With the news cycle in the U.S. currently dominated by the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, it wouldn't be surprising if other major worldwide events were passing you by at this very moment. One humanitarian crisis in particular, happening now in Myanmar, shouldn't be passing you by. The Rohingya people are fleeing northern Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, to escape violence from the Burmese military, and feminists need to take notice. The crisis, as with many humanitarian disasters, disproportionately affects women and children, particularly because of the threat of sexual violence. It has also forced the international community to reckon with one of the world's most famous feminist leaders, whose silence on this issue has been deafening.
Here's the lowdown. Rohingya Muslims, who number about 1.1 million, have long been persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, as they're considered stateless people without citizenship. In fact, the Guardian has called them "the world's most persecuted people." Clashes between the Rohingya and the Myanmar military have happened since at least the 1970s, but the current outbreak of violence, sparked by a Rohingya militia group allegedly attacking military outposts and killing 12 police, has led to 310,000 Rohingya fleeing over the border to Bangladesh, with others trapped at the border. Knowing what exactly is happening is tricky for outside observers because of the lack of press or humanitarian aid access allowed in Rakhine State, the area of Myanmar where the Rohingya people are forced to live, by the Burmese authorities. But on Sept. 11, the United Nations' top human rights official Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein declared the Myanmar state's treatment of the Rohingya as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing," following overwhelming reports by refugees that the military are burning Rohingya villages and raiding homes. It's a horrible and terrifying situation, and women worldwide need to be paying attention.