Razia Sultana

December 7th, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  6 minute read
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I’m driven to make a difference when I see my community’s struggles. I’m inspired when the women in my community overcome the exasperating challenges and make great leaps despite situational limitations.


My family moved to Bangladesh when I was young, as my father — a full Burmese citizen — had set up a trading business in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Even though I have Bangladeshi citizenship, and I’ve spent most of my life in Bangladesh, I’ve always identified myself as a Rohingya from Myanmar.

I’ve started working as a researcher in 2016. Throughout the years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and published a few reports. The first one was Witness to Horror, which spoke about rape and gang-rape by the Myanmar military in Maungdaw. In my second report, Rape by Command, I detailed rape of over 300 women and girls by Myanmar security forces, identifying the Myanmar military’s systematic weaponization of rape against the Rohingya community. In another report The Killing Fields of Alethankyaw, I exposed the motivation of the Myanmar military’s “clearance operations” as genocide. I must admit, it has been a difficult undertaking to expose the military’s sexual violence in conflict and decades-long patterns of rape, violence, discrimination and displacement of the Rohingya and other ethnic peoples in Myanmar. But my knowledge of such horrific crimes has cemented my resolve to advocate for justice for my community at the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

I’m now a practicing lawyer and a teacher at Little Jewels School in Chittagong. As a Rohingya, my commitment is to bring justice and reparations for victims of sexual violence. I raise voices of all women who are at risk of or have experienced emotional and physical threats. My mission is to achieve peace and dignity for all women, and refugee women.

Motivation and inspiration

I’m driven to make a difference when I see my community’s struggles. I’m inspired when the women in my community overcome the exasperating challenges and make great leaps despite situational limitations. Most of the women who experience brutality might break down, feel hopeless and lost. Still, most of them are such courageous individuals who dare share their experiences and aspirations. They have always expressed their aspirations and willingness to make their community a better society. This is their strength.

The current Rohingya society is a conservative society; higher education is extremely limited for Rohingya women and in Myanmar. But because of such an environment, because of the lack of advanced education, they have been forced to do something about it.

After the influx of refugees from Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh, the rate of education is now almost zero percent. Our Rohingya community structure has been almost completely destroyed. We are now left in a state to struggle to fulfill our basic needs. I am always trying to convince Rohingya communities in the camps to recognize women’s rights. I usually hear: how can our community dare to think about women’s education when no one gets basic education?

Sometimes it’s too hard to understand their view to not recognize women’s voices, but I’ve seen my efforts slowly changing the situation for refugee women. We’re not there yet, but we’re heading in that direction. My journey along with the women of my community is to foster an understanding among the community that women have the rights to live her own way. With no opportunity of advanced education, there is no basis to build own future. Then there will be no opportunity to one day return to own homeland where we were forced to flee for our lives.

As a woman, my status in my community is limited to only a perfect housewife, someone who can maintain the whole family life. We have absolutely no authority to make decisions for our lives and families, despite all the abilities, courage and strength we have. This must change.


The main challenge in my community is deeply rooted in gender discrimination. Current practices continue to support gender inequality. Women are born a leader. Being a mother or housewife is not a simple task. Women’s political learning starts right in her own home, we need to stand tall and speak up for our rights. Compromising might be in our nature, so don’t let it be misused by others.

Conflict is a gendered issue. Women and men have drastically different levels of access to resources, power and decision-making before, during and after any crisis and conflict. Any armed conflict, terrorist attacks or any other disaster — man-made or natural, most of the women and girls are particularly affected because of their status in society as well as their gender identity.

In any circumstance, women or women leaders and their contributions are always underestimated, sometimes even silenced. Our community has to focus way more on women’s needs. Women are part of our community and make up almost half of our population. We are deserving a seat in peace negotiations, and peace agreements must include gender-sensitive topics. Limiting women’s participation in peace-building processes, dismissing our opinions — these only raise questions about how secure we feel in our communities. The general exclusion of women from decision-making positions won’t ensure social developments, it won’t secure the future of our next generations. And just building strong structures of society can’t make the overall changes systematic. Systematic transformation comes from changing the norms and practices. We must change the day to day basis. We must fight to make sure our women are empowered and part of conflict management and society initiatives. That women are involved in preventive diplomacy, conflict resolution, peace-making and post-conflict peace-building debates — and activities at all levels. Women are more than capable and willing to take on any initiative to manage extreme situations as we are facing today.

Who inspires me

The Bangladeshi Prime Minister has been an immense inspiration to me. Her actions have shown me, and the world, that strong leadership has nothing to do with gender. It is enough for you to stand tall, with courage and determination. Her admirable devotion and struggles for the people of Bangladesh is what makes her an extraordinary prime minister.

Another woman who touched my heart is my mentor Dilruba Ahmed, the principal of the school where I work. She founded the first English-language middle school in Chittagong. I’m happy to report that her school, Little Jewels School, is now a leading school in the city. Her unwavering commitment to provide education for girls and to empower women with fewer opportunities has been my guiding compass. Her words keep motivating me, “Education has no age and recognize your own dignity”.

– Razia Sultana, Rohingya Women Human Rights Defender and Founder of RW Welfare Society

Photo Credit: Habiba Nowrose/IRC