So near the State Capital, yet so little exposure to development

02 Jun 2017

Legal training for community members Naryikan villagers learn about basic legal rights.

After a 30 minutes’ car drive from Sittwe town, the capital of Rakhine State, a UNFPA colleague and I arrived at 8.30 in the morning at Naryikan.

We came to this village to observe a legal awareness training by Legal Clinic Myanmar,  a legal organization that promotes and strengthens rule of law, democracy and human rights. The training is part of the UNFPA/UNDP initiative to increase access to justice for women and girls in Rakhine State.

We were welcomed by a woman leader of the village. Before the start of the training we had some time to learn about the background of the village.

Naryikan has over 200 households, all belong to the Rakhine ethnic community. Every year during the dry season they face a water crisis, the village wells are drying out, so the families need to go to a nearby village to get their water.

Only a few households in the village have regular employment. The income families get from cultivating their lands is too low, therefore most of the families depend on income earned as daily labor.

The woman leader is appointed by the village administrator. The only government service in the village she is aware of is the  government primary school.  She feels that the Federation of Red Cross is the only development organization  that at times visits and supports the community. She has never visited a government office,  for example the township administration office.

While we are talking, the team from Legal Clinic Myanmar arrives, they are preparing the training room and shortly after the training starts. For most of the 28 participants, of whom 24 are women, it is highly unusual to participate in a training programme.

The training starts with an ice-breaker. Participants are energized and feel more comfortable to take part in the training. Today they will learn about basic legal knowledge and legal rights including constitutional rights and international human rights. The participants will be introduced to how to get access to legal support services, that are provided by Legal Clinic Myanmar.

During the introduction session, we have the chance to say a few words. In response to our question on whoever had heard of the UN, only one participant raised her hand, but could not explain what the UN is about. No one has ever heard about the Socio Economic Development Plan for Rakhine State, developed by the Rakhine State Government, that outlines the development priorities for the coming 5 years.

Participants felt encouraged when we explained that through this initiative, not only community members are being trained, but also the justice service providers, such as judges, lawyers and court staff, to ensure women and girls will be well received by them. The UNFPA/UNDP initiative to increase access to justice for women and girls in Rakhine State started in January 2017 and will run for 1 year

When we went back to Sittwe later in the morning, we felt that we left the participants in the very capable hands of the trainers. However, we also realized the challenges for development in Rakhine State, if even a village so near the capital town with good road connection is facing all these constraints.

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