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Acts of Resilience

Marta Tucci | Rakhine State, Myanmar

Aamina, 54, from Thandawly, arrived at Takebyin unregistered IDP camp in the outskirts of Sittwe 5 months ago. 'I saw how Arakan killed my son and burned my village. Protecting our children is the most important task. I wish that our children can go to school and learn, so that they can fight the prejudice against Rohingya and have a better future. Rakhine State, Burma/Myanmar, July 2013.

 A photo essay documenting the plight of Rohingya women trapped in IDP camps in Rakhine State, Burma.

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.

http://www.martatucci.com

 

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.

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