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We women founder launches the Documentary
We women founder launches the Documentary

March 14th, 2014 marked the end of We women foundation’s immensely successful Emerging Women of Burma campaign. The campaign aimed to raise awareness of the continuing struggles for women in Burma, to highlight the incredible work already being done inside Burma and to provide support for the work of We women  foundation. All together the campaign raised over US$ 11,800, attracted the attention of international media and engaged a wide range of stakeholders including We women students, local and foreign supporters, and rights advocates from Burma.

The campaign culminated in the launch of We women foundation’s first documentary project, Emerging Women of Burma, which chronicles the difficulties and triumphs of seven emerging women leaders in Burma. The aim of the documentary was to bring awareness to the international audience about the outstanding work of women who are rarely on the front pages of newspapers and also to inspire the next generation of women leaders.

The Documentary

In June 2013 We Women Foundation began the search for women community leaders within Burma. The call for nominations was sent out to a broad cross section of CBOs and BGOs both on the Thai/Burma border and inside Burma. They came back with great responses, 25 nominations in total. We women foundation then set out to contact the nominees. This proved difficult as many of the women work in remote areas and do not often have access to telephones, Internet or mail. After much deliberation, seven incredible women were selected to be showcased in the documentary.

The seven women chosen hold a range of positions: one a Member of Parliament, others NGO leaders and community activists. All of the women are beacons of hope for the future of Burma. Their stories, ranging from overcoming lack of support for educating girls to economic desperation that led to the difficult decision to become a sex worker, to becoming empowered women committed to doing work for the benefit of the community, are incredibly powerful.

The Dutch company Vamos Bien graciously funded the making of the documentary. With their funding, the small film crew was sent to Burma in November 2013, where they spent two weeks filming and conducting interviews. The raw footage was then edited, translated into English and finally completed in March 2014. The 45-minute documentary was launched in Chiang Mai as the highlight of the fundraising campaign, to help bring awareness and bolster support for rising women leaders. The documentary will be released in the Netherlands in Summer 2014.

Emerging Women of Burma Events

Throughout the course of the Emerging Women of Burma campaign, We women foundation staff, volunteers and friends collaborated to host awareness and fundraising events around the world.

Jenelle in New York City incorporated a creative We women donation sock into her New Year’s Eve party and a family in the Netherlands donated their Christmas card budget to the foundation.  Additionally, students at St. Swithun’s Winchester in the UK donated proceeds from their cake walk towards the campaign.

Melissa Waters, a We women fundraising volunteer based in North Queensland, Australia rallied the support of her community to put on an art auction supporting the foundation. The auction featured 85 works of art from North Queensland’s local artists, attracted attention from the community’s radio and newspaper outlets and interested over 50 donors in We women foundation’s work.

At the We women headquarters in Chiang Mai, we held a dinner and silent auction to introduce our local friends to the aspirations of the Emerging Women of Burma campaign. The night of the silent auction was great fun, with many of Chiang Mai’s luxury hotels, restaurants and shops generously donating their goods and a large number of supporters coming out to share in abundant food, prizes, and discussion about the campaign’s key issues.

Awareness Raising Successes

The Emerging Women of Burma documentary launch was the capstone to the whole campaign and a wonderful closing celebration. The documentary premiered to an audience of over 85 people at Chiang Mai’s dedicated documentary film center, Documentary Arts Asia. Following the screening, the packed house engaged We women founder, Ursula Cats, and filmmaker, Jai Jai, in a Q&A session about the women featured and issues raised in the film. We women foundation students also viewed the Emerging Women of Burma documentary at a special screening and shared their thoughts. It is clear from the discussions that followed in each case that the documentary is educational, thought provoking, and inspiring. Our students identified with the struggles that the women leaders retold and expatriate audience members were moved by the opportunity to put a face to the repression they have only abstractly heard about. As a whole, viewers of Emerging Women of Burma are convinced of the potential that the young women in Burma hold for creating a safer, more equitable and more prosperous future for their country.

We women foundation is incredibly excited to continue to share the documentary, spreading more insight and inspiring more support for women’s education and leadership in Burma along the way. Already we have seen a great response from the international community, due in large part to the media outlets that have championed the campaign’s mission. The Daily Beast touted “Burma’s Emerging Female Activists are Ready to Lead,” Yahoo Shine profiled two We women students hot on the path to becoming key social leaders in Burma, and Just Means and WINGS: Women’s International News Gathering Service linked We women foundation and the Emerging Women of Burma documentary to the global push for increased opportunities for women. Regional news outlets with particularly high influence in Myanmar and Southeast Asia, including Democratic Voice of Burma, the Irrawaddy, and Mizzima News, also published stories about We women and the documentary.

As the Emerging Women of Burma campaign comes to a close, We women foundation feels proud and encouraged by the increased enthusiasm and interest alertness that the campaign’s activities have garnered for women’s issues in Burma. Bolstered by the financial and intellectual support of the campaign, we will continue to support young women in their pursuit of meaningful educational and career objectives and enhance promotion of women’s leadership in this time of great opportunity for Burma.

We women staff and students view the documentary
We women staff and students view the documentary

Thanks to your generous support We women foundation is busy putting the finishing touches on our Emerging Women of Burma documentary! The documentary, to be released on March 14th, profiles seven women leaders of Burma. By sharing the difficulties these women face and how they overcome them, We women aims to inspire the new generation of female activists. As a sneak peak we want to share one inspiring story now.

Kaythi is the founder of AIDS Myanmar Association, an organization providing network and support for current and former sex workers. She describes the path that led to this mission saying:

“When I started thinking about working as a sex worker, I knew that people saw it as a bad job, but the difficulty and living expenses for my family were more important than what others said about that job. No one will come and look after us if we have no food to eat. Yes, I know that people see that job as bad but I chose to do it. After I chose to work as sex worker, the most I was afraid of was getting HIV. I was afraid of getting infected by HIV but I didn’t know much about the negative consequences of HIV infection. Then I met with an HIV educator, who is also my benefactor, and this meeting later led me to be involved and work in this field.”

With her work, Kaythi is creating a safer and more tolerant Myanmar.

“I wish people to support education and the effective protection of women in our country. I wish there to be legal protection for women. Recently, I read a journal about the Kayan women in which it said that if a Kayan woman is raped, she has no right to seek legal justice and she is  forced by the community not to make a legal complaint, as the community perceives it as bad  for the image of the community. This is aggrieving for women, being forced to close the complaint and having no right to seek justice.   To be satisfied with tradition is tradition and injustice is injustice. ”

To read more excerpts from the interviews of the women featured in our documentary, please visit our blog: http://wewomenfoundation.org/blog/

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We women foundation

Chaing Mai, Chiang Mai Thailand

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Map of Support Emerging Women of Burma