“This is the first time anyone has listened to us” - A short overview of accountability meaures in the Rohingya response in Bangladesh
In February Christian Aid released a report providing data and analysis about the implementation of accountability systems for the Rohingya camps in the Cox Bazar area, Bangladesh. They assessed to what degree the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability is applied, in particular commitments 4 and 5.
The authors feature two telling anecdotes to illustrate some of the current reality. Firstly, when being interviewed by researchers, it happened several times that people cried and thanked them for listening to them. “This is the first time anyone has listened to us,” was a common response from Rohingya interviewees. Secondly, while we know that only 27% of Rohingya are literate and 85% have Rohingya as their first language, humanitarians are still rolling out not just text-based, but English language accountability mechanisms, directly imported from very different contexts and cultures.
“These anecdotes highlight the acute need for the humanitarian sector to consult affected populations to design and implement context-specific accountability systems,” the report reads. The authors refer to the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS), in particular to commitments 4 and 5, which respectively demand that communities participate in the decisions that affect them, and that they have access to safe and responsive mechanisms to handle complaints. They add that accountability cuts across other CHS commitments, such as improving the likelihood of appropriate assistance (commitment 1), building on local capacities and reducing negative effects (commitment 3) and contributing to humanitarian learning from experience (commitment 7).
Current accountability systems are largely ineffective: there is an overreliance on complaint boxes and phone lines, which are the least preferred and least trusted mechanisms, and generally unused.
Lack of awareness: only 16% of women and 25% of men are aware of any feedback and complaints mechanism. Thus, accountability is about more than rolling out systems, it also requires significant orientation for frontline humanitarian workers/volunteers and Rohingya communities.
Major gender differences: women and men have very different attitudes towards accountability. For example, women indicated substantially higher demand to provide feedback and different preferences for accountability mechanisms than men. Women’s already distinct vulnerabilities in the camps are compounded by ineffective accountability mechanisms.
Many accountability barriers: low levels of Rohingya literacy, language differences and cultural norms that restrict many women from public space are some of the main challenges for ensuring effective accountability mechanisms.
Verbal and face-to-face preferences: both women and men indicated preferences for verbal and face-to-face mechanisms, such as meeting with individuals and using voice recorders.
Confidentiality preferred: over 95% of women and 80% of men reported confidentiality as important for accountability mechanisms. This poses unique challenges considering the concurrent preference for verbal and face-to-face accountability mechanisms.
Low rights understanding: only 27% of women and 17% of men report that they understand their rights related to humanitarian assistance. Across many other specific rights’ areas, women and men reported varying, but generally low understanding of their rights.
Varied Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) results: generally people felt assistance was appropriate (although women less so than men), but people largely felt it was not timely and they lacked influence in decision-making: 39% of women and 54% of men felt they had no influence at all in decision-making.
Specific Accountability Mechanism Findings
- Complaint boxes are the least preferred, least trusted and most ineffective mechanisms.
- Phone/SMS hotlines are similarly non-preferred, not trusted and ineffective.
- The majhi system is preferred, used and trusted (but does have significant limitations). It also ranks highly because it is the primary known system.
- Voice recorders are preferred, well used and well trusted compared to other systems.
- Face-to-face with NGOs is one of women’s more preferred and trusted accountability mechanisms.
- Face-to-face with government/military is one of men’s more preferred and trusted accountability mechanisms.
Specific needs: women and children, especially girls should be prioritised in all accountability systems. They face heightened vulnerabilities compared to men, which are compounded by the least access to accountability mechanisms. Specific consideration must also be given to elderly, people with disabilities and other groups that face specific challenges and acute barriers to accessing accountability mechanisms.
Diversity: diverse accountability mechanisms must be implemented to ensure an effective overall accountability ecosystem and reduce the overreliance on ineffective complaint boxes and phone lines.
Modality: voice and face-to-face accountability mechanisms must be prioritised, such as accountability orientation for people engaging face-to-face, information/ help desks and voice recorders.
Rights: education on humanitarian assistance-related rights must form a major component of accountability efforts in the humanitarian response. Knowing one’s rights is an essential precursor for holding humanitarian responders to account.
Location: the location of accountability mechanisms is critical, where women-friendly spaces, cooking spaces and other more accessible spaces for women should be prioritised, in addition to community outreach at the household level.
Orientation: to address low awareness and understanding of accountability mechanisms, orientation for affected populations and humanitarian actors engaging with affected populations is critical to improve the likelihood of use.
Refining Systems: humanitarians must tap into and refine existing accountability mechanisms, with the majhi system being the most obvious. The majhi system is problematic, particularly for women, but it is trusted and preferred by Rohingya.