By Lynette Nyman/IFRC

Zihara, 18, and her sister, Ronjida, 15, live in a tarpaulin and bamboo shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, since fleeing their home in Myanmar in August 2017. Shy at first, and then finding her voice, Zihara remembers the open field in front of their old house in Rakhine. While her embroidered blouse and gold earrings seem fancy for camp life, it’s the best she could grab at the time.

Even though Zihara and Ronjida feel safer than before, camp life can be challenging for women and adolescent girls. A IFRC study on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence during disasters found that women and girls often feel distressed after disaster and crisis situations due to the rise in early marriage, domestic violence and sexual harassment in camps.

“Adolescent girls are one of the main groups at risk,” says Chrissy Haneef, IFRC delegate for protection, gender and inclusion in Bangladesh. “We know from discussions with women in the camps that adolescent girls face restrictions leaving their shelter during the day. This creates additional risks for girls who need to use latrines at night.”

However, the safety and security risks for adolescent girls such as Zihara and Ronjida can be prevented and reduced. 

IFRC runs a “dignity, access, participation and safety” community centre, where women, girls, men and boys meet in separate peer support circles, to connect with each other and build resilience and safety within the camp community. The centre offers access to psycho-social and protection services, and information.

Even then, supporting teenage girls could require targeted outreach. In response, IFRC is training Bangladesh Red Crescent Society and camp volunteers who will go shelter-to-shelter reaching out to reach teen girls, as well as others whose movement is limited.