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Build a girl leader in Myanmar

by Girl Determined
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Build a girl leader in Myanmar
Novice Buddhist nuns are welcomed at a Forum
Novice Buddhist nuns are welcomed at a Forum

At Girl Determined we like to make a big deal about International Day of the Girl (October 11). This year we dedicated almost an entire season to it!  In fostering a movement of adolescent girls across the country, we know that girls need more opportunities to meet girls from different communities and backgrounds in a supportive and collaborative environment. 

For the past few months, our staff have been working tirelessly to organize over a dozen regional-hub Forums for girls.  Having secured a small project grant to support these gatherings, every girl currently enrolled in our weekly leadership circles — over 3,000 girls from 70 different communities — has had the chance to attend a forum where she can meet with other girls in her region and discuss the specific barriers they face in achieving their potential. 

The structure of the Forums is based on consensus-building.  The day’s discussions and activities revolve around a set of wider issues, based on what we already know about the situations of girls in different areas and the concerns girls have expressed to us historically.  In small groups, girls work through these various barriers — depicted on fun sets of illustrated cards — to identify which areas of concern apply most directly to their lives, while articulating specific examples where they have encountered barriers, been discriminated against, or felt unheard.  So far, we have heard from girls in Kachin State, Shan State, Sagaing Region, Mandalay Region, and Yangon Region (Tanintharyi Region forums will occur in the next week), and their highest-priority issues relate to the following issues:

  • access to free, high-quality education for primary and secondary school
  • access to clean toilet facilities, where they can manage my own personal hygiene privately and with dignity
  • comfort and safety to go around their community at any time
  • able to openly celebrate and practice their own ethnicity and religious beliefs

Following the regional Forums, in late November, we will hold an inaugural Girls’ National Conference. This conference will bring girls’ voices and experiences to the fore and encourage girls to act as change-makers in regional and national governance.  Two peer-selected delegates from each project community will assemble in the ancient capital of Mandalay for the conference.  Each girl spokesperson will represent her unique community, and join a larger discussion with other girls facing different issues.  They will hear from one another, learn about civic action on different levels, and draft a joint-letter to parliament expressing the concise needs of girls nation-wide with a clear policy request.  The conference will not only be an unforgettable experience for girls to see the similarities and differences between girls from different areas, but they will also be taking issues into their own hands by learning how to express their needs in a structured way and demanding accountability by those in power.  This will be a monumental event for girls and for Myanmar in moving forward to a more peaceful and equitable future.

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In addition to these exciting developments, our weekly Colorful Girls Circles and Sports programs have been running, new rounds of data collection are in the works to help us identify and reach the ‘most hard to reach’ girls, and we are expecting the next issue of our “Pollinator” magazine to be published before the year’s end.

Please stay tuned for announcements related to our year-end fundraising campaigns and the outcomes of the first-ever Myanmar Girls’ National Conference.  And as always, we thank you for reading and for your incredible support for the advancement of girls!

Girls discuss the challenges in their communities
Girls discuss the challenges in their communities

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Learning from the girls
Learning from the girls

Dear friends,

In this report we want to bring the attention back to the individual girls by sharing about a girl named Yu Yu.  This look into Yu Yu’s life shows a bitter reality, representative of many girls across the country.  As young people, adolescent girls are often exposed to adult issues, while still being considered children.  These already challenging circumstances are further exacerbated by lower socio-economic standings, with many girls coming from poor or ethnic/religious minority backgrounds.  Girls from these backgrounds are often prone to different forms of violence, including discrimination in schools, physical beatings at home, or not having their opinions and input taken seriously.

Apart from Colorful Girls, other social support systems available to girls in their communities are almost nonexistent.  By joining our programs, girls have a safe space to speak without judgement and they have access to a network of peers with whom they can develop a strong camaraderie.  When home and school environments are not supportive, these girl-friendly networks and spaces are crucial to a girls’ personal growth and understanding of her place in the world around her, and a life without violence or repression.

 

Yu Yu*

age 13, from Tanintharyi Region

*name has been changed to protect the girl’s identity

I heard about Colorful Girls (CG) from my friend who told me about the different kinds of topics discussed. I wanted to learn how to protect myself so I joined.  In CG Circles, we share our dreams, goals, and hobbies, and I wonder whether my dreams can actually come true someday.  At the start, my mother did not approve of me playing sports because of my health, but I disagreed.  By doing sports, I feel stronger and am more confident.

I am happy to attend CG activities, but when I go home, it’s a different situation.  I get scolded—and as the eldest of six children, I am scolded the most.  It is a burden to live in my home.  My mother tells me to study hard and insists that I finish all the household chores before I can attend CG activities. Because she has an outside job, she doesn’t like me doing anything apart from housework. I have tried arguing with her about this, but she just scolds me for not listening to her.

I have experienced a lot of violence. Whenever my father comes home drunk, I am frightened, and I hide with my mother. After, my parents fight, and then my father beats me with the back of his sword. I never understand why he would beat his own children. Sometimes, I wonder what good alcohol does, and why it even exists.  It is sad that my own family does not bring me happiness. However, this motivates me to think about my own future and what I must do to be a better, more respectful person.  I do not know exactly how to face challenges and difficulties that await me in the future, but in my Circle I have learned how to deal with stress and how to protect myself.

My dream is to become a designer.  To achieve this dream, I will need to finish high school, learn sewing, and work hard.  Sometimes, when I am stressed and have no one to share my feelings with, I cry, read, or sleep.  I am realizing that unless I take action, my responses are futile.

Already, I have noticed some changes happening in me since joining CG. I used to be very weak because of my heart condition.  I was afraid to talk to boys, and I often wondered how other girls had the courage to speak out.  After joining CG, I realized that if these other girls can do it, I can, too.  I am starting to see myself as a brave girl.

 

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We have also made great progress with our Girl Peer Research Unit, who are collecting data directly from girls to help measure the impact of our programs on participant girls' lives and behaviors.  The original ten enumerators met with around 350 girls in the Colorful Girls programs to collect endline data.  From this, we now know that of the girls surveyed…

  • 23% more report holding a leadership position in the last six months;
  • 28% more "strongly agree" that they are able to make decisions about their future;
  • and 25% more report knowing a place to report violence.

This change is huge for girls, in being able to stand up for themselves and imagine a different future where they are more confident and in control of what happens to them and their communities.

Since the endline data collection, the enumerators have met together several times to reflect on the process and give feedback on the project.  They’ve also participated in two separate workshops to learn more about research methodology and how to handle the rigors of the workplace.  Last month, they were trained on the new baseline questionnaire, which they are using to collect the next round of data.  With this practical research experience and exposure, these young women are paving their own pathways leading to increased curiosity and analytical capacity, financial stability, and independence.

 

As always, thank you for reading and for your incredible support!

GPRU Workshop Round 2
GPRU Workshop Round 2
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Girls' Leadership and Advocacy Summer Camp
Girls' Leadership and Advocacy Summer Camp

Dear friends and supporters,

Over the past few years we have been experimenting and learning alongside girls to determine how to address challenges and create opportunities for positive change.  With only 16% of voices in Myanmar media belonging to women and female representation being one of the lowest in Asia, we believe media matters because strong representation and diverse knowledge creation has the ability to play a significantly positive role in a girl’s life.  Media can create opportunity to lift the needs and rights of girls to a higher status in her community, and even in the public policy sphere.  This report highlights two recent Girl Determined media-related initiatives that are putting girls in the control of media analysis and creation.

One of the featured stories in our recent by-girls-for-girls magazine issue was an excerpt from an interview with a Myanmar woman journalist, Khin Su Kyi.  She spoke with some of the Colorful Girls about the massive gaps of representation of girls and women in media, both on screen and off screen.  While there are a few recognizable women’s faces regularly seen on screen, namely Nobel-Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, most girls and women are portrayed in limited roles as domestic housewives, mothers, or daughters.  According to Khin Su Kyi’s analysis, women in leadership roles are almost always depicted in a singular, specific mold— conservative, donning a well-tailored local sarong-set, in the appearance of an ethnic-majority Bamar and sometimes even revealing her to be a practitioner of Buddhism.  This singular depiction does not provide an aspirational role model for girls from different backgrounds and with varying ideas of who they are and want to be.  This representation tells girls: “if you don’t look like, speak like, and carry yourself this way, you shouldn’t aim to lead.”  In an effort to be more inclusive and promote gender equality in media, the journalist encouraged girls from all walks to participate in media through multiple pathways as producers, directors, journalists, or artists, which will in time inspire more girls to get involved and be inspired to take on leadership roles.

We LOVE Khin Su Kyi’s analysis and encouragement and are working to provide two distinct pathways for girls to grow their understanding of media and harmful and potentially positive impacts of representation, and through control of media creation, in the form of ‘The Pollinator’ magazine. 

Girls’ Leadership and Advocacy Summer Camp – Fifty girls from across the country gathered together near the top of a small mountain, enjoying the cool breezes and discussing media; the representation of girls and how that impacts each of us; the myriad ways that media enters daily life, even in remote villages and camps for the internally-displaced, which are often seen as “cut off;”  and, how girls can start in their communities to use media channels to raise their concerns, challenges, and perspectives, enhancing their status.  This is a newly developed curriculum and we are eager for the girls to give us their feedback so that we can improve it for future years. 

‘The Pollinator’ Magazine – The girl media team has completed two issues of this by-and-for-girls magazine, with the third in the works.  The magazine process puts control in the hands of adolescent girls and legitimizes their voices and perspectives in print. Over several months, the girl media team has worked closely with a local creative agency, Bridge, to develop the step-by-step process for content creation and layout design.  We now have an amazing game board which the girl media team plays to guide them through production, editing, reviewing, layout and the publication of each issue. The result is an eye-grabbing, DIY, scrap-book-y, magazine that represents the perspectives and ideas of the girls and young women involved.  Having grown up with periods of intense media censorship and limited media access in general, this is the first time that girls in our programs have had the chance to be actual media creators.  The ‘gamification’ of each issue's development and the hand-made process really gives girls the tools to succeed.   Because the process is not technical, girls from across the country can participate not only by writing stories, commentary, and poetry, but feeding directly into the layout and graphic design.  This ensures that girl pollinators from across the country can effectively spread their ideas. 

Thanks for your continued support and attention!

'The Pollinator' Magazine Article
'The Pollinator' Magazine Article

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Enumerators collecting data during practical
Enumerators collecting data during practical

Dear friends and supporters,

We hope your start to 2018 has been a great one!

Our new year has started out strong with the launch of our Girl Peer Research Unit.  Already, ten young women alumni from our programs have been selected and completed a one-week intensive training on basic research methodology and data collection.  While we cannot prepare them for everything, we are confident that they now know how to interact with girls in the field, they can deliver the questionnaire in an impartial and non-judgemental manner, and they can feel safe knowing that there are many other women staff members and partner allies looking out for them as they visit 70 project sites around the country.

These young women who are now collecting program impact data are all under 22 years-old.  They come from both the country’s central Mandalay Region and camps for those internally displaced by ongoing armed conflict in northernmost Kachin State.  Eight of the ten young women were pushed out of school during their middle school years, and the other two are currently students in Myanmar’s “distance learning” university system.  Most of them have work experience helping on family farms, stitching or cutting in a garment factory/weaving industry or on a camera accessories assembly line, and one had worked previously as a housemaid in Singapore.  With limited exposure to decent work opportunities or careers paths, the young women say that they have at times in their lives wanted to be a school teacher or possibly a tailor. 

We loved hearing their personal stories and learning of their motivations for staying involved with Girl Determined.  

“I wanted to apply for the GPRU program because even though I may not be very well-educated, I would still like to widen my knowledge, instead of staying at home and weaving…  My proudest moment was one time when I was really angry about something.  I began my weaving, like normal, but ended up letting my anger get ahold of me.  The threads got tangled up from my carelessness, and I had to stop.  I stepped away from the loom to control my emotions and reflect.  Afterwards, I was able to return to my work and mend my mistakes.  By going through this process of managing my anger, I felt I was more in control of myself.”

— Khin Moe, from Mandalay, age 20

 

Meet the rest of these incredible girl peer enumerators!

 

 

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields have long been steeped with gender-based discrimination, often prioritising boys and men over girls and women—from encouraging more school-aged boys to pursue studying maths and sciences, to the male-dominated portrayal of these jobs in mass media.   With the recent spike in number of tech jobs and need for data-driven projects in Burma, we are working to change that.  This project will provide young women with decent work in research firms with the possibility for ongoing opportunities.  Young women's entrance into the field and the positive outcomes amplified through our media programs will re-shape commonly held beliefs about the potential of young women, broadening the scope for girls’ and young women’s economic empowerment.

Our GlobalGiving micro-project dedicated to the “We Want to Know!” Girl Peer Research Project will expire in less than one week!  On the micro-project page, you can learn more about the initiative and know that your support will go directly to ensuring equal access to job opportunities and upward mobility for girls/women in a non-traditional field.

 

Thanks for your continued support and attention!

#JustStepsForward #GirlsInResearch

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Girls Learn to Speak and Listen to Each Other
Girls Learn to Speak and Listen to Each Other

Dear friends and supporters,

This following account, prepared by Aleta comes from a Circle at a Buddhist monastery in a rural village in the outskirts of Yangon.

“They have beards … They are not welcome here … They are bad people,” explained the girls matter-of-factly when asked about Muslims.

In a country where divisive prejudices based on religions and cultures have kept it at war with itself for over half a century, these things are deep rooted.  Myanmar is renowned for being predominantly Buddhist, a religion considered by outsiders as one of the most tolerant and peaceful, teaching that practicing kindness to others will bring you good karma as one of its main tenets.  So, what could have aroused such hatred towards another group of people?

Despite the blue skies and cooler temperatures under the shade of the enormous trees, the heavy rains had not entirely ceased, and so the small dirt field behind the monastery was riddled with mud puddles.  Nevertheless, the girls set up their make-shift bamboo pole net, marking out boundary lines with small plastic cones, as they did routinely every week.  Curious boys and younger children gathered around the edges of the field to watch, and fetch stray volleyballs when they went out of bounds.

The girls arrived in simple cotton trousers with t-shirts and light floral dresses, the muddy ground seeming not to deter them in the slightest.  They went about their drills without falter, each taking turns setting the volleyball back to the server, toes squelching in the mud and feet disappearing into puddles as they approached the front of their lines.  Mini matches followed, and contrasting with their earlier timid nature and orderly appearance, the girls' behaviors gradually became more aggressive and competitive as the session progressed and they overcame their initial restraint.

When the session ended, Ma Josephine (our Colorful Girls Sports Coordinator) sat down with a group of girls in their first-year of the program to recap which topics they had been discussing lately.  They had just completed the module on trafficking and safe migration, so the discussion veered towards unsafe situations and how to protect themselves.  A few girls spoke up to explain that they felt unsafe around men and around Muslim people.  Picking up on the blatant discrimination due to entrenched prejudices, Josephine acted quickly, bringing the issue closer to home by asking what they would think if someone came into their community who actually was a Muslim.

“We would not like him … She would not be welcome here … He would be a bad person,” answered the girls without hesitation.

Similar answers continued until Josephine gestured for girls to pause for a moment and think.  In a calm voice, her response seemed to momentarily stump the group: “What if I told you that I was Muslim? Would that make me a bad person?  Would you not want to talk to me?”

“Well, we would still like you,” chimed several of the girls, “…we like talking to you … It wouldn’t matter then, because we know you and you are a kind and fun person."

“So,” Josephine reasoned, “just because someone has a certain belief or background that is different from you, does that mean she is automatically bad?  No, it does not, because she might also be a nice and fun person.  Therefore, shall we say that not all Muslims are bad people?  And shall we perhaps not be too quick to judge someone based on a single piece of information about her, with a presumption that may or may not be accurate but might instead be hurtful?”

There were nods of agreement and giggles from the girls, alongside a few genuinely contemplative faces.

That was all the time Josephine had to unpack cultural myths, for it was only a short visit to a sports session.  Many of the girls showed some willingness to challenge the status quo, and perhaps a few girls’ steadfast prejudices had been brought into question.

As you all have read in the international media there has been a recent surge in tragic violence in Myanmar’s westernmost Rakhine State.  The violence, a complicated mix between communal distrust, military force and, of course, the realities of the history of the area, has prompted critical discussions in our weekly adolescent girls’ Circles.

Intended to be a safe space, Colorful Girls Circles and sports sessions provoke girls to freely discuss issues, feelings, opinions and concerns. Discussions about people who are ‘different' is common and integral to our ethos. While a significant number of girls and staff in our programs come from minority groups, the compositions of each Circle depend on the demographics of each community. 

It may have been the first time some girls had ever been prompted to think critically about their assumptions.  A seed had been planted in their minds, and even if they had not entirely changed their opinion on this matter, at least they had been presented with a different perspective and an opportunity to try understanding an issue that has fueled ongoing conflict for centuries.  In a country with one of the longest-standing civil wars, tolerance is nothing short of necessary if peace and equal rights are to be realized.

While there is still much to be done, we are chipping away at equipping girls with necessary skills and understanding about conflict resolution, human dignity, and the benefits of being ‘colorful.’

We realize this is a long one, so thank you for reading this report!

Unconventional Volleyball Games
Unconventional Volleyball Games
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Organization Information

Girl Determined

Location: Yangon - Myanmar
Website:
Project Leader:
Brooke Z
Yangon, Yangon Myanmar

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