Conflicts have a serious impact on the life of women and their role in family and society. The presence of heightened fear and insecurity often forces women and children to flee their homes and form 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 and their strength of character and resilience is put to test.
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 as 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 neighboring states. On top of this, more than 125,000 have sought refuge in unregistered IDP (internally displaced person) camps in different regions of Rakhine state in the northwestern part of 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. These forces also 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 as well as 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 necessarily more vulnerable than men, conflict affects the life of women in a fundamentally different way. While 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 traditionally 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 show the importance of the changing role of women in a state of conflict and post-conflict. As these women gaze right back at the camera, they make the audience cognizant of and complicit in their suffering. The images highlight their resilience, strength of character, and individuality. It shows that despite living in a day-to-day state of despair, they still uphold the responsibility of caring for their families and community, and that they hold in their hands the fate of a forgotten ethnic minority at risk of disappearing completely.
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 could go to school and learn, so that they can fight the prejudice against Rohingya and have a better future.'
Four generations of Rohingya women from different families from Thandawly Village at Takebyin IDP camp. Their village was burned down by Arakanese budhists and they lost contact with their families. Now they have developed a system of earning and trading in order to keep the community alive.
The inside of a make-shift tent at Takebyin unregistered IDP camp.
Zara Hadu, 50, from Thandawly Villlage, has lost the ability to walk after breaking her leg and hip when trying to flee from the ethno-sectarian violence of October. She has no shelter and must shift tents every few hours where there is space for her.
Zohra Bahar, 24, from Aung Migalar. Zohra sold the few valuables she had left to bribe the local authorities to allow her to reunite with her youngest child, whom she holds in her arms.
Rabiyah Hatu, 46, from Thandawly, now lives in Takeybin unregistered IDP camp. 'I do not speak of the grief because I understand the need to give our children hope that this endless punishment will one day be over.'
A make-shift line used to dry clothes in Thanwepen unregistered IDP camp.
Mehjabeen, 62, from Thandawly, prays surrounded by children. She has become a respected elder in the community of Takeybin unregistered IDP camp where she now lives in the outskirts of Sittwe.
Noor Nara, 40, from Boomay. 'In the beginning of the monsoon season, Arakanese police came to remove us from our camp and take us to another site that was registered. They wanted me to sign a paper saying I am Bengali. Arakan already took my family and my home, but they cannot take my dignity. Dead or alive, I am Rohingya.' Noor stands in the outskirts of Rabba Gardens IDP camp. Rakhine State, Burma/Myanmar, July 2013.
Sadiyah, 5, Boomay, holds broken pages of the Qu'ran as she walks home from a make-shift Madrasa set up in Thawepen unregistered IDP Camp, in the outskirts of Sittwe.
A Rohingya woman looks over some children playing with stones in Rabba garden IDP camp.
Noor Haba, 18, from Boomay was separated from her husband during the violence outbreak of October 2012. She arrived at Rabba Garden IDP camp 5 months ago with her son who is now one year old and suffers from a congenital disorder. She is 6 months pregnant with her second child.
Two young Rohingya girls walk across Takebyin unregistered IDP camp to go collect the monthly food ratio provided by a private donor for their families.
A group of young Rohingya girls fill their jars with water from one of the few water pumps available to the IDPs living in Rabba Garden IDP camp.
Arfab, 45, from Boomay, stands in a mud alley that has now become her home, in Rabba Garden IDP camp. 'Every month we write letters to the UN asking for help for our community but there is no response. We keep writing until someone will listen'.
A Rohingya woman walks between the semi-permanent bamboo shelters at Rabba Garden camp that are slowly taking on the shape of a long-term settlement.
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 marginalized communities in the aftermath of war.