Comfort comes with Communication

Survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) are all too often reluctant to talk about their experiences and find help. In Bangladesh, IOM is reaching out to vulnerable communities at displacement sites, and ensuring that trained and trusted female counselors are available for women who are ready to seek assistance.

When Aung* fled Myanmar, she never imagined that she would encounter violence on the road to safety. She later would cross the border into Bangladesh with thousands of other undocumented Myanmar nationals, register with IOM staff and find shelter in a makeshift settlement in central Dhaka District.

Several weeks after arriving, Aung went to a medical screening. But when asked by a male doctor about health problems, she felt too uneasy and scared to tell him about the violence she had recently suffered. She said nothing.

Sometime after, an IOM community engagement officer attended a meeting at the site and invited people to talk about their experiences. After the meeting she approached Aung, and away from others, Aung retold the story of her journey to the settlement. As she began to feel comfortable with the officer, Aung talked more openly about the pain she had experienced along the way. Realizing that Aung had been a victim of gender- based-violence and was suffering from physical and mental trauma, the officer encouraged her to speak with IOM’s on-site GBV team.

Aung agreed and was later seen by a comforting female doctor who assured her that she would be taken care of. Though this doctor also asked her many questions, Aung felt calm and safe enough to answer candidly this time and conveyed that sentiment to the IOM GBV team.

For IOM Bangladesh, Aung’s situation reinforced the need to ensure that safe spaces, psychological support and nurturing and trustworthy specialists are available for GBV survivors and other vulnerable populations. The team has since stepped up efforts to ensure that victims of violence feel safe enough to seek help. They employ a trained counselor on their GBV team and the mission’s community engagement officers regularly reach out to women’s groups within settlements to identify GBV victims who might have been missed during initial medical screenings.