Gender Equality Movement and Community Engagement

Shwe Hmon
Posted May 4, 2012 from Burma

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”!

Insha Allah 4th May, 2012 (Friday)

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