Why we work in Myanmar
Myanmar is home to 135 ethnic groups. In recent years, the country has experienced rapid change. A liberalisation process, which began in 2010, has seen more than 40 years of military rule give way to democracy.
Since Myanmar opened up to further foreign investment, it has made significant progress in reducing poverty. Yet the gap between rich and poor is increasing and almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line. One child in 10 dies before his or her first birthday.
Opportunities for ordinary women in Myanmar remain limited. Women lack adequate access to education and reproductive health services. They often have little say over key decisions in their lives.
As the country’s military has eased its grip on power, simmering ethnic tensions have boiled over into violence. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority group, have fled violence in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State, arriving as refugees in Bangladesh. During August and September 2017 this crisis escalated, putting a massive strain on refugee camps and settlements.
Myanmar’s poorest people are also particularly vulnerable to climate change and have experienced an increase in floods, droughts, and cyclones. In 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed 84,500 people, mostly in rural areas where 70% of the population lives and poverty is twice as high.
What we do in Myanmar
To tackle violence, we train community paralegals in basic legal skills and provide free legal aid to women who have survived violence, so that perpetrators can be held to account. To change attitudes, we train male community leaders in cultivating zero tolerance policies toward violence among their male friends and colleagues. We also train government staff, including the police force, on the implementation of laws and policies designed to prevent violence against women.
ActionAid helps women set up businesses through an initiative called the Socio-Economic Development Network (SEDN). This network creates marketing outlets for handicraft products made by local women’s enterprises. We support farmers to set up self-help business groups, that provide access to seedbanks and loans on a revolving basis so they don’t have to rely on moneylenders with high interest rates. And we link farmers and fisher-folk to local Ministry of Agriculture training programmes to help them adapt to Myanmar’s increased flooding, drought and cyclones.
ActionAid’s ‘Fellowship Programme’ supports young people who want to improve their rural communities. We’ve supported 600 young people, or fellows, to develop ‘village plans’, which allow them to record detailed information about issues such as girls’ access to education and women’s rights. ‘Village Plans’ are being used by local governments with endorsement from the highest level, including chief ministers and union ministers.
How we’re changing lives for good in Myanmar
In 2014 alone, ActionAid reached 200,000 people in more than 700 communities across Myanmar, focussing on ending violence against women, helping women set up businesses and supporting young people to become change makers.
Training ActionAid Fellows to improve village life
At just 19, Khin Soe is one of the youngest ActionAid Fellows in her region of Pakokku, Myanmar. In the initial 30-day training programme, fellows are introduced to development concepts like sustainability, gender balance and human rights, and taught skills including public speaking and problem solving. Games, role plays and lively discussions make sure that the theories are brought to life.
Khin Soe says: “Once we started learning about development, we began to understand the real reasons why our villages had problems. For instance, neighbours had lost crops when the pond ran dry – it was too small and shallow and we had to share it between four villages. And we had no health clinic. The course opened my eyes — before I just accepted these problems. I’d never tried to analyse the causes and what we could do about them.”
Helping women know their rights
Hle Hle Yee, 29, is from Yangon, Myanmar. As a result of attending an ActionAid women’s empowerment course, she was inspired to resign from her job in a private law firm and start a free youth legal clinic for women, giving advice on issues such as domestic violence and divorce law.
The course included teaching on presentation and training skills, such as how to use strong body language, how to work with a group, and how to speak in public. “I got so much confidence from the teachers,” Hle Hle Yee says. “Straight after the first module, I was inspired. I resigned from my job on the spot and decided to start a free legal advice clinic for women.”
Hle Hle Yee continues: “In Myanmar, a lot of men assume women won’t fight back because of fear, ignorance or economic dependence. We want to make men realise they can’t get away with it any more.”