Viewpoint of Rural Women: May Doe Kabar, One Year On

Oct 14, 2016

Daw Cho Aye (from Kawtbein Village, Kyaikhto Township)is the Chairperson of May Doe Kabar, and DawHla San Htwe ( from Htayaw Ywathit Village, Kyaiklatt Township) is the Vice Chair. May Doe Kabar was set up with support from UNDP on October 15 last year and brings together more than 22,000 rural women from Delta, Dry Zone, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan States.

May Doe Kabar, Myanmar Rural Women’s Network was created one year ago, onOctober 15 International Rural Women’s Day. The journey over the past year has been exciting. We have held talks on gender based violence across the country, co-developed and launched a mobile phone application and organized trainings to help women generate income. We have come a long way and we know we have a long way to go.

May Doe Kabar brings together more than 22,000 rural women from 8 states and regions across the country. These women are members of smaller groups at their community level and carry out village improvement and development projects. The smaller groups come together at the township level and May Doe Kabar brings together these township leading groups at the national level.

SinceOctober last year, we have been working together with our members to raise awareness on gender-based violence and domestic violence against women at community level. In rural areas, sexual harassment and abuse are not properly addressed due to the lack of knowledge among communities. Many rural women and girls don’t know much about women’s rights and legal protection. Moving forward, we need to expand these awareness raising talks and campaigns in rural areas because there are many women who don’t know their rights and gender equality.  

Being rural women ourselves, we are aware that women who earn their living feel more empowered than those who do not. In rural areas, women do not have regular jobs and many of them are seasonal workers. To address income challenges of rural women, we have provided vocational trainings which are relevant to the local context. For instance, we provided training on how to make brooms, slippers, bamboo hats and other such items. These skills development trainings helped women earn stable incomeswith which they supported their families.

May Doe Kabar is a rural women’s organization which recognizes our members desire to be part of modern Myanmar. We were very excitedto launchthe iWomen –Inspiring Women mobile application in March this year. This application was developed with the support from UNDP Myanmar.  We are so proud of it! Our members helped co-design it. The application connects rural women from different parts of the country.It enables us to share information and experience by using technology. In recent years more and more peoplein rural areas have mobile phones, including a good number of our members. However, there are many rural women who do not have mobile phones yet so we are now negotiating with a Yangon-based phone company to make available mobile phones in rural areas through an installment based payment system.

The leadership of May Doe Kabar keeps in touch via phones and the application and every three months, we have a board of directors meeting where we discussour members needs and generate solutions to address these.

Being a network which is composed of rural women with generally lower levels of education, we have challenges relating to language.Our counterparts from UNDP are English-speaking people and they don’t speak Myanmar and we don’t speak English. Even though we have interpreters, we sometimes feel important information may be lost in translation. We feel the language barriers more acutely when we are preparing of funding proposals in English.We have to rely on other people to type our proposals as we did not even know how to use a computer.  

We are also finding our feet as a national organisation. We have managerial experience at the township level but we lack the experience in managing a national-level organization. We are constantly improving our managerial, coordination and communication capacities.We have to be very patient when communicating or coordinating with our members. Some of them are in areas where the mobile networks do not work well,makingit difficult to send messages to our fellow members from another side of the country to another. Sometimes, it takes about three days to contact with our colleagues from villages.

Our biggest challenge is funding.When we established the May Doe Kabar in 2015, the Township Leading Groups contributed to initial fund of more than 1,550,000 Kyats (US$ 1300) for our national programme. A limitedbudget means we cannot expand our programme as we expected.As a result of this, while we have set up a smalloffice, it is not equipped and does not have regular staff.

We are now seeking partnership opportunities with local organizations and international funding agencies to expand our activities, particularly capacity development and awareness raising programmes. It is very important to promote gender equality in rural areas where many women don’t know their rights.

Also, we want to provide more livelihoods skills trainings for women because we believe that income stability is an important factor in lifting the lives of women and their families. In addition, it is important to provide rural-urban market linkage training for rural women entrepreneurs.  

We want to provide leadership and management trainings that enable women to become active leaders in their communities. At this moment, some of our fellow members are working as wardens in their local administrative unit. We want more female village / ward administrators in Myanmar. By expanding women’s participation in local governance,thevoices of rural women are heard by policymakers, and their concerns are addressed properly. In the end, we want to change the negative gender norms, for example, restriction of women’s participation in community affairs at community level.

Now we have more members in our organization. It shows that our organization is being recognized by more rural women. To maintain this momentum, we need to expand our activities. Our financial challenge makes it difficult to expand our activities. That’s why we are looking for partnership opportunities with local women rights organizations and international organizations.

This opinion piece is written by Daw Cho Aye, Chairperson and Daw Hla San Htwe, Vice Chairperson of May Doe Kabar rural women’s network.

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