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Finding work as a female refugee

Stories from Cox's Bazar - challenges and hope in a Rohingya refugee camp

Jobs are always in short supply in refugee camps, but the challenge is often far greater if you are a woman. Saika, a 22-year old Rohingya woman from ‘Camp 14’ – a refugee camp in the Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh - desperately needed to find work to support her family.

Saika had never worked outside the home before, even before she had to flee from Myanmar. She comes from a poor household, where rearing cattle and farming her small piece of land provided enough to make ends meet.

Saika, a Rohingya refugee from camp 14 in Bangladesh

Saika left her home in Rakhine State, Myanmar, with her sick husband and three children, when escalating violence made it too risky to stay. After a 12-day walk from her village, she managed to reach the Bangladesh border and settled in Camp 14 with her family.

Life in a refugee camp

Life in the camp is dismal and the limited opportunities for work are often only reserved for men. Saika’s husband has been suffering from lung disease and could not work. Christian Aid has been working with the World Food Programme (WFP) on cash for work projects, to help women like Saika support their families.

Cash-for-work project

The project - Community- Based Risk Mitigation and Rehabilitation for Disaster Risk Reduction Through Food Assets (FFA) to Vulnerable Rohingya Refugees and Host Community – has helped 2,516 refugees and 500 people from the local host community get cash for work. The work aims to improve the infrastructure of the camp and making it safer for residents, including road and pathway construction, staircase and drainage upgrades, building bamboo bridges and stabilising slopes.

Women working in Rohingya refugee camps as construction workers, 2019

Twenty percent of the people who secured cash-for-work jobs were women.

Priority was given to the most vulnerable and where there was a clear need - female-headed households, households where someone had a disability, or there were elderly or chronically ill people.

Changing gender roles

Saika came from a conservative community, and it was not an easy task to break away from her own traditional mindset. ‘Our religion prohibits us from working with men. I felt uncomfortable at the beginning. But I continued working as I did not face any problem working here with men.’

Her work included bringing water for the masons working in the drainage section. Alongside other women working in the site, they also supplied water for different phases of construction.

She earned 350 taka (approximately US$4) for each day of work. Her earnings allowed her to buy medicine and food for her family.

I would like to work more if I get the opportunity in the future. We received equal payment to the men for our work. This is the first time I have earned cash and it helped me tremendously.

Saika

Rohingya refugee and part of the cash-for-work project

The impact of the project

A large amount of construction is happening in the camps, but very few of them include female workers. This project gave 854 women from refugee and host communities the opportunity to work in different construction sites and receive an equal wage as the male workers.