Thursday, July 27, 2017

Rural women organise nationwide network

Widow and mother of four Daw Nyo Nyo San saw years of hard work pay off as she aided in the October 15 launch of May Doe Kabar (Women’s World), a group dedicated to educating rural women about their rights, providing them with small loans and connecting them with job opportunities.

Rural women attend the launch of May Doe Kabar in Yangon. Photos: Thiri Lu / The Myanmar TimesRural women attend the launch of May Doe Kabar in Yangon. Photos: Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times

Originally from Nawnghkio township in Shan State, Daw Nyo Nyo San – who has only completed basic education – had no intention of becoming general secretary of the network. She had been depending on the support of small loans from the United Nations Development Programme until they proposed the end of their microfinance program, forcing rural women’s groups to become self-reliant.

“When I joined the small loan group, I didn’t expect anything more than a small loan, but the group believed I was a hard worker and gave me a management position,” she said. “The day I approached them, I noticed a small house that had a badly damaged roof. I had no money but wanted to help them since it was monsoon season.”

“I explained the situation to the group and we decided to sell snacks and work hard to raise funds until, finally, we could afford to give them a new roof,” Daw Nyo Nyo San said. “Every decision we make now is a result of the feeling we got from helping that family.”

Without the financial support of the UNDP, small women’s groups continued to raise funds in much the same way as Daw Nyo Nyo San’s group did to purchase the roof.

The UNDP did, however, continue to provide support in facilitating the connection of the fragmented women’s groups from all over Myanmar. With the partnership of NGO groups, they also provided the women with courses in leadership, management, finance and human resources.

Now, from eight states and regions, more than 22,000 rural women in 31 townships run the nationwide network with help from INGOs, NGOs and civil society.

Despite their numbers and support, the women were initially afraid to speak in public, out of fear of discrimination but are now much more confident, said May Doe Kabar board member Daw Thein Aye from Ayeyarwady Region.

Though she only has completed basic education, Daw Thein Aye is now leading other rural women from the delta after taking human resources courses.

“I was so afraid to speak with officers from the town and they didn’t want to talk to us because we were just farm workers,” she said. “But now, they appreciate our efforts and are willing to work with us.”

The chair of the network, Daw Cho Aye from Mon State, said the network will continue providing small loans to rural women and will also provide education about women’s laws and rights because many women remain largely unaware.

“If women do not know their rights, we can only expect that discrimination and domestic violence will continue,” Daw Cho Aye said. “Some say that our country is not improving, and we can clearly see the number of alcohol shops increasing in every village. If alcohol shops continue to increase, surely domestic violence will increase. That means we must work harder.”

May Doe Kabar National Rural Women’s Network will also work to provide job opportunities for rural women with the help of the UNDP, CSOs and INGOs with their new motto: “Throw out all fear and let the opportunities come.”