Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma

by Girl Determined
Vetted
Girls discussing team work under a tree.
Girls discussing team work under a tree.

Hello dearest friends and supporters,
 
As the hot season comes to an end we prepare for the next intake of girls into our weekly Colorful Girls Circles. We expect over 1000 new girls to enroll when school starts in June. Yay! Welcome. Grow strong. To understand more about how our program affect girls please read the beautiful account below prepared by a courageous and bright girl, Zar Zar, who is just after completing our two-year leadership CG circles. Please consider the impact that our sustained, two-year programs have on the lives of girls, and, more importantly, how, especially when bound together by this girl community, these girls can move change in their villages, towns and nation.  
  
Thanks for your ongoing support! In June we start enrollments for Colorful Girls Circles and can use your help to ensure that we can reach at least two new communities this year, which will be an additional 200 girls in the program. Just $60 supports a girl, and for $1000 you can support an entire circle for a whole year. Use the donate button below and contribute to these rad girls.
 
Look forward to more news from us now that we got this rolling.
 
Warmest wishes form Yangon,
Brooke  

"Now I feel equal." - Zar Zar 
See how girls gain voice, insight and confidence through participation.

Below is an account by Zar Zar.  Zar Zar is fifteen years old and active participant in our weekly girls leadership and rights program, Colorful Girls Circle.  Zar Zar is completing her second year of the program and has also been active in our girls’ sports program, which compounds the life skills and leadership learning from the girls’ circles through structured, sport development.  Starting in June, Zar Zar will enter the 10th grade.  This past year there were 12 boys in her class and just 7 girls.  She is the youngest in her family and has three siblings.  Her household relies on earnings from her parents’ farm where they work together to grow rice and sesame seeds throughout the year.

I have always felt that as girl, we were discriminated against in many ways, then our teachers introduced us to Girl Determined’s programs. We were all eager to join.As a result, I have grown comfortable sharing my feelings knowing that my words will be kept confidential in the group. Being considered a child, it is always difficult to express how we feel to adults so I like having a space to express my feelings. I learned about different issues teenagers face including in relationships and with regards to sex. I also learned various ways of relaxation as well as how to listen to  others carefully. We learned how to use sanitary pads when menstruation happens and that it is OK to discuss menstruation, puberty and sex with our sisters or other older girls. We did an activity where we were asked to stand at different corners of agreement - certain, surely certain, uncertain - and the facilitator asked us to imagine being in a relationship, and what we would do if our boyfriend asked us to have sex when we were alone. Facilitators explained to us that we should think carefully and in most cases, it is the girl who suffers from the consequences after having sex; that in a relationship, we are not owned by anyone but if we were to get married then those boys might try to own us.  We don’t want to lose ourselves because of sex or early marriage.

I think in the West, there is no significant discrimination between boys and girls; both can live freely. In our country, girls face of discrimination and violence - sexual, physical and emotional violence, economical and educational violence.  Our society starts discriminating from a young age; giving us dolls while boys are given balls and toy cars. They were encouraged to play but we were not. Certain tasks are assigned as boys’ and girls’; boys can do heavy labor, but girls can only carry water buckets at most. If boys wear short pants it is fine but when girls try to wear shorts or even skirts, parents don’t like that and encourage us to wear traditional longyi (sarong). It is easy for boys while there are some concerns if girls play sports. But, our head monk supports the Girl Determined sports and leadership sessions and encourages us to play and wear appropriate clothing.  Now we play freely. Because most of the time boys are playing sports, they seem physically fit and active. Since we started to play sports too, I realized that I feel capable, fit and active and I feel equal.

After two years of participating in Colorful Girls Circles, I came to understand better those things that I want and don’t want in my life. I am the only person who can make these happen or who can stop them. I most value being able to say ‘no’ to things I don’t like and work on what I want to become. I trained myself to speak up, to stand up and to try to take action with careful thoughts unlike in the past. Another thing I learned is to respect others regardless of their age or social status; teachers and elders will have more experiences, some friends might be more knowledgeable on matters that I am not aware of, some younger people will probably do better than me. I am now aware of interacting in a respectful way with my friends and to learn from younger people if they know something that I don’t. These changes and my current attitudes are very important to me. If we are to survive in this society, we have to learn to adapt and to not discriminate against those who are different from us. There will always be a place that we are not familiar with and I believe we will do well if we adapt and are able to use respect and understanding.

I intend to apply all the things that I have learned and all the changes I have seen in myself, in building my future. Wherever I go, I will pay attention to my environment. I will try to listen to what others have to say. I will try to react in a calm manner with aggressive people and always remember to behave thoughtfully.

I don’t agree with the common Burmese saying, “A fine woman remains silent and doesn’t talk much”. A woman has to speak up if she has things to say. If I was to become a leader of a group one day and didn’t speak up for the betterment of my team, I think the group would soon be left behind. We wouldn’t be able to compete with others. In today’s world, we are going to have to travel to other places, meet different people and communicate with them so we need to talk and be able to talk. If we can’t express what we want, we will not achieve much.

Links:

Stretching!  Photo: Minzayar
Stretching! Photo: Minzayar

On behalf of all of us at Girl Determined and more than two thousand Colorful Girls across Myanmar, thank you for your continued support. 

In 2016 we will really get the chance to STRETCH ourselves as many of the smaller projects we have been thinking about,  researching, testing and building are finally coming together.  We just want to give you a quick overview of some of the creative, impactful activities planned for 2016. 

Of course, we get to continue working with 42 communities, including over 2000 girls aged 12-17 in the building of strong, skilled and confident girl leaders.  We will also expand the reach of Colorful Girls weekly leadership circles to two more communities - about 150 more girls.

During school holidays, also known as the "hot season," and believe me, its hot, we will have two levels of our Girls' Peacebuilding Summer Camp to strengthen girls' communcation skills across ethnic and religious differences.

In a very different type of activity, its our pleasure to launch a new, girl-positive brand of books written by Myanmar authors that inspire girls to be their best selves.  Details to come!

We will operationalize our  Girls Safety and Security program so that girls know that they have advocates in the event they face serious abuse or harassment.

And, lastly, but importantly, in order to put the tools in the hands of local communities across the country, we will develop training manuals and activities to ensure that other community organizations can successfully implement girls leadership circles and sports programs in their communities too.

Yes, it is quite a bit. But, don’t you agree, girls deserve the opportunity to thrive. And with the changing political, economic and social landscape of contemporary Myanmar, there is renewed opportunity for girls to usher in real, durable change.

We are working with adolescent girls, their parents, their communtiy leaders, political activists, and business leaders to reduce girls vulnerbailities and increase girls access to opportunities at this most critical and interesting juncture in Myanmar history.

Thanks for being a part of it and help us to further stretch oursleves in 2016.  Your contributions make it possible.

Warmest regards,

brooke

Aung San Suu Kyi - photo Reuters/Jorge Silva
Aung San Suu Kyi - photo Reuters/Jorge Silva

Happy Election Day to all of our friends and supporters!

 

Today, if you will excuse me, I am going to forego a detailed update of our direct work with girls to say a few words on the initial results of this most exciting election in Myanmar and what it might mean for women and girls.

 

On November 8, 2015 Myanmar held what is expected to be its most credible election since independence from British colonial rule in 1948. Since the military leaders began to usher in economic and political reforms five years ago, there has been an unsteady, but certain, opening of the political and economic spheres. This election day, 498 seats in national Parliament were up for grabs with the remaining 166 reserved for military appointees as per the 2008 Constitution. An additional 800 plus seats in state and regional parliaments were also being contested.

 

Though it will take several weeks for all votes to be confirmed and the Union Election Commission to certify the results, it is clear that the opposition party, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy is sweeping all levels of parliament across many geographies. This is truly joyous for so many people across the country who have fought hard and sacrificed deeply to bring about greater democracy and equity.

 

Though clearly the results of this election are incredibly important, what is also of great interest to foreign governments and investors is that this election is deemed “credible” by international monitoring institutions like the Carter Center. Regardless of the election results, if this election is viewed as fairly free and adequately democratic, foreign investment is likely to flow into the country far beyond the already increasing levels since 2010. Skittish investors may see the pathway into the countries economics as less risky and certainly much better for their corporate images.

 

So what does all this mean for girls and women? I’d say that we need to re-double our efforts to advance the rights of girls.

 

Rapid foreign investment brings with it great risksas well as opportunity for those at the margins. There will likely be an increase in big develop projects, including resource extraction, the establishment of ‘special economic zones,’ increased consolidation of small holder agricultural lands, new roads and ports and a proliferation low-skilled manufacturing work.

 

Girls have unique needs that are not exactly the same as children in general and not always totally inline with those of adult women. When girls are marginalized and displaced they face threats that comprise their bodies, their development, their rights, which can have lifelong impacts.

 

Some of the risks include:

 

Increases in egregious child labor practices

 

As described in earlier reports, girls work, sometimes assisting family members in the fields and in the markets, but also in factories, tea shops, restaurants and the extractive industries. (see https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/girls-leadership-burma-myanmar-rights/updates/?pageNo=1)

 

With increased and poorly regulated investment, there will be added pressure on the labor market especially for low-skilled workers. Often, particularly in garment and assembly, these are girls and young women, some underage and all poorly protected by labor law. With limited protection girls work long and dangerous hours and often experience sexual harassment. And with terribly low wages girls do not have the chance to climb out of poverty.

 

Displacement from big projects and environmental degradation as well as continued armed conflict

 

The past few years have already borne an increase in the creation of Special Economic Zones and the slated mega-developments, which include gas pipelines, a hydroelectric dam and a deepsea port, and many, many mining operations. The lack of effective legal and regulatory frameworks on both land rights and loss due to environmental degradation means that poor households are vulnerable to land rights conflicts leading to internal displacement and the associated child rights violations. Loss of land, especially by smallholders will result in increased income insecurity affecting children’s well-being. Girls often suffer most directly from such shifts as parents seek work further away from home and someone needs to take care of the house, the little ones and the elderly.

 

Increased migration and trafficking

 

For both the stated reasons above, there will be increased pressure to migrate. Though risky migration and trafficking has largely been associated with cross-border migration in recent years, domestic migration will increase for girls as they seek opportunities to support themselves and their families in the shadow of displacement and new pressures for a cash income. Domestic migration for girls puts them at risk of various forms of exploitation and abuse. Girls who come from ethnic areas and very rural communities may be particularly vulnerable.

 

With the risks however, do come opportunities. In order for girls to benefit from these opportunities, we must make a concerted effort to push social investments their way.

 

Opportunities for education

 

New interest in the country and a demand for different types of workers may drive more open and plural education programs. A system with more opportunities for creative learning and possibly higher-level vocations like digital media and even data entry work could lift the status and income of girls and young women. And, to be incredibly practical, direct improvements in the education system will improve working conditions for teachers, many of whom are women and being a teacher is often a girls’ aspiration. But, they must be actively included.

 

Better health systems

It is widely assumed that with a more democratically elected government, there will certainly be increased spending on both education and health. So, let’s say there are increasing health expenditures. Great. The people of Myanmar need it. What are the specific needs of girls? Do they have access to sensitive care and reproductive health services? To date, they do not. And, as the health field opens, we need to be actively asking for policy and spending which will bring direct health benefits to the 9 million adolescent girls in the country. Their health is particularly critical to the economic and political future of the country as both mothers and workers.

 

Opportunities to impact policy

Hopefully with a newly-elected government we will see drafting of new, and improved, legislature and national and state policy.   NLD Parliamentarians are expected to be more accessible and willing to include civil society in policy related negotiations. Girls cannot be left out. If we can bring girls’ best interest to the table, we have the opportunity to form girl-positive legislature and policy in a way that has never been so in the country. This can be in the form of spending packages, plans for the advancement of girls rights, responses to violence against girls, needs for girls in poverty, policies related to child labor, and the list goes on. Social and economic policy will need to consider the rights of girls and there is a new opportunity to influence it.

 

Investing in girls’ rights and development can lift the living standards for all. In order to truly avoid the very real risks of the next period of Myanmar’s history poses to girls and to take most advantage we need to double-down on girls’ rights. Girl Determined puts girls at the forefront of change and we just love to have you along with us.

 

Thanks for your support and let’s lead the charge in next phase of democratization in Myanmar.

 

Sincerely full of hope,

Brooke

Girl Determined participants having fun- together.
Girl Determined participants having fun- together.

Greetings friends and supporters,

I am so pleased to be able to report on the impact that your contributions are having in the lives of over 2000 adolescent girls across 41 communities in six states of Myanmar.   Often in these updates I like to share an individual girl’s story to illuminate the way that Girl Determined has worked together with her to improve her life. However, today I want to share a data-driven story of change. Bear with me. I am a bit of a wonk, but more importantly, we want you to know how Girl Determined develops and improves programming based on our findings and evidence.

You may know that Girl Determined's core program, Circles, is a two-year, after-school leadership program for girls aged 12-17.  Of course, some of the girls are not in school, so for them it is an outside-of-the-home or after-work activity.  We have crafted, tested and revised a weekly, activity-based curriculum, that participating girls tell us is fun, interesting, helpful, inspiring and engenders confidence and a strengthened belief in one's ability to shape her future. 

As we have done in past years we surveyed some of the participating girls at the beginning of the school year and at the close of the school year to understand the impact of the weekly Circles program. Where are we seeing the most progress? In what ways is the curriculum weak? Are they any trends that we did not expect?

We conducted a baseline last year in June and July and end-line survey this year in February and March for 300 of the same adolescent girl participants across the country.  Conducting such a survey is no small feat as our research team has to carry heavy bags of questionnaires by foot, bicycle, motorbike, bus and car before entering the data in the office computers. Because girls in different areas speak different local languages we also need to adapt the survey for reliable results.

Using a Salesforce database, a new tool to us, we were able to analyze the data.  Below is a summary of each of the four key sections of the survey and what we found. The girls included in the survey were all entering into the first year of their Circles.

Leadership

This section of the survey relates both directly to the curriculum topics as well as to the program’s process work including comfort with self-disclosure and ability to speak in a groups. The section includes scale questions that have girls answer from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’ according to their impressions of statements including;

  • I know what I am good at.
  • I have unique skills and talents.
  • I can stand up for myself if I disagree with friends.

Leadership Score - 46% positive change

As these changes in girls’ self-perception and attitudes are fundamental to a girl’s ability to exercise control over her life choices, regardless of how limited those choices may be, they represent the most important aspect of our program. These are transformational and foundational changes in girls’ worlds.

The 46% increase means, when pulled together, and each girl’s individual baseline and end-line compared, we found that 46% of the girls underwent real positive change in her personal leadership and self-perception. Girls’ baseline and end-line were compared and 46% of girls reported positive changes on more than half of the leadership-oriented questions and statements.

Gender-based Violence

Like the Leadership section, girls are asked to respond with the level of agreement to statements, including the following.

  • A woman has the right to say no if someone tries to touch her or have sex with her when she doesn’t want them to.
  • Sometimes women need to tolerate violence to keep the family together.
  • Wealthier people don’t have a problem with violence against women.
  • Do you know - I know of a place or person in my community where I can go to report violence or abuse of a girl or women.

Gender-based Violence - 58% positive change

Of the four key areas of the survey we saw the greatest shift in perception and knowledge around gender-based violence. 58% of the girls showed tangible positive change in their views about girls’ and women’s rights to safety and security and, happily, girls now know that the can come to us to report abuse or in search of a safe place. As we continue to build out safety planning and comprehensive sexuality education modules, we expect to see an even greater change in girls’ attitudes about gender role norms and more girls reaching out for help.

We are thrilled with the impact in this area of our programs.

Sexual and Reproductive Health

This section of the survey includes both perception statements and knowledge questions. Some examples:

  • I know how to prevent pregnancy. Yes or No
  • How risky is hugging someone who is known to be HIV positive? Low to very high risk.

Sexual and Reproductive Health – 41% positive change although this area is not a priority in the first year Circle curriculum.  

In the first year of our program we cover very basic sex education topics including puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and consent. Not until the second year do we delve further into STD transmission and prevention as well as sexuality. Including these questions in the baseline survey helped us to learn more about girls’ current understanding sex and social norms. We can now build a stronger curriculum for the second year of the program.

Financial literacy and economic empowerment

This is a new section in our impact analysis and a new addition to our curriculum. Girl Determined implemented special financial literacy days filled with play-based learning in about half of the communities where we work. These days advanced girls’ understanding of common problems like debt and also the use of a bank. Additionally, the empowerment portion of the section comes through our weekly Circles as we confront gender role norms about household and community decision-making.

The survey included questions like;

  • Saving and borrowing are both ways to reach financial goals. True or False
  • You must be rich to use a bank. Strongly disagree to strongly agree.
  • Women should be able to earn their own money. Strongly disagree to strongly agree.
  • Women should be able to decide how to spend the money that they earn themselves. Strongly disagree to strongly agree.

Financial literacy and economic empowerment - 53% positive change

We think that this 53% positive change is a great impact for the first year of adding these sessions to our programs. As Myanmar transitions and banks continue to open and employment opportunities shift this is increasingly important knowledge for girls. At the moment there are still no banking packages for young people and predatory lending even apparently benign microlending can turn a girl’s world upside down.   So we will continue to enhance this aspect of our program over the coming years.

Attendance had a clear influence on the extent of positive change.

Across all sections of the survey positive change correlated with higher levels of attendance. This shows that the more girls are able to engage with the weekly program, the more they get out if it. A great result.

Furthermore, though more data analysis needs to be done on this, it appears on cursory evaluation, that in communities where we have worked for multiple years, we are seeing greater change through the course of the first year of our curriculum. This may demonstrate that as our weekly Circles become rooted the conditions of the community are changing to the extent that the community has become more amendable to girls taking on leadership roles and bringing their voices forward in both private and public.

For those of you that are still with me after this long, detailed description of impact, thanks for sticking it out. As you can see we are making change! And it is a real honor to be able to present this type of rigorous evidence to each of you.

We are now engaged in collecting data for the current program cycle, which just started. In the future we will work to ensure that girls who have completed our programs learn how to handle the surveys and get the chance to go around the country to meet other girls and conduct the surveys themselves. This will not simply be a useful skill for girls, but our data will be even more reliable as data collection and program participants will be peers.

Thanks for you ongoing support. Please consider becoming a monthly supporter to ensure that we can steadily expand our programs to reach more girls across the country.

All the best,

Brooke

Photo credit: Andrew Stanbridge

Links:

Not pleasant subjects,girls share their experience
Not pleasant subjects,girls share their experience

Greetings to all of you incredible supporters of girls' rights,

I am reaching out to thank you sincerely for your contribution to Girl Determined. We are delighted to count you as one of our amazing groups of supporters, partners and collaborators.  

 I just got back from a trip to the northern part of Burma where I was able to meet and converse with many girls from our programs.  In one of the communities through our Girl-led Campaigns Program, the girls put together a campaign to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence.  Their slogan was, Work together to end violence in the home.  This is an extremely taboo subject and it was refreshing that they tackled such a big issue. The girls there, about 70 of them, half of whom are Buddhist nuns, developed a skit and acted out their skit for the whole school as well as for the community. Throughout the skit it became clear that they had been defining violence in the home a bit differently than we are used to. They were really talking about violence committed against girls in their homes - by brothers, fathers, mothers, aunties and all.  The skits three storylines, they later explained, were derived from their own experiences of being pressured to dance in festivals in order to snag a rich husband or being beaten with a stick for not completing the house chores.  

It was heart wrenching and heart warming at the same time.  Wrenching because of what they had faced.  Warming because of their open and honest account and their fearlessness to share in our group.  Their campaign was just the beginning of a long and ongoing conversation but opened up the potential for real change in their homes and communities.  Needless to say, it was a great trip up north and your contribution has helped to push these critical conversations forward. 

Please share this and other stories with your friends and family.  Girls are driving change and need our conitnuing committment.

With thanks,

brooke

Photo credit: Andrew Stanbridge

 

 

 

Links:

 

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Organization Information

Girl Determined

Location: Yangon - Myanmar
Website: http:/​/​www.girldetermined.org
Project Leader:
Brooke Z
santa rosa, CA United States

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