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.
Warm gratitude for all of your ongoing support. The school year is just starting up again here in Burma. Because of the success of our past activites, local leadership and school teachers have asked for our girl-specific leadership programs in their communities.
In the 2013-2014 school year we will be reaching 1300 girls aged 12-16 on a weekly basis through our structured, two-year leadership develop programs Colorful Girls Circle.
In light of our growth, I asked our Research Assosiate, who has been with Girl Determined for two years, to reflect on the impacts of our work. Please check out what she has to say (below) or at http://www.girldetermined.org/Girl_Determined/News/Entries/2013/6/5_Interview_with_our_Research_Associate.html.
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Warmest regards from a very rainy Rangoon,
Now you have been working as a research in Girl Determined for almost two years, what are your thoughts about our work, the girls lives and the needs of girls in Burma/Myanmar?
Because we rarely see women leaders in our society, girls just simply think that taking the lead or making decisions is not for them. But Girl Determined allows girls to see a different possible reality and also to practice leadership. Most girls don’t have the opportunity to think critically and through our activities girls must understand different types of problems and propose or even act on ways to solve them. For example, at camp, the girls had to come up with examples in real life where conflict led to positive and negative outcomes. They came up with the examples of the candle campaign and the Letpadaung coppermine protest. They saw that the candle campaign led to more electricity but the for the copper mine project, the conflict continues and the people still don’t have their land back. We simply can’t find these types of activities for girls of their age in our country.
Many of the girls are similarly improving. All of the girls come to Girl Determined without any past experience of sharing their feelings, group discussion and making presentations or speaking in front of others. Within one month, they get really into it and become eager to engage. Most girls want to lead the opening ritual and make the opening statements. They trust one another to talk about problems at school and at home or in their living place. I am worried about some girls and the reality that they might have to quit school and take on the responsibility of supporting their families. I also like that through our programs girls learn to empathize with on another. They become aware of the shared issues that girls face and become empathetic and not judgmental.
In Burma/Myanmar we are the only organization working just for the rights of girls and as far as I know there are really no organizations with specific programs designed especially to meet the girls needs or promote their rights. Girls need different program than boys because what they are facing is different and how they are looked upon by society is different, but no other organization is addressing this.
How will you know that Girl Determined’s programs are successful? How will the community or country be different?
If Girl Determined is successful, in 10 years, we will likely see that our Colorful Girls will be active in social and humanitarian affairs. They will take leadership at their community level. They will consider social problems and be able to use their diplomacy, and negotiation skills to address these issues. Through Girl Determined they have learned these skills and also have got the motivation for that type of work. Realistically, this is what we can expect. In terms of changing the gender roles norms at the household level, they may not be able to change their family’s ideas, but they can decide how they want to live based on their choices. At the least, they will be confident advisors and mediators for their families.
What suggestions do you have for improving the impacts of Girl Determined’s work?
I would like CG to create more awareness campaigns in the community so that people will know the true value of the girls. And, girls will get to meet with local authorities and people in the community will know of their good work.
I think we need all the staff to meet together more frequently. Also, the staff should use some of their time to discuss the different issues facing the girls. During meetings, in addition to discussing the nuts and bolts of the curriculum, we should talk about the girls and our understanding of the girls’ lives.
“If [my daughter] was not involved in Girl Determined’s activities over the past year, I would have asked her to leave school and work in the factory for 60,000 kyats per month ($70 USD).” - mother of a 14-year-old girl
During the 2012-13 school year Girl Determined embarked on a pilot project with five communities in the outskirts of Yangon - Myanmar/Burma’s largest city. Having been working in these areas for over three years, we could see that the high drop-out rates of girls from school comes from a complex set of social and financial reasons. The family’s economic situation is not the exclusive determining factor. Girls often leave school without pressure from their parents as they seek to achieve recognition and value in the eyes of the parents. We thought, “well, how can we get parents to see the true worth of their determined daughters? Will giving girls the opportunity to actively participate in the public sphere shape the attitudes and perceptions of girls' worth held by community leaders, teachers and family members?”
Girl-led Campaigns were born. Through a series of workshops, 250 girls aged 12-15 learned the basics of creating social change by identifying an issue of shared concern, developing an awareness or change campaign strategy and carrying out their campaign.
In February, March and April, the girls developed brochures, canvassed the streets, wrote poems, talk to local officials, sold clean foods in the market, made and distributed recylced paper bags and picked up lots of garbage!
These were their campaign mottos.
What was the impact?
Not only did adolescent girls gain confidence and skills in planning and budgeting, they began to see that, indeed, they could have an effect on their surroundings and, as such, on their own futures. Girls began saw that they could help to create an environment that fosters their development.
Some of the parent’s attitudes towards their daughters changed dramatically over the year. These five communities had the benefits of our regularly weekly Colorful Girls Circles leadership program plus the Girl-led Campaigns. One mother described herself as “over the moon” that her daughter has these incredible opportunities.
In our discussions with parents at the end of the project, we found that:
1. Parents came to trust their daughters to make good decisions, lending towards a decrease in parents determination to control their daughters’ mobility.
2. Parents reported respect for, what they saw as their daughters’ new open-mindedness, increased maturity, ability to plan and draw up a budget, and confidence to speak to adults from participation in the campaign.
3. Parents were impressed by their daughters' skill in leading such an activity, which exhibited their daughters worth and value in a new way.
The staff and Advisory Board of Girl Determined are also “over the moon” by these impacts. Shifts in the way that parents view the value and worth of their daughters will lead to increased investment into their health, education and well-being.
Thank you for helping to make this happen! Please let us know what you think.
Visit our website to see hear more about our projects and see photos of the Girl-led Campaigns.
“I really believed that it was girls’ nature to be shy and timid. Now, after seeing the changes in the girls from Girl Determined, I am realizing that girls can be anyway they want to be. They can even be strong and vocal.” – a 28 year-old teacher from a school in Mandalay
That girls are ‘shy’ and ‘timid’ by nature is a commonly held belief by many people in Burma (Myanmar). This understanding of girls’ and women’s fixed character is as certain as the sun rising each day, even for many girls and women themselves. So, when this monastic school teacher, whose girl students are weekly participants in Girl Determined leadership programs, described her dramatically shifting understanding of girls’ potential and abilities, we considered that a major win.
Every week our facilitators go to fifteen communities across Rangoon and Mandalay, reaching close to 800 girls aged 12-16. The weekly sessions build girls personal leadership, communication skills, confidence and ability to assert their ideas and opinions. In this case, the teachers remarks were evidence that not only is our weekly program deeply transforming the girls in that school, the school teacher herself has been affected, so much so that she is openly questioning deeply held beliefs. At Girl Determined, this is one of the changes we have been working to see.
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