Gender Justice& World Social Forum & Tunis & Maditarrian & Sahara & Camel & People: First Day (19 March 2013)

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Gender Justice& World Social Forum & Tunis & Maditarrian & Sahara & Camel & People: First Day (19 March 2013)

Finally, I am here. I am now in Tunis, Tunisia. I hope my fellow Action Partners who also struggled and overcame the similar experiences would be able to understand my feeling. Our feeling will be very similar or the same. When I was informed the fact that I was selected to participate in the OIYP’s Gender Justice Project and to attend World Social Forum both of which would take place in Tunis, I was just overwhelmed believing I am making another milestone. As a committed social worker, consciousness of being able to attend the “World Social Forum” is really a motivated award. I couldn’t wait to meet other social activities from different places, listen to them, talk with them, share each other experiences and learn from them and build a potential network for the benefit of both communities and persons. I can’t also wait to reunite again my fellow Acton Partners who I met in the Kaleidoscope 2010 in New Delhi, India. Kaleidoscope was one of the amazing experiences of my life. I am just sorry that I couldn’t have acquainted with all of the Action Partners. I believe this reunion event would give all of us to be able to connect each other more friendlily and create a long lasting and mutually benefiting relationship. As a feminist and the one who strongly believes in equality regardless of who one is, my heart was beating ruthless to participate in Gender Justice Project. I shouldn’t close my crazy hope to see the Madetarrian Sea, the desert and the camel and the interesting culture which would be new to me.

We came to the time when we started preparing for our dramatic trip. All the unexpected disappointing and disgusting things came to me. That’s also what I could achieve what I want, what I deserve and make my dream come true. Working through for the Tunisia Visa which is necessary for my long-awaiting journey really challenged me. I started inquiry in the Tunisia Consulate in Singapore as I was hoping that my connections there would be able to help me for the process. But I was replied that The Consulate is only for the Singaporeans. That’s understandable. I tried to the Consulate in the Bangkok, Thailand. I was over delighted that when I first learned that the Thailand Consulate provides visa service to Burmese citizens but my hope was destroyed by the fact that only Burmese permanent residents in Thailand can benefit the service. And they suggested me to try in the Embassy in Jakarta and it ended there with I should contact to the Embassy in Beijing. Finally, the Beijing embassy was a right place for me. They really helped me and I processed for my visa electronically with them. I was eventually informed to send my passport and some money for the visa fees and the cost to send back my passport. I believed that my bitter memories have done all. With calmness and huge enthusiasm, I contacted to DHL and my cherry feeling was shook by their words. “Oh, I need an official letter from the ministry of home affairs and the foreign affairs to be able to send my passport to Beijing”. What can stop me? Although I was exhausted and depressed, I went to the ministries. I am sure if this is in the previous regime’s time, I am done. It’s very likely that I was arrested or detained for my activism and activities and my crazy bravery to confront with them. I have never imagined such situation. To be honest, while I was sitting in front of the Chief Police Officer and talking with him, I felt if I should stop and that’s risky for me. But something motivated me. I believe that’s one of the rare chances. I can’t guarantee myself that I can go to Tunisia by myself in the future and attend such World Forum. My dedication and eagerness still kept going me. But, at the same time, I was feeling unsafe and nervous while I was writing my appeal letter to the ministry providing all my information. I was more worried for my family. Finally, all those experiences taught me very valuable lessons. As an ordinary citizen from a third world country and a country with tight policy, that’s we have to suffer as long as we accept and don’t realize the rights we should enjoy. And the more valuable lesson is “just keep trying your best with a good heart, enthusiasm, and your own integrity, good fortune will come to such a good person”. Later, I can’t believe my good fortune. I could have visited to Beijing, China and I got my visa there within ten minutes. All those experiences gave me the understanding that first I am capable of, I am deserved, I am very supported because I also help others. That really strengthened me to be a better and stronger person as a woman, a social worker and human being, off course.

Finally, I am here. I am now in Tunis, Tunisia. While I was greeting my friends and Oxfam staff at the breakfast, I can’t believe that’s real. All the bitter memories turned sweet ones when we shared the experiences; we were talking about our excitement for the Gender Justice Project and the World Social Forum. I have walked around twice. I don’t feel I am not safe, but I am feeling something strange. I don’t see many tourists. While our group is recharging our phones at a shop this afternoon, every localities in the shop were concerned us. I love the face that the city is clean and green. Sure. My travel experience is also giving me some lessons. I bought a socket at a shop with 5 Dinar and later I saw it’s just 3 Dinar. Oh, I should walk around at least. I was very joyful our group night out for dinner. At the dinner, I sit next to a local friend and I learned about Tunis from him.

At this point, everyone in our team seems tired although we all are very excited for the coming activities. I am now ready to be an effective and active participant in the events. And I am waiting to meet and greet more action partners who I haven’t connected. I just believe another wonderful day is waiting me (us).

One Step for Us, Girls and Women

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In Myanmar (Burma) where I was born and raised up, traditional culture supports gender stereotypes and a belief that education is less crucial for girls than for boys, especially in times of hardship. Subsequently, girls often get less education than boys in their adulthood, resulting in a lack of opportunity for gaining well-paid jobs. Girls are instead required to help with farming and house-keeping. In these days of economic hardship, every household member needs to earn an income, so girls are forced to leave the household to find jobs even though they do not have enough skills. Most urban poor women do not know how to find jobs, how to prepare Curriculum Vitae, or how to set up a business. Job opportunities are very scarce and most industries and factories only recruit the young women who have skills, business knowledge, and good health. These girls with no formal education mostly find work in the industries and factories owned by Chinese businesses and government businessmen. These industries cannot offer enough job opportunities to all the unemployed girls and pay wages that are too low to support a family in Rangoon, which has a high cost of living compared to other cities. Food and housing are particularly expensive in Rangoon. Therefore, some girls who cannot earn enough money living Rangoon become sex workers to earn extra income. Most are not fully aware of health risks associated with sex work or ways to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. An increasing number of women are becoming infected with HIV. These female sex workers are spreading the disease because they lack formal employment, as well as sex education and positive living education. There are also many psychological impacts for the women, such as low morale, depression, anxiety, and suicide because of their status within the society. In the strict Burmese Buddhist society, these women are unvalued and looked down on by the society. Even though their families are struggling to survive, they do not want their daughters to become bar girls or sex workers. Therefore, once girls become sex workers they are no longer accepted by the society and cannot find jobs or opportunities to that would allow them to quit their illegal profession. This means that girls and women who want to quit their professions of sex work cannot survive in the formal economy.

Kyauk Tann Township in suburb Yangon is the population of low socio economic status and community of urban slum people. Many of the young girl students who are attending at the Zabu Oak Shaung free nunnery school (My articles about Zabu Oak Shaung’s education program can be read on A Remarkable Woman Who Made Her Dreams Do Come True.) are facing a thread for the continuation of their education at every new academic year. Their parents cannot guarantee them to be able to complete a highest decent education: high school graduation or a bachelor degree. Like most the welfare children in the downtown and privileged areas of Yangon, they cannot have a chance to enjoy other co-extracurricular and life skills programs such as computer, internet and language trainings.

By providing vocational and personal development training in their summer holiday to a number of potential young girl students from the Zabu Oak Shaung nunnery school and empowering them to develop their business, entrepreneurial mindset and confidence, the selected girls will be trained sewing and personal development skills at the end of the project. “One Step For Girls” is a vocational and personal development training program in summer holidays for economically vulnerablgirls from the Zabu Oak Shaung, initiated and implemented by Metta Moe Myanmar, the local civil society organization I and my friends founded in May 2009.

As the next phase, we will find a potential market for the garments made by the girls and empower them to set up small business at their home or the nunnery school. The girls, their family, the nunnery school and the community are aimed to benefit from those activities and impact. For a sustainability purpose, these girls must also cascade their knowledge and skills to another group of girls at the next summer holiday. Our Metta Moe team, the nunnery school and the girls themselves must find a potential funding source for the marketing, setting up small businesses and future training delivery phases.

The project idea came from the preliminary discussion with the Myaing Tharyar ward (1) community where the nunnery school is situated and the Zabu Oak Shaung. They will contribute five sewing machines, a space, food in training days and other helps in need. Our Metta Moe will contribute Personal Development Training and Sharing Circle facilitators.
co-curricular activity at ZOS
The integration of vocational skills and personal development training is a more powerful approach to empowerment rather than just mediocre economic empowering to girls and women. Ma Hnin Si is the one of the most inspiring women I have ever met in my life. At her young age, her husband then passed away with AIDS and she was also diagnosed with HIV. At that time, she was very vulnerable in terms of health, economic and social aspects. Both her family and parents-in-law did not give her a hand. Instead of that, they neglected and discriminated her. She was really in a deep dark ravine. She was even sent to a mental health hospital as an insane person. When she joined our organization’s psychosocial support program two years ago, she was one of the team leaders in her organization. Her leadership and interpersonal skills is far beyond her life and experiences. She was sharing her story as a lesson learning and ideal example to her peers and fellows with a thoughtful and reflective insight. It is remarkable that she is a motivated entrepreneur and business woman throughout her life, both in difficult and trouble-free situations. It is like there is none sort of business she hasn’t done, from small restaurant owner and selling flowers at a pagoda to seasonal agriculture business and making and selling garments and hand-made accessories. She can even support her family who once treated her badly. That makes her feel delight, sense of capability and personal confident. Last year, she got married for second time. She loves her new husband so much and feels like he is everything for her. But after few months, she realized the bitterness from that marriage. She found her husband is a bad guy. He abused her both physically and mentally on a daily basis. He is very uncooperative and seriously criticizes and blames whatever she does. He restricts her rights. He makes shameful things in her social life. He meaninglessly and excessively squanders all the money she makes. Every fruitful and peaceful mechanism of her life broke down since then. She has been in severe depression and cannot think of for her current and future.

Action for Public (My article about Action for Public can be read on Action for Public, Action for Women.) is a women empowerment organization founded by a high-visionary young woman who is also a Fulbright MPA scholar. We, both AFP and MMM, believe that multidisciplinary approach is the most effective empowerment evolution for girls and women in vulnerable circumstances. At AFP, the primary program is vocational training and income generation programs. At the same time, Ma Kyi Pyar, the founder and program-director of AFP, organizes occasionally leadership, personal development, problem solving and life skills training programs for her beautiful women. In summer holidays, language teaching, story telling and other fun and co-extracurricular activities are arranged by the support of partnered organizations for effected and infected children of those women. Ma Kyi Pyar keeps her organization’s atmosphere in a family setting with good discipline rather than a hierarchical NGO structure. By this way, women feel they are very trustworthy, reliable and supportive each other. She also organizes fun activities such as karaoke and going to pagoda and other fun places for women and she is also an active participant in those leisure activities. By this way, her members feel her genuine support and it is also a role model for humble and charismatic leadership. In collaboration with Metta Moe, AFP has been providing psychosocial support training and service program to its women. Now, Ma Hnin Si is in struggling circumstance but thanks to that awesome program, she is having a helpful support for her mental deterioration. Her counselor genuinely listens and shows empathy to her. She challenges and shapes her thoughts. They together find solutions and develop coping mechanism. Ma Hnin Si feels she is now in the right track to recovery.
AFP women in watermelon field which is one of their income generation programs
If I, Ma Kyi Pyar and Daw Wi Mala Sari who is the principal nun of Zabu Oak Shaung are asked, as a grassroots young woman leader, what motivates us and why we are doing what we are doing, our answers will not be different. “We believe that we, women, can do it.” “We believe that Girls effect will change the world.” “Some changes cannot wait the regime or policy change, we must create our future.” “Traditionally untapped potential of our girls and women must be solution-oriented at our time.”

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The Emancipation of ….

You know? I am not anymore a greedy person you used to know. I don’t know exactly what changed me. All that I experienced during these years might seem to have made me depressed and changed my personality. But I realize it might be a revolutionary process and after all, to myself, it made me a more mature person and changed some of my perspectives. Most important thing is from those experiences, good or bad, I learned to be happy and keep moving with optimism. Now I just pass each day without much worry but having those must-plan-ahead in my mind as and when necessary. , I will be living the way i want or feel like and I find it rather worthwhile, at least to me, than adjusting my life to whatever someone else expects it to be or up to social norms.

I am sure there would be times coming ahead I feel very down and emotionally problematic again. But then, I will be able to get up again. Maybe I already got a foundation which is strong enough, huh?

Gender Equality Movement and Community Engagement

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In Myanmar where I was born and raised up, traditional culture supports gender stereotype and women and girls are discriminated and dominated by their male counterparts. Although the numbers of boys and girls who have access to education is almost the same in urban areas and big cities, girls are considered less and not important than boys for going to school in rural areas especially in the time of economic hardship for parents. Resulting in lower educational competency, fewer women get jobs compared to men. Even when women and men are at the same level position in the work, women are paid less than men. Fewer women can access to labor organizations and worker’s union to claim their rights. In all aspects of the life, women are more vulnerable because of all those inequalities the society creates. If a woman is educated and has high paid job, it is much likely that she contributes to her family and the socio-economic status of herself and the family brings a positive impact to the community. If women are in difficult situations, they are prone to expose hazardous conditions like human trafficking and sexual violence and that can lead to public health problems like HIV/AIDS. Their children and the closets are also affected by the poverty and inequality. The quality of a woman’s life much speaks for the whole community.

At personal level, it is very important to empower women and girls to understand their potential and capacities. My life experience teaches me that women are very strong and revolutionary. But my society sees women are week and because of that outlook, women themselves undermine their existence and their strength. Undermining their ability, women really become like a second-class citizen in the society. I am a firm believer in that each and everyone woman needs to be empowered that “the life of a woman is neither more nor less than that of a man” and “we, women, can do it”. In community level, schools and institutions should have intellectual knowledge and skills to empower girls and to engage boys for gender equality. In civil society arena, organizations are needed to effectively implement gender sensitive programs in line with local and community cultural context. NGOs and development agencies should promote women empowering and women’s right and to achieve this, they need to educate concerned individuals. To achieve gender equity, it is needed to not only empower girls and women but also engage men and boys. We cannot achieve gender equality without having the support of masculinity and their involvement. For an instance, men obviously play a crucial role in eliminating and reducing domestic and gender-based violence. Government and policy makers are ultimately needed to be influenced to achieve gender equality in a country. They can impose rules and regulations to protect women and policies to promote women participation in public sphere.

The changes in the recent years in Myanmar place the country into the right track to the peaceful and democracy nation. Along with these political movements, promoting human right becomes one of the emerging issues for the country. Among them, promoting women’s right and achieving gender equality in the country also becomes the priority agenda for the country. I believe that the current situation is giving our generation the right time and the best opportunity to create a space for social and political change for the betterment of women’s lives in the country. In the past, the previous regime tremendously oppressed Aung San Su Kyi, the lady. It’s symbolically oppressing the country’s female populations. Today, we have two female deputy ministers in the cabinet and a number of woman parliamentary members including Aung San Su Kyi in the parliament. This is a considerable success compared to the past years. But the journey does not stop here and we are on the long way to reach our goal. We need more woman leaders, ministers, policy makers, MPs, academics, activists and media personals who can serve effectively and passionately to improve and fulfill the needs of the women in the country. We can see noticeable improvement in gender equality movement. A huge number of NGOs and organizations in Yangon where I live are dedicated to women and girls and gender issue. We even have the organization like WON (Women Organizations Network) which is a formal network of organizations which are dedicated to women and gender equality issue.

One public health expert from the US once commented and asked me that she can’t believe how I, a young woman from a closed society like Myanmar, is familiar with such feminism ideology and civil society in the country is very active in gender issue. It means gender equality moment in Myanmar is very accelerating. INGOs like Oxfam and Action Aid are leading organizations implementing gender programs and advocating in the high level position with the government. A huge number of local organizations are also actively working on the issue. We have from girls target organization like “Colorful Girls” and PLWHA women empowerment organization like “Action for Public” to big network like “Women Organizations Network”.

The struggles and movements for gender equality of the Myanmar women today are considerable achievements compared to the past where women were successively dominated by their male counterparts and treated unequally in the society. But, at the same time, the country remains much needed to overcome the patriarchal norms and practices that are rooted in the society. Modern Myanmar women are actively advocating for their historically unheard voices but for the men, it is like a threat assuming women are trying to take their position and dominate them. I have witnessed and experienced the men who see feminist as threatened or funny creature. Even some of my close male colleagues regard woman organizations as those which are doing unnecessary or unimportant things. That is why, whenever I talk about gender initiatives, I put “engaging men and boys” in the agenda. Unless we can adequately communicate with men and achieve their support, our works will not bring visible outcome. At the same time, our women who were traditionally locked in the home and are just about to explore the new better life are needed to be empowered their leadership skills and potential.

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.” ~ John Buchan
I strongly agree with this leadership quote. If we feel doubt or underestimate in the ability of an individual or a community, how can we feel aroused to help them? Believing in there is already greatness in people, we are motivated ourselves to help others vice versa those people are confident to collaborate with us to achieve a common goal. In every spheres of the society, we need people’s participation and community engagement especially in the development works and processes. How can we genuinely understand the needs of the people in a community and help them without listening to their voices and engaging with them? The essence is “by the people, for the people”!

SWH
4th May, 2012 (Friday)

World Pulse’s Voices of Our Future program

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In the VOF (Voices of Our Future) program, I gained the skills and knowledge I need to promote my voice and vision on the ground and to a global audience. I feel I become a loudspeaker, bringing attention to those that are voiceless, and telling the stories that our world needs to hear. During those five-months, my role was to learn report, collaborate, connect and share. I was asked to complete four writing assignments, attend question and answer sessions with our program partners, and work with my Editorial Midwife and Empowerment Mentor.

I served as an on-the-ground source for PulseWire, our community newswire and social networking site. I was encouraged and supported to model World Pulse values, demonstrate online community support, and teach others about citizen journalism and the power of social media. World Pulse has created a network for women, a platform for change, and a sanctuary for those who have been silent.

Empowering Mentors and Editorial Midwives are what set this online program apart. World Pulse recognizes that many Correspondents overcome significant hurdles to participate in this program: we may face long walks to internet cafes, power outages, political instability and curfews, personal intimidation for wanting to participate in a global community of women, writing in a second or third language, and even learning how to be a part of an online social community for the first time. All of these can be daunting and get in the way of completing this program. To address these issues, each Correspondent was assigned, one-on-one, an Empowerment Mentor and an Editorial Midwife. These professional women supported us on our journey for the five months.

The format for the monthly learning modules is designed to create an environment that is safe, collaborative, and challenging to maximize learning. The curriculum covers basic journalistic principles, how to write a profile, a feature story, a frontline journal and an Op-Ed, using social media to amplify our voice, and learning how to train others in Web 2.0 and citizen journalism. Additionally, Amy Lombardo, a 2009 Empowerment Mentor and founder of True Nature Wellness, has generously donated her time to create five, short wellness videos to help us manage stress and busy lives.

Through our Voices, we are able to create a New World.
With Courage we create Possibility.
With Beauty we Innovate the world.
Through Connections, we Transform our world.

Hence, why don’t I share this information about fabulous opportunity to my like-minded fellow sisters and why don’t you grab the golden opportunities?