The Light of Chilly Chin State: Chin Women Development Organization (CWDO)

The Light of Chilly Chin State: Chin Women Development Organization (CWDO) June 4, 2020


A Paung Ku mission made a cross learning visit in 2019 October to Kanpetlett township where a group of young women activists was interviewed and they narrated the story about the origin of CWDO and how it evolved in Kanpatlet township, Southern Chin. Apparently, this reflects the current gender role of Chin women in the township. The Chin Women Development Organization (CWDO) was well known as social development group under the name of Chin Women Social Development (CWSD) and later in 2016 name changed to CWDO. 

The development of organization initially was driven by the social inspiration and later it grafted onto the political agenda with its objectives in year 2015 general election. The active movements of CWDO launched in year 2013 and have been going on with tough challenges. The young activists have been trying to make a dent in the ingrained attitudes of discrimination towards women, beginning with the women in their Chin ethnic societies within their reach. 

Their efforts raise awareness through various forms of community education campaigns on priority issues such as gender, peaceful motherhood, human right, women rights, marriage, heritage, family violence, and discrimination against the women.

Meeting with key actor during learning visit

The organization was founded in year 2013 with the purpose of addressing gender issues which entrenched in Chin ethnic’s cultural characteristics. The gender discrimination is seen in social and cultural forms such as marriage, divorce, heritage, violence against women and child-rearing right. 

The current practice applying traditional values, norms and their customary law are not in compliance with fulfillment to women’ right in those aspects. With these realizations, the organization set its primary objective and mandatory focus on such issues. The customary law apply women’s gender role and these laws highly influence on their livings as code of conduct and ethic. 

The discrimination against the women can be seen in different forms of social inequality against their marriage, divorce, heritage, domestic violence and child –rearing right etc. The judgment is more favor to the male according to their practice of customary law. The organization advocates to raise community awareness that Chin Women’s traditional gender roles have restricted females more severely than males.

During year 2013, Young activists group received series of trainings in different subjects such as women right, gender awareness, state constitution, human right, etc by establishing linkages and networking with CSOs partners ( Chin Youth Association, Pin Myanmar, NINU) who invited to join the trainings and forum. The trainings were cascaded to multiply in the township. 

This model was applied to mobilize local resource persons who had been trained to be agents of change when they returned respective areas. In a sense, they are also teachers in that their task is to promote the community awareness in different places.

It was learnt that a road map to development of organization started by undertaking capacity building training courses. Then share the knowledge by organizing and conducting trainings for local people. Some instances like HR training which was attended by more than 15 women. 

There encouraged to participate in group discussions which were very positive. From discussions, the participants themselves started thinking for a space in which all the women can dialogue and work together. Then a like-minded group was formed. The objective of forming group was to hammer out details of the work plan and to agree activities and a timetable to have their plan into action. Following it, the training activities were successfully organized in other two villages ( Sawlun and Kanthar-yone ) on small scale.

It was assessed that during the initial phase, other different activities were organized with specific purpose of making sure of a strong sense of group solidarity among all and themselves. For example, production of washing soap liquid and selling, city cleaning campaign by collecting garbage in Kanpalett city, organizing literacy boots, forming women groups in villages and working committee, making linkages and networks etc.

The program sustained its activities in following year 2014 and 15 with more trainings and dialogues among women population and building more linkages and networks with CSOs across the Chin state. During a particular period of general election in 2015, the organization actively got involved in voters’ education movements and campaign all over the Chin state townships. This is also a political landmark of the whole country in the history of Myanmar.

CWDO has notched up its achievement in year 2016 by growing recognition of local people and government authorities within township. Political party and Government officials are more attentive to the activities led by the CWDO in which Government representation such form as giving opening remark at the events, attending ceremony and sharing resource persons at Civil society actors’ awareness raising and trainings been noted as a sign of positive attitude and cooperation of government and political parties. Every Chin sub-ethnics groups (more than 5 sub-ethnic) within township were invited to attend CWDO’s activities on equal basis.

The CWDO rented its working office and continued program activities. Paung Ku assisted the office with supporting copies of many publications. Year 2017 has taken one step forward by having new experiences engaging with government law institution. The organization helped women who need protection against law sued at the court.

Paung Ku granted to conduct training to review current practice of law. Aiming at sharing knowledge about public rule of law and gender awareness and violence against women, trainings were opened for a group of chin ethnic advocates (well-known local negotiators as Aung-ta-mamm) who are locally and socially accepted practitioners of Chin customary law in aligned with Chin ethnic norm, and value against the women right. 

The ethnic practitioner groups are socially recognized in the society who holds social responsibility to mediate and negotiate when there come up with conflicts between women and men. Fostering of Chin ethnic value and norms in parallel with standard rules of law is in grasp of them called Aung-ta-mann. They listen the voices and arguments and then set the social disputes by applying customary law so that the disputants are not necessary to go to court hearing.

Referring to what their description, the denial of opportunities and equal rights to individuals and groups are seen as the normal operations of the society. When women suffer from discrimination within their society, they consult the Aungta-mann and ask for judgement. 

The important role of Aung-ta-mann is still recognized among the society. They are aware of challenges that overwhelming them, including a fact that simple day to day exchanges of interaction between men and women are a battleground in the struggle for gender equality.

Paung Ku has not overlooked all aspect of traditional gender stratification in addressing gender issues about Chin ethnic women because it is rooted in culture’s social structure. We realized that it is not possible to change gender roles drastically without making dramatic revisions in their (Chin) culture’s social structure. Despite these challenges, the CWDO is not responding passively. They are mobilizing, individually and collectively.

During 2017, CWDO strategically tuned its focus on women’s development program. Current gender focus trainings are augmented by attaching other different trainings such as two month NFE course which is designed in such a way that students are supposed to learn general knowledge, English language courses, civic education, playing, dancing and singings, poem recitation contests, cross learning visits, community dialogue etc.. 

The vocational training, weaving textile, for women youths is one of the popular courses which is complementary to the income generation program to benefit the women headed families. A disabled woman participated in weaving training and she is now producing finished product for her own income. The finished products are available for selling in CWDO office. To ensure a secure sustainable future of the CWDO, Paung Ku will continue its engagement with the CWDO in three important program inputs, grant, mentoring, and linking and networking to provide a learning platform.

Program activities in year 2018 has extended to cover more activities such as reproductive health training for girls, conducting international women day for 3 successive year in Kanpellet town and publication of CWDO record, etc. Following year in 2019, in collaboration with Chin World Media, CWDO conducted leadership and political awareness training which is attended by 12 university students. The course is intensive and takes 30 days to complete.

We noted that they have made slow but steady progress in certain political arenas.

Mai Naomi Thang (The Founder of CWDO)

My life story is what motivates me to do women’s empowerment. My dad is from the state of North Chin and my mom from the South. Because she couldn’t have a son, she was oppressed by society and my dad also felt pressured. Since I was a child, I felt the weights and effects. I thought I could revolt it. There would be a lot of women like my mother.

My father wanted me to become a civil servant. But there is a time, I had a chance to join the Chin Youth Forum (CYF). It was exciting to expose to new experiences and meet with new people. My eyes were opened. On the return home, I don’t want to be civil servants anymore. After the CYF, I was selected to participate in the Myanmar Youth Forum. Since then, I end up being in Yangon and kept my learning continued until 2014.

In 2013 I linked NINU women in Action Group as Human Rights Trainer. At that time, I have to return to Kanpetlet to offer a training. It’s a moment, I begin to learn about the plight of women in Chin State. I went from house to house and introduced myself. To analyze the potential forces. I’ve talked with young people from community. I met with some of the women who will become the members of Chin Women Development Organization.

Approximately 16-17 women joined the first training. The emphasis was on the elderly women at that period. There were women from business, women ministers from religion side, local custom experts.

Later in the group discussions, they came to the view that women themselves needed a place that feel safe to raise their voices. It was a prime motivation to found Chin Women Development Organization (CWDO).

Officer from the Chin Department of Social Welfare (CDSW)
It is great to have a CWDO team in this area. Because of them we could access the information that my department could not reach out. In some circumstances, for example, I don’t know the information relate to child abuse cases but CWDO already helps the victims. And they cooperates with us. They also created that summer program for youth folks which is grand for the future of this area. CWDO also invite us to share about our experiences and knowledge. I heard CWDO also did the advance training for University Students. The trainings empower the women which is a real need here because some of the men here have a narrow perspectives on certain topic. They just knew what their father said.

Several organizations such as political parties, Hluttaw, Government and different Chin tribal groups engage in the trainings and workshops conducted by the CWDO. This gives people from various perspectives a healthy opportunity to meet and shift conversations. Just Mai Naomi Thang was present at the beginning of CWDO however, now it has more active members, which is nice to see. It’s already amazing what they are doing. I wish them to focus more on young people and students in the future.

Kanpetlet’s Administration Head
At the beginning of the new administration, I’ve came to know CWDO. I recognized that they arrange the array of trainings, workshops and conduct the learning exposure trips. Before, it was rear for women to speak in public. There wasn’t much chance for it too. People are ignorant of women’s rights. Controls occur and it is understood as normal. Also women, themselves do not recognize their freedoms. There is sufferings and pain. In those difficult situation, CWDO stands by their sides, advocate and acts for them. Today CWDO empowers women to raise their voices.

Also CWDO Summer Program has worked tremendously in developing the confidence of young people and children. They became conscious that they had the right to express their views and beliefs. It’s still not 100%, but it has changed at least 50%. Having CWDO in town is great strength for community.

The United Democratic Party (UDP) Kanpetlet
I began working with CWDO in 2017 and engaged in activities. Later, I was unable to involve in these activities because my husband did not permit to do. I had to quit. But once my husband passed away, I hinged again. In our area, women are enslaved by the Chin tradition. With CWDO, we were in a position to narrate what it had never said before.

Because of CWDO movements, some of tradition that oppress the women slightly modified. I, myself experienced various forms of oppression. That’s also the main motive that I joined CWDO because I would like to help the women who have undergo the same like me. I’ve worked with CWDO for two years. I was educated by the leadership of CWDO.

Thereafter, as a next step, I joined United Democratic Party (UDP). In Myanmar, we need more women in politics, and I’ll do my utmost to improve women’s parliamentary involvement.