Since March 2019, Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) and the Liberation War Museum (LWM) of Bangladesh have been conducting participatory action research with more than 80 women in the Rohingya Refugee Camps in Cox’s Bazaar.
Adapting our tools developed as part of our Unlearning Impunity Series, we created a process to share stories and to heal, while building solidarity and peer support among women survivors. Our goals were to raise the voices of women in a way that everyone could participate, irrespective of their education backgrounds, literacy levels, or age groups. To do this, we needed to create a process where activities focused as much on looking forward as on looking back.
AJAR and LWM designed 10 participatory tools to fit the reality and rhythm of life in the camps. Sewing has always been a common past-time for Rohingya women. Based on reflections of their life-stories, we asked the women to sew a panel to express their feelings, hopes, dreams, and memories. From these embroidered panels, we have created three ‘quilts’ bringing those stories together as one collective voice.
Creating these panels is a way for women to talk about their memories of home and what they hold dear, as well as their demands for justice. In the refugee camps, with limited livelihood opportunities, the isolation and trauma of women is widespread. Many of these themes emerged from our discussions, to be depicted beautifully in their embroidery.
Despite the unimaginable sufferings and trauma these women have experienced, they continue to live every day with hope for the future of their children, their community, and themselves. These quilts are just one example of how collective action through art can unite, heal and provide opportunities to learn from each other. We hope the quilts are a way for these women to send a messages that balances the sorrow of the past memories with joy and hope for the future.