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Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma

by Girl Determined
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma
Thandar after follow-up meeting in 2018
Thandar after follow-up meeting in 2018

In this project report, we would like to share with you about Thandar, a young woman from Myanmar’s central dry zone.  Thandar joined our program around five years ago, and she has remained connected to our Colorful Girls network since then.  Please read on to learn how her life was impacted by our work.

 

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My name is Thandar and I am 23 years old.  My mother is a farmer and cooks at home.  My father passed away. My sister tends to our cows and I weave.  During the farming season, I leave my weaving loom often to assist my mother with the farm and animals. 

I am not sure exactly when I joined Girl Determined, but I believe it was around 2013.  Back then, I never missed a day of the program.  I was active in the discussions, and when I did not speak, I listened to others.  Also, I got the chance to attend summer camp, where I learned about conflict—how and why it happens around our country, and also, within families.

I recently got married.  I am happy now, although I am busier because I help my husband’s parents on their farm as well as my own family’s farm.  I do it willingly and I like working.  In Girl Determined’s program I learned a lot about communication including the difference between passive, assertive and aggressive.  I also built up my sense of self-worth.  I think that I use these qualities often in my marriage.  I know how to negotiate and discuss issues and make decisions together.  I can also stop arguments and de-escalate conflicts between us.  I learned this style of communication from the Girl Determined program.  I know I can’t change everything, but I can change some things little by little. 

Girls in our village now have courage to go out and to speak aloud.  Before Girl Determined programs, many girls didn’t not know what to do with their lives.  Teenagers from our village now have opportunities to attend the program, which is very beneficial for them.  For sure we need to create more opportunities for girls and young women, but I can see that since Girl Determined started here, we are already able to think differently and take advantage of new opportunities and programs.  The Head Monk from the village appreciates the program and he is encouraging— this has also changed the situation for girls. 

In the past, parents did not let girls go out alone, but now, parents are more trusting of their daughters and more flexible.  The learnings we gained from Girl Determined have made it easier for us to live in our community— we even dare to chit-chat amongst other girls about things that are important to us, both the good and the bad.  This includes issues around our own bodies and family planning.  At first, our parents did not want us to join the program as the sessions were in the evenings when it was dark outside.  However, parents do not say such things about girls joining the programs now.  There is still some control over children by their parents, but it is much better than before.

I think most children do not want to live under their parents’ shadow.  That is one of the reasons why young adults are leaving the weaving business behind for something else.  I think they are seeking freedom from their parents’ control.  At least for me, through what I learned from Girl Determined’s programs, I was able to push for and create the freedom that I needed within my family and within my village.  This way, I didn’t have to run away to be free from their control, which could have been dangerous and limited my development.  Instead, my family supports me and I can focus on building up my skills and creativity and put that into my weaving business. 

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We are still in the process of compiling and analysing all the girl data collected from the previous year, however we are continuing to see substantial positive changes.  After a year of the Girl Determined program, one sampling of girls surveyed showed an average of 25% improvement in girls’ leadership skills and attitude toward girls in leadership roles.  Girls have a different understanding of themselves than when they started our programs— moreover, they are also changing other people’s perception of girls.

Your support enables girls and youg women, like Thandar, to gain the skills and confidence needed to take control of their own lives and to lead other girls to do the same.  We are so pleased to continue this important work for adolescent girls and young women across Myanmar, as we start up this new program cycle with over 3,000 girls.

Thank you for reading!

Thandar with peers in her village, circa 2013
Thandar with peers in her village, circa 2013
Girls play volleyball in a peri-urban area
Girls play volleyball in a peri-urban area

Dear friends,

Now that Thingyan, also known as the Myanmar New Year or the water festival, has passed—along with all the cross-country movement and festivities that come along with the biggest holiday of the year—we are able to re-focus on the remaining time left during summer break.

Our annual summer camps were once again a success with over 250 participating girls from all across the country.  They gathered together in a former ‘hill station’ in the cooler Shan highlands for one week to dig into peace-building discussions and girl leadership topics.

Nu Nu from the coastal Tanintharyi region shared her experience from camp:

“Back in my community, we tend to have some prejudices against different religions and ethnic people, but here [at camp] I saw so many different girls and felt guilty for my narrow-mindedness before.

On the first day, I judged too quickly a girl who had a different skin color, but I no longer have that feeling.  Actually, I got to know a lot of things I didn’t know from them and we have a good time throughout camp.” 

 

Our regular programs typically go on hiatus during the hot summer months, because many girls leave project sites (e.g. nunneries and boarding houses) to visit hometowns, or because girls are too busy with domestic chores or other seasonal work to attend weekly sessions.  However, this year we wanted to employ the new self-protection module as a short-term program to engage girls who remain in their sites and are still available throughout summer.  After some deliberation, we decided to re-brand the module and are now referring to it as, “Girls Stand Up!”

In March we trained over 20 community-based young women leaders on the objectives and activities covered in the 16-session play-based module.  We discussed important topics, including:

  • What does violence against girls and women actually look like?
  • How does violence affect girls— and their families, communities, schools, etc.?
  • What are some practical skills and habits girls can learn to avoid or reduce violence in their communities?
  • How do we make this seemingly heavy topic of violence useful, digestible, and even interesting to girls?  

Two unique aspects of this module relate to physical movement of girls— something that is regularly limited because of restrictive gender norms or for “girls safety.”  One aspect is the play-based approach which helps girls learn about their physical abilities, while keeping the learning fun and active.  The second is the community-engagement piece which encourages girls to move around their neighbourhoods, learning about their surroundings and seeking out support from specific community members (i.e. the “Green Dot” initiative).  By holding everyone accountable for safe spaces, and agreeing not to tolerate any forms of violence or aggression, then can the issue be addressed fully.

From now until the end of summer, almost 400 girls will have completed the module.  These girls, mostly between the ages of 10-14, will be equipped with improved ability to recognize signs of violence, avoid potentially risky situations, and determine whether and how to intervene when encountering violence.  

Thanks for tuning in, and we are excited to share updates with you on how more girls are gaining confidence and skills to stand up to violence together!

 

Young women practice the "Green Dot" map activity
Young women practice the "Green Dot" map activity
Girls from different regions working together
Girls from different regions working together

Dear friends,

We are still coming off the buzz of a really energetic and earnest Girls’ National Conference in Myanmar.  Bringing together adolescent girls from across 70 diverse communities, the conference supported girls to work together and articulate an agenda to submit to regional and national lawmakers.  This agenda will be in the form of a statement.  It will describe the barriers faced by girls in communities across Myanmar and the ways that law-makers can help knock down these barriers so that all girls can achieve their full potential.

As mentioned in the previous report, we created opportunities for girls from all of our project communities to contribute directly to the development of an agenda for national and regional change – an agenda that would support girls’ development, education, access to safe work, freedom of movement, expression and beyond.  The first step was holding Regional Forums in 15 geographic hubs.  Then, based on the outcomes from those events, we built out the content and activities needed to make the National Conference both productive and deeply connected to the views and attitudes of adolescent girls.

The forums were focused on consensus-building activities.  The forum discussions were based on what we already knew about the situations of girls in different areas and the concerns girls have expressed to us in the past.  In small groups, girls worked through various possible barriers to identify which applied most directly to their lives.  They also discussed specific examples of times when, as a girl, they have encountered a barrier, been discriminated against, or felt unheard.

Immediately following the regional forums, we held our inaugural Girls’ National Conference in the City Hall of the ancient capital of Mandalay.  The theme was Girls, do you know you can fly?”  Attending the conference were 140 adolescent girls – peer-selected delegates representing nearly all of Girl Determined’s project communities.  Each spokesgirl shared on behalf of girls in her unique community, speaking out in a broader discussion with other girls facing sometimes similar and sometimes different issues.

Over two full days, the conference brought girls’ voices and experiences to the fore, while encouraging girls to act as change-makers in their communities and to consider a different future for girls and women. Girls heard from one another and were introduced to basic concepts of civic action. Through consensus-building activities, they drafted a joint-statement expressing the concise needs of adolescent girls nation-wide.

We expect to see more girls taking issues into their own hands by expressing their needs in a structured way and demanding accountability by those in positions to make decisions.

Now that the conference has ended, two tasks remain:

  1. Refining the statement for the delegation of six girls who attended the National Conference to present and express their concerns and hopes directly to parliamentarians.
  2. Reporting back to ALL the girls who contributed their experience and insight on what their inputs have gone towards – both at the National Conference and during the direct appeal to lawmakers.  We will report back to all these girls through an article in our Wut Hmon magazine, and through a summary video of the National Conference.  This way, girls who weren’t at the national level gathering can see how their concerns were carried forth by their peers, and can experience the full process from regional forums to visits with parliaments.

We are excited to see how this plays out in the coming months, as girls’ voices resonate through Myanmar to create awareness of the hardships girls face, and of how they can rise up together.  Thank you for reading and for helping advance the girl agenda!

 

Links:

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.

______________________________

 

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

Links:

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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Organization Information

Girl Determined

Location: Yangon - Myanmar
Website:
Project Leader:
Brooke Z
santa rosa, CA United States

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