Girl Determined

Girl Determined is a leadership project designed to assist girls ages 12-17 to avoid the pitfalls of trafficking, dangerous labor and other forms of violence, by facilitating girls' recognition of their personal and group potential. Because of our belief in girls as potential change-agents in their households, communities and nations, our program aims to increase girls' ability to make strategic life-decisions, generate choices and exercise bargaining power. This real empowerment creates opportunities for girls to better cope with their difficulties, envision alternatives and take leadership into their own hands. The underlying premise of Girl Determined work is that educating, connecti...
Jul 17, 2014

Girl Determined's leadership projects reach 2000!

Moe Lwin Htay shares her views
Moe Lwin Htay shares her views

Greetings girl champions,


I just want to check in to let you know how your support is helping girls. Girl Determined continues to grow. We are now reaching almost 2000 girls every week! These girls become a part of our Colorful Girls program and get the chance to engage in activity-based leadership sessions that have proven to build girls confidence, enhance their abilities to make life decisions and use their new-found understanding to advocate for girls’ rights in their community and at the national level.


Of course, we can collect data and make observations about the changes in the teenage girls from Burma but nothing really demonstrates the changes in behavior, attitude, knowledge and status than the words of one of our amazing Colorful Girls.


Meet Moe Lwin Htay[i]. She is in the 9th grade and lives in the outskirts of one of the country’s larger towns. She shares with us some of her thoughts on the impacts of Colorful Girls in her own life and how it can be a force to help empower other girls her age.


My name is Moe Lwin Htay. There are 9 people in my family including my grandma. My mother is a cleaning person in a building owned by the city government. My father got divorced and he left when I was young.


I am in the second year of Girls Determined, Colorful Girls leadership program. I have noticed that there are some clear differences between all of us in Colorful Girls and the other girls our age in our community. Colorful Girls are more thoughtful than other girls, as an example most Colorful Girls don’t have boyfriend compared to other girls. This means that they spend more time working on their own goals including education or personal development. Most of us have changed our way of thinking and therefore our behavior. We now know that girls have equal rights with boys and because of that understanding we have become more hardworking and aspire to achieve.


Before I joined Colorful Girls last year in the eight grade, I would say that I was just ‘an ordinary girl.’ The first thing I have learned from our group was that girls feel small because of the social norms brought along from generation to generation. Having really begun to see this around me, I have gradually changed. Now, I think about the people are me in a positive way and rarely have a negative view point. I am more able to find empathy with my peers and also with my mother.


From Girl Determined I have learned some conflict resolution skills and have become deeply interested in learning more about and practicing conflict resolution in my community and perhaps, in the future, for my country which has many conflicts especially race and religion. This could not only be useful for my nation, but it could be a real career path for me. My interest start when I attended Girl Determined Peacebuilding Summer Camp. The project facilitators don’t discriminate. They taught us about power and violence and that inequity can create conflict.


I want to know how girls can persuade more girls for girl unity. The last thing is I want to know how we can persuade boys to understand the girls because they commit violence against girls even at the time when we are just walking on the road.


For girls who are younger than me, I encourage them to not to think of themselves as left behind the boys, but they must stay abreast of boys and try hard. And, when parents try to get them to drop out of school, they must stay strong and persuade their parents otherwise.   They should strive to finish higher education. When they become educated they will be closer to gaining equal access to job opportunities with the boys. Of course, they must make friendship with the boys and men too. They need to be our allies.


For me, I will continue to focus on my personal development and do my best not to be distracted.   I don’t want to miss out on achieving my goals. we will lose our goals. Like I have learned from Colorful Girls, I am trying to achieve my goal. I always think about what I do and I will also try to reach. Maybe I will not be a great woman, but for sure I want to become a woman who is good at making decisions.


With heartfelt gratitude for being apart of this work,



Brooke Zobrist

Girl Determined







[i] [i] I have taken the liberty of changing her name for her security.

Dec 27, 2013

Teenage Girls speak out on their rights in Burma

We are thrilled to report that 2013 has been a banner year for Girl Determined!


We began working with adolescent girls in Burma in 2008, and seeing many girls' desire to learn and create options for their futures, we expanded and more formally organized in 2010.  This past year we have been reaching over 1300 girls aged 12-17 through regular weekly leadership programs. Though our local community staff and the girls' parents can see how the program is changing the way girls see themselves and how they interact with their communities, this new sense of strength and value was publicly evident in October at Girl Determined's forum for the International Day of the Girl Child.


The UN designated International Day of the Girl Child last year and this was the first time that girls in Burma came together to claim their rights.  Since March Girl Determined staff have been facilitating a process in which adolescent girls in our programs discuss what they want their futures to look like - how should the education system improve to better attend to girls needs?; how can family members support girls to achieve their potential?; how can the justice system really ensure that girls and women are safe from abuse? After months of discussion and participation with over 1000 girls, the first "Girls Statement on Rights in Burma" was released by all the girls in our Colorful Girls Circles program on October 18th. 


Over 900 girls in Mandalay and 500 girls in Yangon joined together that day to publicly release the statement, discuss the future for girls and bring attention to the unique needs and potential of adolescent girls to shape society, politics and the economy.  That day, adolescent girls handled questions from each other, from the press and managed all aspects of the day's program.  One very experienced community development worker told me, "Wow!  I have never seen anything like this! Girls in our country tend to be so shy and afraid, now they are speaking out and I thank you all for this.  It can change our nation." Girl Determined is putting girls in the position to design their own futures and to create a future in which their sons and daughters do not face the same risks - extreme poverty, trafficking, labour exploitation, violence and school drop-put - that they now face.


Please continue to support these efforts.  What the girls learn in Girl Determined programs last a lifetime and cannot be taken away from them.  For 2014 we aim to reach  1800 girls every week and to launch a new tool - a 'By Girls, For-Girls' magazine to help galvanize this movement for change.  Click in and help us get the magazine off the ground.

Thank you for being apart of this important and inspiring program. 


Warm regards and love for the holidays,



Girl Determined



Aug 26, 2013

Adolescent Girls and dangerous jobs in Burma

Ma Phyu Pwint - Courtesy of Andrew Stanbridge
Ma Phyu Pwint - Courtesy of Andrew Stanbridge

Child labor is prevalent in Burma. Any visitor to the country will notice children, sometimes very young, delivering tea in corner shops, selling sweet jasmine to drivers at urban intersections and hawking snacks outside the train station. Out of view of the casual observer, children are also in garment production, food processing and both large-scale and family agricultural production.

Girl Determined is a leadership project designed to assist girls ages 12-17 to avoid the pitfalls of trafficking, dangerous labor and other forms of violence, by facilitating girls' recognition of their personal and group potential. Girl Determined educates, connects, supports and fosters the development of personal and group voice amongst marginalized adolescent girls so that they can attain their rights.

Almost all of the girls who attend our weekly programs are enrolled in secondary schools. Throughout the two consecutive years that we work directly with girls, most will confront the issue of dropping out of school to work - either for money or to alleviate the household workload. The reasons for drop-out and entry the workforce are complex and cannot be viewed simply as an economic imperative. Certainly the need for additional family income and help around the house is real, though various factors come into play when girls make their decisions. In some cases, parents or relatives put direct pressure on girls to work, but for most of the girls with whom we work, the issues are subtler. Girls describe discrimination in the classroom for being poor, ethnic minority or struggling with the material and harassment on the way to and from school as reasons they drop-out. Many of the girl seek to gain respect and appreciation from their parents for contributing. The relatively low-value placed on girls in many households means that girls are constantly seeking ways to be valued. Unfortunately, the dangers they face in the work place and the paltry earning usually do not translate into long-term respect or any real shift in girls or women's place on the ladder.

Girls in our programs work as domestic helpers, as candy makers in factories and even cutting the uneven 'hairs' in a wig factory. According to the current law on child labor, children as young as 13 can legally work in 'light' industries, which is below standards set forth in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children often work for very low-wages, long hours and in hazardous conditions. Girls are particularly at-risk of abuse in their work situation as their work goes largely unrecognized seen as the helpers and supporters - their "natural" role. Broadly, child labor is socially accepted and is viewed as necessary and desirable especially for girls who "aren't that bright" or "too shy to be good in school."

As international trade negotiations progress and banking infrastructure in the country continues to develop, there will be increasing foreign investment in Burma, namely in manufacturing and resource extraction - both industries have a history of exploiting child workers. In the absence of strong laws for violators and strict regulations we will likely see increased pressure for children to move into wage-labor.

Data is not available but through out the lives of the girls in our programs we can see that wage and transactional work increase dramatically in early adolescence for girls - around 6th,7th and 8th grades. Girl Determined programs reach girls during this critical stage of emotional development providing tools to help girls to find their own personal worth, analyze risks vs. opportunities, draft plans and communicate with peers and adults. Girls in our programs have witnessed their own individual change, which in part comes through the recognition that gender discrimination and rights violations, as opposed to their own worthlessness, have created challenges to achieving their potential.

Ma Phyu Pwint, aged 13 describes her experience working outside the home and the ways in which weekly participation in Girl Determined's programs has helped her to stay in school and not move full-time into the candy factory.

"I have worked in the factory since the summer after 6th grade. I was about 11 or 12 then. I work there during the summer holidays, weekends and also during the long school breaks.

Basically, we are given a big ball of tamarind paste. I have to break down that ball and roll it into 100 small sticks to be eaten like a candy. I then roll each single stick in sugar, then wrap it in the colorful wrapper and twist the ends. I get 100 kyats (about 10 cents) for every 100 sticks of tamarind candy that I can finish. It takes about 30 minutes to complete 100 pieces. We are allowed to get to work as early as we want because we are paid by the piece. I like to get there at 6 am and sometimes, especially on payday, I leave at five, but other days I leave between 6pm and 9pm. I only take a break for lunch.

There are about 60-70 women and girls working there at a time. Most are around my age and some are between 20 and 30. There are also some boys who do the lifting and loading of the products. Some of the girls have dropped out of school and work there full-time.

A few years ago, my neighbor said that she had heard of the job and asked me to go their with her to get the information. At the time my family was struggling financially and I wanted to help. My siblings are 5 in total, three older ones and one younger. My parents both work. My father buys wholesale candles and resells them and sometimes makes snacks and sells them in the community. My mother buys old plastic buys and makes them into smaller woven bags which she sells to vendors for their beans and rice. At the time, my sister had dropped out of school because my parents could not afford the fees, and my mother told me that if I worked, my sister could go back to school. Most of my wages are spent on my older sister's education. She goes to government school. But, I go to monastery school so I don't need as much money. My eldest brother is in his final year of university and my older brother just completed high school.

On payday, I take that money home and give it to my mother. Sometimes, she uses it to buy me new clothes to motivate me to keep working. I walk to the factory with my friend everyday. It takes about 20 minutes. On my way to work at the factory I am really sad to see the other girls heading to the tuition classes or summer school as they prepare for their high school years. Because I work, I can't go there. If I quit the job, it will be difficult for my siblings to go to school.

Girl Determined has helped me a lot. First of all, I noticed that because of the weekly activities on discrimination I have changed my relationship with other girls. There is a Hindu girl in my school. I used to be afraid of her and tried every day to sit far away from her in the classroom. Because of the Girl Determined workshops, I started to think more about her life and how she must experience school since most people don't like her because she's Hindu. So, I started making friends with her and she now attends Girl Determined every week too! I found that she and I have a lot in common. I am now happier in school and want to go every day. In Girl Determined groups we discussed the ways to talk to adults. When my mother suggests that I leave school because my marks are low and my family needs the money, I now negotiate with her. I explain to her that if I leave school to work, my salary will never increase much over the course of my life. And, besides, we girls have the right to our education."

For the 2013-14 academic year, your support goes towards keeping 1400 girls away from dangerous work so that they can stay in school! Give now to help us enhance our programs to ensure girls safety.

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