Razia Sultana runs RWWS, the first women-led organization for the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar.
RWWS stands for Rights for Women Welfare Society.
Razia, now 49 and a mother of two daughters, was born in Myanmar. The community’s stigma towards women drove her to depressive episodes.
“In the Rohingya community, women are not allowed to earn money or make family decisions. They stay at home and do household chores. Even when I felt compelled to call attention to these patriarchal norms and raise awareness among my community sisters, the first obstacle came from within, particularly from men,” Razia unfolded.
A few Rohingya women showed solidarity with her vision for empowering Rohingya women and girls. In 2018, they joined her newly formed organization, RWWS, to work collectively and solve problems in an organized way.
RWWS became a member of the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group (GiHAWG) in 2019 after Razia received a recommendation from UN Women’s Gender Hub. She participated in learning circles, training sessions, and high-level dialogue events along with other local women leaders.
The GiHAWG platform helped Razia meet inspirational stakeholders, rediscover her leadership competency, and support her mission of creating a safe space for her fellow women.
“The gender disparities were evident to me, and I wanted to change them. Through GiHAWG, I learned how to translate my ideas into practical actions. Using this approach, my organization could identify promising and best practices and use them to better plan, monitor, and design programs. It’s an ongoing process. There is still so much to learn.”
“The GiHAWG’s dialogue events gave me the chance to express our women’s realities. I could convey messages to stakeholders I would not have been able to reach otherwise, such as governments, UN, and INGO representatives.”Razia Sultana, 2022
Razia established the first RWWS center in Camp 14, one of the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.
“As part of our program activities, we focus on engaging men and boys. I believe the positive attitude of male members is essential for breaking stereotypes and taboos. Across society, women’s empowerment benefits everyone, and I want my community’s men to recognize this,” she stated.
Since 2021, Razia has been a co-chair of the Women Empowerment and Leadership Technical Working Group (WELTWG), a network of local women-led organizations. She believes this new responsibility will boost her confidence in promoting a more gender-inclusive future for her community.
Razia wants the Rohingya community’s female children to pursue their dreams as she has.
“We still have a long journey, but I know the Gender Hub and the GiHAWG will be there to hold my hand the entire time,” she smiled.