an all too familiar story for displaced communities where desperation quickly erodes dignity and hope.
While women are not particularly more vulnerable than men, conflict affects the life of women in a fundamentally different way. Symbolically positioned as the bearers of culture, ethnic identity and carrying the responsibility for producing future generations, women are repeatedly undervalued in what is a traditional, patriarchal, and male-dominated community.
The violence of June and October 2012 caused a break in the social structures of the Rohingya community, leaving many families and women without a male figure. This social disorder had a profound impact on gender relations within the Rohingya, causing many women to take on traditional male roles in order to ensure the survival of their families and community. While this violent campaign of ethnic cleansing has had an unimaginable negative effect on the Rohingya people as a whole, it is possible to see how it has culturally challenged traditional gender roles and forced women to acknowledge their strength and value within the community.
Acts of Resilience documents the plight of Rohingya women in an effort to draw attention not only to their alarming living conditions but also to the importance of the changing role of women in a state of conflict and post-conflict. This photo-essay seeks to highlight the resilience, strength of character, and individuality of these women. It aims to show that despite living in a day-to-day state of despair, they still uphold the responsibility of caring for their families and community, as well as the fate of a forgotten ethnic minority at risk of disappearing completely.
Jannat Ara’s story (translated transcript)
“After Friday prayers, when the violence erupted everyone panicked. People were running, trying to hide. My sons, who had gone to pray, also hid. I remained at home and closed all the doors. Paramilitary police surrounded our house and pushed open the doors. They found me upstairs. It happened on the bed. [sound of the rain]. I was grabbed. They held me down and kicked me. After that I knew nothing. [sound of the rain] When I regained consciousness in the hospital I realized what had happened to me.
They burned our houses and shops. They looted shops and stole huge quantities of goods. I saw boys and girls gunned down. The bodies were packed in plastic bags. They were buried in mud under the bridge without a funeral.
They admitted me to hospital. When the paramilitary police and the Rakhine were attacking the hospital, my brothers and other relatives helped me cross the river to Bangladesh by boat. They took me to Cox’s Bazar in a stretcher.
I was admitted again to the hospital because I was very ill. I was given a blood transfusion. Since then, Ive been receiving treatment here.
I’ve sold everything I own. What will we do with the children?’
Jannat Ara was a Rohingya woman from Muangdaw in Rakhine state, Burma/Myanmar. Jannat was taken to a local hospital after being attacked by ethnic Rakhines. A medical examination revealed she had been raped more than 20 times. Jannat was forced to leave the local hospital due to the ongoing civil unrest and fears for her safety. She was helped by relatives to flee to Bangladesh in search of treatment. Jannat sustained kidney damage from the violent assault on her and she subsequently aborted her child. On November 2nd, 2012, Jannat Ara died from her injuries.
About the photographer
Marta Tucci is a freelance documentary photographer and writer. Her work focuses on developing long term projects that explore issues of identity and social exclusion, paying close attention to the plight of displaced and marginalised communities in the aftermath of war.