Help put girls at the forefront of change in Burma

by Girl Determined
Getting ready for discussion time
Getting ready for discussion time

Hello dear friends and supporters,

Through the Colorful Girls circles and now the sports (volleyball) for girls in some locations, we have continued to see the girls grow and bloom, increasing in confidence and in critical thinking. This was shown in their participation in events related to the International Day of the Girl held during October and into early November.  Through the activities girls expressed their perspectives on trafficking, violence and abuse and the role girls and women can play in improving their status and situation. Some of the past Colorful Girls participants were involved in the orgnization of the  International Day of the Girl events held in their communities.  These girls want the girls who are currently participating in the Circles to have the same opportunties as they had and to benefit from the same lessons. 

Thank you for being a part of providing great opportunities for the girls and continuing to build off the experiences from participating in the Colorful Girls Circles.  

We're planning on holding camps for the the girls in 2017 and your continued support for their activities is greatly appreciated. 

Best wishes,


Discussion on role of women in communities
Discussion on role of women in communities
Girls at International Day of the Girl
Girls at International Day of the Girl
Pollinator cover
Pollinator cover

Girls' Media Initiative
Throughout 2015 and 16 we explored other avenues for moving ideas, information and news to all the Colorful Girls groups as a way of increasing knowledge and the confidence to voice opinions and make decisions. We are testing out various media formats that provide girls with content outside of the forum of our weekly programs and special events. We conducted research on reading habits and access girls have to written materials – books, magazines, newspapers and the internet. Not surprisingly, they have very little access and in the sample group, only one book read by the girls was directed towards adolescent girl readers. Girls often don't have anything to read apart from school books or books and magazines for adults, so not much that peaks their interest. 

Girls meet in their Colorful Girls Circles every week and in some communities they have a circle and a sports session every week, but between sessions, there is limited contact. The publication of the magazine, "The Pollinator," gives the girls more opportunity to connect with wider conversations on health, choices, politics and education. The magazine concepts and content were developed by a committee of girls both current and past Circles participants. Most of the articles were written by Circles involved in our programs and a few were written by staff according to girls' requests. The Pollinator is going to be a great format for growing girls' connection with one another across the country, transmitting new ideas, introducing new project activities and, of course, inspiring budding journalists and writers. 

Thank you for being a part of providing great opportunities for the girls and build off experiences and create change following participation in the Colorful Girls Circles.



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,

"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.


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,


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


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,



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Organization Information

Girl Determined

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

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