This was a year of learning and action in relation to gender and diversity for Paung Ku. We strengthened our Protection from Harassment, Exploitation and Abuse Policy to define and address explicitly harassment, exploitation and abuse of a sexual nature. And following our Learning Model, we spent time working internally and with partners to explore and respond to experiences of inequity related to gender and diversity at all levels.
Paung Ku integrates gender and diversity work because we know, from on-the-ground experience, there is no single dimension to inequality. A simple illustration of this can be found in the 2014 census data on levels of literacy. The lowest levels of literacy in the country were recorded amongst Shan women, but Shan men had lower levels of literacy than women in every other State or Region (Ministry of Immigration and Population, 2014). Ethnicity, religion, disability, sex, gender, poverty and other forms of difference work together in Myanmar (as elsewhere) to create inequity and disadvantage. Further, women are not ‘equally unequal’; a wealthy Myanmar woman who belongs to the ethnicity and religion that is in the majority in the area where she lives will have greater access to power and resources than a poor man who lives in the same area and comes from a minority ethnicity and religion.
During 2018, Paung Ku finalised and published a new gender and diversity staff reference and reflection guide, which had been suggested by staff and the content of which was developed based on gender and diversity work undertaken in 2017. Activities included in the guide (titled Bridging Divides) were used in workshops with Paung Ku staff members and with CSO partners, to promote deeper reflection on the ways in which judgements of worth made about different types of people function to deepen inequity as well as on ways to counteract this.
Among the workshops held was a three-day Peace and Diversity workshop involving representatives of more than 30 Paung Ku CSO partners, drawn from each State and Region. Participants reflected on the personal, organisational and political challenges of promoting and protecting all forms of diversity and identified ways of moving forward that included working to acknowledge their own personal prejudices as well as paying deeper attention to the ways in which different forms of inequity intersect.
Internal to Paung Ku, male and female staff members shared their personal experiences of the negative effects of gender norms and stereotypes. The many and debilitating ways in which men and women police those of their own and the opposite sex were made visible, and the consequences of such policing on both men and women openly discussed. People reflected on their own behaviours and committed to identifying and challenging negative gender stereotypes in their personal lives and through their work in 2019.
One very concrete starting point for this will involve exploring the reality that the vast majority of Paung Ku CSO partners are male dominated. Work undertaken on Paung Ku’s MEL data showed that the percentage of men and women reported as actively participating in CSO partner activities varied from 64% men, 36% women among partners of one Paung Ku team to 76% men, 24% women among partners of another team.
Local women sellers at Taunggyi Market, Shan State/Khin Zarchi Latt
Data from Paung Ku supported activities were also analysed, and there were clear differences in male/female participation in learning platforms by topic. Learning platforms on land-related topics were heavily dominated by men (71% to 29%), while learning platforms on topics related to responsible investment were attended by 55% men, 45% women.
2018 also saw Paung Ku’s Gender and Diversity Adviser (funded by the Swiss Development Corporation) continuing to support Paung Ku partner Kayan Women’s Organisation (KyWO) in implementing an action learning project on increasing female participation in decision-making. Having previously worked together with KyWO volunteers to identify lack of confidence and fear of criticism as a major barrier to young women stepping forward in their communities, the project has supported these women to make their own plans for generating change: starting with them organising and facilitating discussions on decision-making in their communities. Between them, just nine volunteers engaged about 200 community members in discussions related to two key questions: who makes decisions in the family, and who makes decisions in your community?
The volunteers, some of whom were just 17 years old, negotiated with community and religious leaders (some of whom were of different religious or ethnic backgrounds); found suitable dates and venues; considered who best to invite and how (e.g., in some villages the volunteers decided to invite strategic influencers to join discussions, such as senior representatives of the Mothers’ Union and teachers; in others they focused on providing space for less powerful women to have their say), and facilitated the discussions.
All volunteers confessed to being ‘very afraid’ about running the discussions, but reported marked increase in their own self-confidence and having a sense of pride in what they achieved. Some of the volunteers have gone on to attend village meetings for the first time ever, and changes in attitudes have also been reported at community level after the discussions. For example:
During the discussion, women moved from saying decision-making was for men to agreeing that women should participate in decision-making. The village leader has asked for support in getting more young women involved in village leadership, particularly in terms of building their experience and confidence.’ And ‘Other women in the village say they want to be like us, leading facilitation and speaking out.