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Title:Refugee women’s agency through everyday space appropriation: An investigation into Rohingya women’s “invisibility” in the camps of Bangladesh
Author(s):Sameen, Shafinaz
Advisor(s):Miraftab, Faranak
Contributor(s):Greenlee, Andrew
Department / Program:Urban & Regional Planning
Discipline:Urban Planning
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:M.U.P.
Genre:Thesis
Subject(s):Refugee women
agency
Rohingya
global south
everyday actions
space appropriation
Abstract:This study is an exploratory investigation into Rohingya refugee women’s everyday actions in the camps of Bangladesh. It engages a framework of intersectionality and an interpretive understanding of the relation between the women’s on-the-ground experiences with broader forces. Building on women’s narratives and deeper insight into their history and socio-cultural identities, the study concludes that the women demonstrate agency at every level of their actions. The reality of refugee women is far from an image of passivity. The Rohingyas are the most persecuted ethnic minority in the world today; through the process of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Myanmar leading to continual mass displacement, Rohingya women and girls have suffered mass brutality and sexual assault. In the current humanitarian operation of the camps in Bangladesh, which follows universal ideologies, these women are hence primarily considered to be in need of protection and passive recipients of aid. Women’s voices are unheard under this normalized representation of them. In this context, the study is a testimony to Rohingya refugee women’s everyday actions that directly or indirectly contribute to maintaining a normal life in the camps. The specific research questions examined by the study are—whether and how women’s family roles and individual activities depict their agency rather than vulnerability in a space of refuge, and how do women’s everyday engagement in the private sphere demonstrate their contributions instead of passivity. The study finds that, Rohingya women’s agency is found in hybrid forms and through their indirect (invisible) nature of participation in the camp’s everyday visible socio-spatial processes. In the domestic realm, Rohingya women are engaged in filling the gaps of daily consumption imposed by severely restricted camp life. At the individual level, these women are engaging spatial and temporal negotiation strategies to accommodate their daily needs and also socio-cultural norms. Through this process of appropriation they are availing the humanitarian spaces planned on their behalf. In all of these processes, the hegemony of the existing structure manifests itself in women’s consenting to be spatially confined to the invisible (private) realm. Their “invisibility” in the public domain can be seen as one of subordination by choice, what I call strategic subordination. These women are indeed actors rather than just recipients, acting at the very bottom level of the humanitarian power relations to contribute to the daily “visible” process of the camp’s socio-spatial existence. The study, drawing upon feminist critiques of human agency, recognizes the traditional West-formulated notions of agency that emphasize direct (visible/public) nature of contribution and has also been translated into international policies, is insufficient to account for the complexity of these women’s identities and choices of actions. The findings suggest that a lens of “looking from below” enables a better understanding of women’s agency in their micro-practices on the ground. This viewpoint calls for a redefinition of agency, particularly in the context of the global South, and a formulation of a feminist methodology that can address the web of factors that (re)produce and (re)inscribe power imbalances at multiple levels. Grounded on the findings of the study, suggestions for improving conditions of Rohingya women’s lives inside the camps take into account both immediate and strategic interventions to ensure their effective participation and ultimately to impact the gender-power relations. In this connection, the study advocates for the applicability of the concept of elective affinity within the methodology of gender planning. This concept, by utilizing a combination of socio-cultural factors having greater affinity to bring about desired outcomes, will enable a foresight of the changes in women’s lives—changes that are, in fact, also adequate for the whole community.
Issue Date:2020-07-24
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/108539
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Shafinaz Sameen
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-10-07
Date Deposited:2020-08


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