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Our brand of feminism

Ma Thanegi delves into relations between men and women and argues that all is not what it appears on the surface.
green ones from Mars it will be the same. Far from disrespecting our men, we are actually caring for them as the head of the household in Burmese, the Celestial of the Home that they are by feeding him first, with the choicest food, and especially by taking over some things so that he could relax at teashops and read the paper in peace. Things like his salary, the bank account, the cash under the mattress and behind-the-scenes (oh alright, behind his back) discussion with the kids to find out what they really want so that fathers decision can be steered gently in the right direction. Regarding children, they too get steered when gets back the amount she brought into the marriage. Smarter wives have been known to guilt-trip the soon-to-be ex-husband into handing over every penny or quietly planning months ahead to have all properties transferred to her name, by hook or by bribery. It is also the Asian tradition to have prestige or at least the appearance of it, which for a man means a stable if poor-paying job rather than the more risky if lucrative work as a broker. The majority of the women need to work, in salaried jobs or in business. Even those who do not need to work often do, just to keep busy, meaning she gets out everyday, dressed and lipsticked, and goes shopping during the lunch She may earn more than the salary-man husband, but he extended hour. She can leave the chilwill still be treated as the Celestial of the Home. Ma Thanegi dren and home in the care of it comes to marriage. The choose as long as whom she According to Customary other family members such Myanmar daughter does chooses is approved first by Buddhist Law, a Buddhist as her aunt, cousin or niece, not automatically belong to mum and dad and siblings man can marry more than without other support who her husbands family and and on the secondary level, one wife. Usually they dont live with her if her own parevery sane mother knows The Family. because it is not socially ents are absent or deceased. that forcing her to marry However the heady periacceptable and the chilMyanmar women have someone she barely knows od of the Water Festival can dren from the second or had equal opportunities is going to end in resentsometimes cause instant third marriages bear a in education and business ment and which resentful romance between strangers stigma through no fault since ancient times and daughter is going to care for and an elopement a week of their own, a shame that the Burmese proverb The ol mum and dad in their after; surprisingly a majority follows them throughout man shoulders, the wife old age, huh? of those impromptu marlife. If so inclined the man carries is about her being a What about, heaven riages seem to have worked would keep a mistress hidlife partner. Monasteries of forbid, if she elopes with out fine. However, let it be den away in a rented flat so each village teach children of someone that the parents, on record that neither the that it costs him less and both sexes, although in the grandparents, uncles, aunts, writer of this article nor The causes no legal problems of kings days, princesses were cousins, neighbours, old Myanmar Times takes any inheritance after his death. taught by nuns or a learned schoolmates (aka The Famresponsibility for elopeHis wife would be aware of handmaiden and the princes ily), could not accept? Such ments ensuing in April of all this, for wives find out ev- by monks. Women have as: he is a junkie, gambler, next year and every April erything, but most pretend been dealing in businesses drunk, lazy, poor poet or hereafter. not to know. If she admits ranging from fish or rice artist in-the-garret, he has There are no dowries; to knowing it, she has to do cakes sold from a basket on a crude mercenary mother, usually the wedding is the right and face-saving her head or sewing clothes to drunk, junkie, gambler fapaid for by one side and thing of getting a divorce, order, to running wholesale ther, too many girlfriends in the bridal furniture by the hence harming the financial shops dealing in dry goods other. However, according and mental status of her or the lucrative pickled tea, to the negotiating skills of a children. Or else do nothcheroot production plants, mum, one side might end ing, in which case she looks or jewellery shops, and up paying for everything. In a pitiful fool, and it is better someone dealing in pickled wealthy families, the groom to look like an ignorant fool tea or producing cheroots usually has to come with than one pitied by everyone makes as much as one in the sets of jewellery when askas a weakling. jewellery business. ing for his true loves hand, Divorce happens, of Those housewives who accompanied by a dozen or course, but mostly in the are not real businessso of the most prestigious less conservative society women do it as a sideline. couples of his family, all and usually when the As soon as the kids are off dressed formally; no guest children are grown, for first to school, she dresses well would be present who is and foremost the wife will to impress customers and either widowed or divorced. think of the harm it would with some gems or jewellery There will be an unofficial do to her children. The wife that she owns or has been the past, too many younger siblings he must care for, no education, no prospects, no ambition You get the drift. Wise mums make sure darling daughter does not get into that situation by seeing that daughters (or sons) get to know or have many chances to get chummy with acceptable young people, and the Myanmar lifestyle has many special occasions and community affairs where everyone joins in to arrange, cook, chop, stir, set up tables, serve. Active and smart young men would be eyed and noted by the mums who above all else do not want lazy sons-in-law and also catch the eyes of the girls, who do not want lazy husbands. She is entirely free to pick and MC known to both sides and discussions over tea and cakes as to which side gives the newlyweds a lavish wedding, a fancy car or a grand house in Golden Valley. Once they marry, the gentle tug of war begins between the mums of either side, to bring over to each side the daughter or sonin-law to live with her. I say gentle because aggression usually backlashes and mums know it. Sometimes matters can get sticky with mothers-in-law who are too possessive of their darling sons but that usually backlashes, too, as noted in that old English verse A son is a son until he gets a wife. Smart mothers know which would be the wiser path. trusted with by someone else, she would make the rounds of relatives, friends and acquaintances, a social circle that compared to the Western kind is extremely large, due to the ability of the people to start chatting with someone on the bus and become firm friends within four stops. She may earn more than the salaryman husband but he will still be treated as the Celestial of the Home. Unfortunately, traditional customs are often battered when viewed by Westerners who sometimes judge cultural norms of other peoples according to theirs. When a Myanmar family has invited guests for a home-cooked meal, the wife will serve the food and not sit down to eat with her husband and guests. This is often misconstrued by Westerners who sometimes react in outrage then and there at this seeming servitude and insist that they would not eat unless she sits at the table. These occasions have embarrassed and appalled their hosts, for her role of serving is about being a good hostess by making sure her guests are well fed and have the choicest pick of each dish. To be considered servant-like in this scenario is grossly insulting to the hostess. Westerners, especially women, also cannot abide the Myanmar feminism of our loving delusion and have almost always suggested when the subject comes up that maybe it would be better to be honest and have the men face up to their shortcomings. Yeah well, good luck with that. Call it subterfuge, deceit, lies or dishonesty; well stick to our method that has worked for generations. Ma Thanegi is a writer and translator. Her most recent book, Nor Iron Bars a Cage, was published in 2013 by ThingsAsian Press. It details her ordeal in Insein Prison for almost three years, following her arrest in 1989 after working as a personal assistant to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ma Thanegi

NTIL his death a few years ago, the late Dr Sein Tu, retired professor of Psychology at Mandalay University and Contributing Editor atThe Myanmar Times, used to say that he and his buddies are very much for gender equality in Myanmar: Weve been the underdog for far too long, hed complain. Dont spread the word: we women want to keep intact the lovely illusion that we treat our husbands like gods and our sons like masters as the saying goes. Buddha had firm ideas about delusions that defile our purity, but this one is just too useful to discard. Asian culture is never what it seems: There are layers and nuances, one on top, by the side, or coiled around each other in a labyrinth of confusion that is quite invisible to Westerners who tend to deal more with the concreteness of issues: You get what you see and you see what you get. Try working with that attitude in a conservative country like Myanmar and youd drown. Seriously. Its not that we disrespect our men or make them feel threatened with our efficiency (which is true of all womankind). Women get things done, whatever colour we are: white, black, brown or striped in red and blue. I betcha when we finally get to meet those

The Modern woman

Editors: Myo Lwin, Jessica Mudditt Photographers: Kaung Htet, Boothee, Thiri Lu, Kyawt Thiri Nyunt, Ko Taik, Douglas Long, Thandar Khine Writers: Ma Thanegi, Shwe Yee Saw Myint, Nuam Bawi, Zon Pan Pwint, Jessica Mudditt, Myo Lwin, Thiha Toe, Nathalie Johnston, Becky Cavender, Cherry Thein, Zom Pan Pwint, Aung Si Hein, Ei Ei Thu, Su Phyo Win, Nandar Aung

A Myanmar Times Special Report

Cover & Layout Design: Tin Zaw Htway, Ko Pxyo, Khin Zaw For enquiries and feedback:

The art of compromise

Housewives share their wisdom and complaints about domestic life.
after their home, trying to be dutiful and kind to his use the money earned by wife while a wife should do her husband to make both good housekeeping and be ends meet. respectful to her husband. Being a country girl, I Part of this respect, she have tried to save the small said, involves spending his Bringing up children as well as caring for the home creates income, hard-earned by my money wisely. housewife. Photo: Douglas Long husband, [for our future]. Every girl will one day Since I have no other skills encounter kitchen work added that her husbands Money is not the only than housekeeping, I make when she gets married. dutiful nature makes it problem a married couple my childrens snacks myself Nowadays, there are girls easier for her to put heart can face. Just as siblings can to save money. who shun kitchen work and soul into family affairs grow to be incompatible, But her financial and resort to food from although she also said not so can a husband and dependence sometimes restaurants, wasting money everyone acts this way. wife. Ma Aye Myint said worries her. unnecessarily and adversely Some housewives are understanding in married Sometimes I feel affecting the familys health. not like that. They squander life is not an easy matter, downhearted because I She said her husband their husbands earnings but something for which cannot earn money myself. still does not know how to at gambling and senseless one has to strive. Her own Im worried about what cook a pot of rice, and is spending. A husband may story shows the practical I would do if something less concerned than she is earn a lot, but if his wife is problems of married life are happened to my more often tackled husband. How women than by I asked myself who I was living for. One things by would I manage to men. feed my children? I got married at for sure: Its not myself. Ma Aye Myint (alias), a housewife I have to think about age 20, Ma about my children. But about the practical day-tonot strict with the money, the Aye Myint said. At that time my husband makes no day matters of the home. financial situation will never I was attending university. comment about it. He What he knows is that he improve. I found that if these As I lived with my parents, seems to be quite satisfied will earn money and hand things occur theres bound my mother took care of the with my only job being a it over to his spouse, Daw to be friction in the family. house chores then. I didnt housekeeper, Daw Tin Yee Hla Hla Myint said. He only Thats why it is important have to worry about it. After said. thinks about the present. to save money and try to settling down [with my In my opinion, a At times, she said, the increase it, she said. husband] I came to know good housewife should pressure of handling Ma Aye Myint (an alias the nature of kitchen work think positively about domestic life can be for a 28-year-old housewife firsthand. I had quite some everything, she added, overwhelming. who wished to remain difficulty in carrying it out. summing up her role in Sometimes I even felt anonymous) agreed that Her bumpy transition marriage on a positive note. like running away, what money can come between into the role of a traditional You should try to be a lifewith disciplining the a husband and wife but housewife caused problems partner for your husband, children and taking care of sometimes too much is with her new in-laws. When rain or shine. the house chores. But she as bad as not enough. I was unable to cope with Daw Hla Hla Myint, who had to be tolerant, she Sometimes when he is the house chores, my spouse is married to a taxi driver, said, knowing that such financially well off, he and mother-in-law who said lives in Dagon Seikkan responsibilities traditionally becomes selfish and heavythey adored me looked down township. She believes fall to her, and that her handed, she said of her on me, she said. She also that to have a successful family would get into husband, to whom she has had to give up her education: marriage, a husband should trouble in her absence. She been married for eight years. it was not convenient to

Nandar Aung

extra challenges, said one attend university and be a housewife at the same time, she said, but also found that her husband did not regard kitchen work as work. I had to take great pains to make him understand that kitchen work is also work in another form. When a housewife becomes a mother as well, the challenges increase. Sometimes I wasnt dutiful to my husband when my attention was directed towards my children, Ma Aye Myint said. When this happened, he berated me without any consideration, though she remained always tolerant. Although her husbands income has provided a stable financial situation, their domestic arrangements havent always translated into a similarly fulfilling role for Ma Aye Myint nor for many others in her situation. Although I had money to spend I sometimes felt like a stingy person. I asked myself who I was living for. One thing is sure: Its not for myself. My time has been wholly devoted to my children and spouse.

CCORDING to an old Myanmar saying, getting married is like building a pagoda or getting a tattoo once you make a mistake, it can be very difficult to mend. This is especially true for women. Many young girls spend their youth being prepared for the role of housewife by their mothers: they learn to cook and clean, and some are allowed to stay in school only long enough to learn how to read and write, as they will be spending the rest of their lives in the kitchen. In spite of this preparation, however, the transition to married life for women is not always easy. Because a husband is regarded as the guardian angel of the house, a newly married woman has to get used to looking after him, meeting all his needs as if he were a king. Daw Tin Yee was married by her parents to a man five years older than her when she was 19. She regarded her husband as her destiny. She is now 50 years old. Her husband, now retired, worked as a locomotive mechanic, while she raised their children and looked

A voice of ones own

Whats missing in Myanmars contemporary art scene?
tions award more grants to males than females? When Chaw Ei Thein began to express herself more freely after moving to New York City, she was criticised by those back in Myanmar for being too political while a man in the same situation (for example, the artist Htein Lin in London) is praised and lauded as a propagator of Myanmar art and activism. The suggestion is this: that the strong female artists in Myanmar believe in their own powers of representation, rather than step aside because there exist traditional values in Myanmar society. If keeping traditions alive means holding women back, then women must abandon tradition. If the female contemporary artists of Myanmar further assert themselves, they will become stronger and their message more widespread. For as long as sexist values exist, women remain under some form of

Nathalie Johnston

An artist contemplates the artwork at the State Fine Arts School on Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, Bahan township, Yangon. Photo: Kaung Htet

here are many talented female artists pushing buttons and boundaries in Myanmar. Intelligent, professional and diligent, female artists speak out through their work, particularly in Yangon. Yet something continues to keep them in the shadows. Their true colours only come out in their performances, poems, documentaries or art objects. These colours include thoughts on gender roles, questioning mens authority, and inviting the sexual and sometimes angry energy that women often share through an artistic proxy. A few female artists have said, I am not a feminist. My art is not feminist art. A lady need not

A lady need not be a feminist to expect equal respect and recognition.

be a feminist to expect equal respect and recognition. There is female leadership in the arts in Myanmar, yet the female voice is nothing but a whisper. Phyu Mon, organiser of the first womens art festival in Myanmar Blue Wind Multimedia Festival has been working as an artist for over 30 years, as well as curating and organising female artists but male artist Aye Ko was the first choice curator of the upcoming Singapore Biennale. Aye Ko is no doubt talented, but he lacks Phyu Mons experience and voice. Is it a coincidence that every other contemporary art event in Myanmar is maledominated and organised? Or that international foundacensorship. Male artists rarely mention the influence of female artists and make little attempt to empathise with females in their art. Not just in Myanmar, but in the world, women artists are allowing society to validate men with more money, privilege, recognition and hopes for the future. Is it because they do not want to be considered aggressive feminists? Fear of judgement is merely an excuse. Let the leading female artists of Myanmar create and speak out, loud and proud, no matter the cost to traditional roles. Nathalie Johnston is an art researcher and the cofounder of the art space 7000 Padauk in Yangon.

Did you know

The probability of a woman giving birth to a baby girl instead of a baby boy increases significantly the nearer the mother lives to the equator. While the cause of this gender selection is unknown, scientists believe the constant sunlight hours and

abundant food supply in tropical regions may favor female births. More than 16.4 million women in the world have HIV/AIDS. In some regions, girls are HIV-positive at a rate five times that of boys.

Cervical cancer: Dont wait until its too late

A vaccine has been available in Myanmar since 2008, but few women are taking advantage of the life-saving procedure
International Myanmar, said, We still have a very low level of awareness among the public, and sometimes even among the providers, about preventive measures such as the HPV vaccine, early detection with visual inspection using acetic acid (VIA) or pap smear, and timely management. Dr Sid Naing said one factor in late detection is the reluctance of women to violate traditional attitudes of shame and embarrassment about ones body, as well as a lack of awareness about the disease and how to prevent it. Marie Stopes International Myanmar is one of a number of international reproductive vaccinating their daughters will encourage the girls to be sexually active, or at an earlier age. There is no evidence of that as a possibility. With proper education, along with vaccination, the girls will choose safer and healthier lifestyles, he said. Ma Phyu Phyu, 26-yearsold, who is engaged to be married, has not been vaccinated. I asked my boyfriend, who is a doctor, if I should be vaccinated, and he said there was no need, she said. Ma Phyu Phyu is also reluctant to take a pap smear, citing costs of at least K6000-7000 at a private clinic. Dr Sid Naing said early detection by VIA and treatment and care become exponentially more costly. During the final stage of the disease, even palliative care to reduce suffering can be extremely expensive, he said. Since 2008, GlaxoSmithKline has made a cervical cancer vaccine available in Myanmar, on sale for K23,000. Were trying to promote awareness of the disease, first among doctors, and then among the public, said the companys marketing manager, Daw Khin Mie Mie Soe Lwin. Because of the cost, only middle-class people can afford it. Thousands of women have had the vaccine, which is easily available at many private clinics, she said. Government hospitals do not offer free pap smear tests. Doctors advise patients to pay for the test if they can afford it, said Professor Dr Daw Yin Yin Soe of Yangon Womens Hospital.

Shwe Yee Saw Myint

EALTH experts are telling Myanmar women: Dont die of shame. Traditional cultural attitudes towards modesty could be preventing women at risk from seeking early treatment for a deadly disease. Every year, 500,000 women worldwide contract cervical cancer, a disease caused by a sexually transmitted infection called Human Papillomavirus (HPV) (the disease itself is not contagious or infectious). Half of those women die due to a lack of timely treatment. Globally, it is the second most common cancer among women after breast cancer, and 85 percent of the victims live in poor and middle-income countries. In Myanmar, cervical cancer ranks as the second most common form of cancer among women, and it is the second most common type of cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age. According to the 2010 WHO Cancers Summary Report, Myanmar has a population of 17.92 million women aged 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Current estimates indicate that every year, 6434 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3536 die from the disease. Dr Sid Naing, country director of Marie Stopes

Half a million women contract cervical cancer every year around the world. Photo: Thiri Lu therapy treatment, he said. Ma Moe Moe, 31, was operated on for the disease I would advise girls to be vaccinated against HPV at a young age. Mothers

We still have a very low level of awareness among the public, and sometimes even among the providers, about preventive measures.
Dr Sid Naing, country director of Marie Stopes International Myanmar

health organisations that screen for cervical cancer and conduct education, clinical services, and referrals. Cervical cancer has four stages. The patients who come to us are usually already in stage two, said Dr Soe Lwin, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Yangon Womens Hospital, who is concerned about the low level of public awareness about cervical cancer. Dr Soe Lwin said: Without prompt treatment, the disease can spread throughout the body and cause death. The weak point in Myanmar is the shortage of doctors who can perform the operation, and of specialists in the field. Patients on average wait at least three months for radio

three months ago at a private clinic. If I had not had enough money, the doctors said I would have had to attend a public hospital and wait for the operation. Luckily, my company funded the operation, which cost K2 million (US$2126). Cervical cancer affects married women more than single women, and most patients are aged between 40 and 60, according to the 2011 study Action (ASEAN costs in Oncology). As for prevention, a vaccine against HPV infection exists which is most effective in young girls who are not yet sexually active. VIA and pap smears can help detect the disease at an early stage when it can be treated, said by Dr Sid Naing.

here worry about giving their daughters the vaccine. Oddly, they assume that

treatment with cryotherapy is inexpensive. Once the disease gains hold,

Three minutes with top model Khin Thazin

What made you decide to get into modelling? Singer Sai Sai Kham Leng asked me to be in his MTV video clip last year. I said no, because I was so scared. At the time, I was attending a business management class after quitting my flight attendant job. But then I changed my mind and did shoot just to have the memory of the experience. Fortunately, the song was very popular with the public and some people in the media noticed me and contacted me about doing magazine shoots. What is the most satisfying aspect of your work? Feedback from my fans. What is the one gadget you cannot live without and why? My mobile phone, because it connects me to the world. Whats your favourite holiday destination? Pyin Oo Lwin (near Mandalay). Its a mountain area, with lots of flowers and I like the cold weather. Great for sight-seeing. Does your work involve a lot of travel? Sometimes I need to travel for photo shoots. Im in Bangkok right now, filming a commercial for J-Donuts. Whats your favourite restaurant in Yangon? Feel Myanmar Food 124 Pyidaungsu Yeiktha Street, Dagon township. What was your very first job? Air hostess at Air Bagan. Describe yourself in three words. Admire the truth. What was the last book you read and what was it about? Phay Myints Pyaw Tat Su Tat Paung Thin Dat Tae Lu (The Man Who Relates Well to People). Its about effective communication. What is your advice for young people who seek a successful career as a model? Never lose your confidence.

Women on 19th Street in downtown Yangon. Photo: Ko Taik

Fashion in focus
Are the changing styles of Myanmar fashion a cause for cconcern or excitement?
Aung Kyaw Nyunt

HERE is a saying in Myanmar that the glory of a man is his strong arms; the glory of women is her black healthy hair in a big tight knot. Today, however, many Myanmar women no longer have long enough hair to make even a small knot. Others may have long hair, but dye it a different colour, following trends borrowed from other countries. Clothing, however, remains the biggest change in Myanmar fashion of late. I have heard that in the past, Myanmar women were shy about showing their ankles. They wore long skirts or longyis to hide themselves. Nowadays, some Myanmar women wear very short hemlines, showing a lot of skin, usually in an attempt to imitate Korean actresses or styles from Western countries. However, many women still have reservations about wearing clothes that are too revealing. Ma Chu Chu, an 18-yearold university student, said she does wear Western trousers instead of longyis. But she wont wear shorts, she said, because she doesnt want her legs to be exposed. We need to wear clothes that keep us safe, she said. Wearing a short dress looks beautiful but its inviting danger, I think. From my point of view, Myanmar women shouldnt wear shorts and tops that show a

lot of skin. Some parents also do not approve of their children pushing the fashion envelope. Daw Thae Thae, 35, a mother, said she thinks it is beautiful to wear Myanmarstyle clothing. Doing so, she said, preserves a young womans prestige. There is a range of smart dressing that makes ones appearance look beautiful, said Daw Thae Thae. These clothes are not too short and they dont have too deep a neckline. If someone wears such [revealing] kinds of clothes, her parents may suffer a loss of prestige. So I think parents shouldnt allow their daughters to

looks elegant and graceful while doing so. She is undoubtedly Myanmars democracy icon as well as its fashion icon. Yet even Daw Suu sometimes opts for a change, however: photos of her wearing blue jeans on a recent visit to Mongolia provoked outrage on some websites in Myanmar. While Daw Suus outfit in Mongolia certainly wasnt indiscreet, some feel that when older women mimic foreign trends, the results are unappealing. It is not good to see elder women wearing mini-skirts like young ladies, said Daw Win Kyi, a Yangon City Development Committee employee. Elders must be a

In the past, Myanmar women were shy about showing their ankles.
wear such styles. Its not suitable to wear clothes showing a lot of skin because Im now attending some training and have to take buses, said Ma Ei Thiri Thu, a 22-year-old. Sometimes, I wear shorts or short dresses, but I dare not to wear them too short. I put on that kind of clothes just when I go shopping with my friends. Ma Ei Thiri Thu said she likes to change her style often, switching between the old and the new on any given day. I like Myanmar traditional costumes, and we who attend state-run schools have to put on traditional costumes, she said. The majority of Myanmar women seek to emulate Daw Aung San Suu Kyis look. Whether at home or at ceremonies around the world, she wears Myanmar traditional clothing and guide to youths. Daw Win Kyi says many of her co-workers are opting for foreign styles, something she regrets. Now, most Myanmar housewives are watching Korean movies that air on Myanmar TV channels. They think Korean fashion is dominant, but they must know that Myanmar also has its own lovely fashion. I dont want our fashion to disappear from our culture, she said. Thirty-year-old Ma Nyein Nyein said that Myanmar girls can wear short skirts without compromising their morals. Sometimes, your fashion relates to your own feelings. For example, you think about what you want to dress like each day. If you can wear what you want, you have confidence the whole day. That doesnt mean, she

said, that anything goes. It depends on where you go. If you go to a place where its okay to wear short skirts, you can. But you shouldnt wear something rude. Although you can wear short skirts, you must have style, Ma Nyein Nyein said. If you want to wear fashionable styles, it should be compatible with you, said Ma Thinzar, a 30-yearold housewife. It is not wrong for a young person born in modern times to wear modern styles, Ma Thinzar said, But you must consider whether your choice is compatible or not. For example, do you use public transportation or your own car? You should choose the dress that is compatible with your activities. If you wear modern style clothing, you must also choose a hairstyle that is compatible so that you look beautiful from head to toe. Compared with other Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, the proportion of women wearing traditional dress is very high. But is this bound to change in future? If so, it is a sign that Myanmar women dont see the beauty of our own traditional costume. There are a variety of things we should imitate from other countries, but imitating fashion styles is wrong. - Translated by Thiri Min Htun

Our cover model Khin Thazin. Photo: Boothee

Driven to succeed
A female taxi driver encourages others to take the wheel
accept female passengers at night and I usually finish work at 8pm. Daw Thu Zar said she carries both men and women during the day, and she has never lost a potential fare because she is a woman. Some guys are welcoming and glad to see me. They usually encourage me when they see Im driving a taxi, she said. She said some male taxi drivers are amazed to discover she drives a taxi. These drivers support her, telling her to try hard and not be afraid of anything. But not all are like that: female riders feel more relaxed about getting in a cab if they see it being driven by another woman. Asked about the popular opinion that women are not as good at driving as men are, Daw Thu Zar said the difference is that most women lack confidence. She said some women are afraid of accidents and dare not drive at high speeds. But she says women can and do drive their own cars very well. She got her drivers license in 1977, when she was 18-year-old. After she married and had a daughter and a son, she worked for four years

Did you know

Thiha Toe

The word woman is believed to have derived from the Middle English term wyfman, broken down simply as the wife (wyf) of man. In Old English, women were described simply as wyf, while the term man was used to describe a human person, regardless of gender. The English word girl was initially used to describe a young person of either sex. It was not until the beginning of the sixteenth century that the term was used specifically to describe a female child. The first woman to rule a country as an elected leader in the modern era was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, who was elected as prime minister of the island nation in 1960 and later re-elected in 1970. The first country to grant women the right to vote in the modern era was New Zealand in 1893.

TS rare to see a female driving a taxi around the streets of Yangon. Most Myanmar women lack the confidence to take Daw Thu Zar said that many women envy her career on what is considered choice. Photo: Thiha Toe a mans job, or may feel apprehensive about the dangers involved in an unexpected area for to make her financially driving strangers around. females. independent, so she does Yet in other countries, For Daw Thu Zar, not have to rely on her female taxi drivers arent driving a cab also has an children for support. the anomaly that Daw additional reward. Her Im so happy with my Thu Zar is. life, Daw Thu Only two or I dont worry about myself at nighttime because I only accept female Zar said. three women Everyone, passengers at night and I usually finish work at 8pm. Daw Thu Zar drive taxis in especially Yangon, and adolescents, shes only met one of the some have asked her how driving the school bus. husband, an engineer, should be financially others since she started. she dares to drive a taxi as After that, she moved to passed away five years independent. I never take I havent been driving a woman. Singapore with her family. ago, but her taxi earnings money from my daughter a taxi long only since I just ignore people They continue to live there between K25,000 and and son, she said proudly. February. But I have five like that. It may be that while she splits her time K30,000 a day are enough I get by all by myself. years experience as a they dont understand the between Singapore and school bus driver. I started notion of equality. They her old home in Yangon. doing that in 1999, the have their eyes closed. In When shes in Singapore, 56-year-old told The other countries, there are a she works as a cook, taking Myanmar Times. lot of female taxi drivers. orders for biryani, coconut At the time Daw Thu The response from rice and buttered rice. Zar was the only female in women has been Even if we dont the city working as a bus overwhelmingly supportive know each other, [the driver. In those days, she even envious. She has passengers] greet me by said, most women didnt had girls tell her that they saying. How are you, even drive their own cars, also want to drive a taxi Aunty? How are you let alone dare to choose like her but they dare not today? Im really happy driving as a profession. Her be so adventurous. when I hear things like route took in the No 5 and Daw Thu Zar said that. They worry about No 6 Basic Education High she would like to see me and it makes me feel Schools in Botahtaung a women-only taxi warm inside. township and the association established. Daw Thu Zar enjoys her University of Medicine II in She said it could help position as a roving role North Okkalapa township. interested women get jobs, model for young people, Now, she goes wherever particularly those who are believing that Myanmar her passengers want to currently unemployed. It people can help one go within limits. I dont would help women feel another to lead better lives worry about myself at safer in a traditionally male by finding employment in nighttime because I only industry, and it may help what could be considered

We nominate 50 outstanding women of Myanmar

Deserving Recognition
There is a plethora of outstanding women in Myanmar who deserve to be applauded for their many achievements. This is our first attempt to give recognition for their excellence. The names below are listed in alphabetical order, without using a system of ranking, and solely reflect the opinions of the editors at The Myanmar Times.
Aung San Suu Kyi Global democracy icon and leader of the opposition party, the National League for Democracy Aye Aye Soe Bodybuilder Aye Aye Win Associated Press correspondent, winner of the Oliver S Gramling Journalism Award in 2004 Chaw Ei Thein Contemporary artist Cynthia Maung Founder of Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand Dewi Thant Zin Great granddaughter of King Thibaw, the last ruling royalty in Myanmar Eaindra Kyaw Zin Actress and model Hnin Wai Secretary of Myanmar Womens Entrepreneurs Association Juu Writer, feminist and activist Khin Marla Managing Director, Nat Ray Khine Cindy Soe International make-up artist Khon Ja Kachin Peace Network Kyi Phyu Shin Film director Luu Luu Owner, Rich Gems Ma Aung Ngeain Archer winner of the Presidents State Excellence award for sport and winner of 52 medals at international competitions Ma Pho Phyu Socialite, Managing Director, Myanmar Real Estate Deals Ma Thanegi Writer and translator, contributing editor of The Myanmar Times Ma Thida (Sanchaung) Writer, doctor, journalist, former political prisoner Su Su Nway Former political prisoner Susanna Hla Hla Soe Director of the Karen Womens Empowerment Group Su Su Tin CEO of Annam Myanmar Company Ltd, Managing Director, Exotissimo Travel Swe Zin Htike Former actress and communications manager of Population Services International, secretary of Myanmar Hockey Federation and joint secretary of Myanmar Motion Picture Association Than Myint Aung Secretary of Free Funeral Services Moh Moh Myint Aung Actress five time Myanmar Academy Awards winner Myat Myat Ohn Khin Union Minister for Social Welfare and Settlement Nan Khin Zeya Actress and model Nang Cham Tong Advocacy team member of the Shan Womens Action Group Nang Kalyar Win Chairperson of Asia Fame Media Group Nay Yi Ba Swe Politician, the Democratic Party Nu Nu Yi (Innwa) Writer Ohmar Moe Myint Director of Myint & Associates Co. Ltd Pandora Contemporary poet Pauline Khin Mg Lwin International Culture and Charity Group Shwe Zee Gwet Free Funeral Services

Than Than Swe Owner of Thazin Family Trading winner of best production and sales award presented by President U Thein Sein Thet Mon Myint Actress Tin Htar Swe Editor of BBC Burma Service Tin Moe Lwin Managing director of Talents and Models Agency Wah Wah Tun President of the Myanmar Womens Entrepreneurs Association Wint Thandar Oo Partner, P&A Asia Law Firm Win Win Tint Managing director of City Mart Holding Co. Ltd Wut Hmone Shwe Yee Actress Yi Yi Myint Professor at the Yangon Institute of Economics (retired)

Khin Pan Hnin Writer

Phyo Mon Organiser of the first womens art festival in Myanmar Blue Wind Multimedia Festival Phyu Phyu Kyaw Thein Singer Nwe Nwe Sann (Thayawaddy) Former political prisoner and writer Nilar Thein Democracy activist and member of 88 Generation Womens Group, considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International Phyu Phyu Thin Pyithu Hluttaw Representative for Mayangone township (National League for Democracy) Phyu Phyu Tin Director of Monument Books and Monument Toys, Managing Director of Monsoon Restaurant and Director of Green Restaurant

Susanna Hla Hla Soe on womens rights

The director of the Karen Womens Empowerment Group explains why its vital to include women in the peace process and laments the barriers to equality that remain
in nine refugee camps in Thailand, who number more than 100,000. When I visited the refugee camps, I saw mostly women and children living there. They told me that when they were escaping the conflict, it was easier for men to flee the area. Some women suffered from reproductive and nutrition issues, and women also have to bring all their household things with them, because when they stopped they would have to cook. So its very difficult for them. Naw Susanna said she believes these are just some of the reasons why women and children are affected the most by war, and why it is therefore critical for women to be represented during peace efforts. In a March 2013 Myanmar Times article, Naw Susanna said that this belief is in accordance with the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Myanmar is a party. However she feels that the convention lacks teeth in Myanmar, due to limited awareness of its existence. The government agreed to implement CEDAW, consuming and costly. KWEG is also lobbying for a review of the customary law on divorce in Myanmar, and has held talks with the public and members of parliament. Its a very old law, dating back to 1947, Naw Susanna said. It stipulates that after divorce, the man must pay the woman 100 kyat a month as child support. Needless to say, after decades of inflation, the amount is meager in the extreme. The law simply isnt relevant today, she said. The double standard of divorce laws is another issue KWEG wishes to see changed. If a woman wants a divorce, its not very easy. But men can get one easily unlike women, they dont need evidence of adultery or abuse. Naw Susanna has raised human rights issues affecting women with many high-profile figures, such as the former US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. I was very impressed by her, she said of a meeting that took place in 2011. Shes a very practical leader. After talking about Naw Susanna said that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has also been a pillar of strength to KWEG. Although the leader of the National League for Democracy has been frequently criticised in the press for failing to speak out about peace efforts and the recent ethnic tensions, Naw Susanna believes this is due to political pragmatism. After [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] was released from house arrest, we had a meeting and I updated her on our progress and the other womens groups that we are trying to help. She was very encouraging and gave me many insights and suggestions. Though she never talks publicly on the peace issue, I think this is because her talk is very powerful. Whenever she talks, its not only in Myanmar newspapers but world newspapers. I think some of her words could cause her problems with the government. She is a politician, so shes being practical. This is my opinion. Naw Susanna believes that millions of women are inspired by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi including herself. Naw Susanna was a student at Rangoon University during the 88 uprising and subsequently spent four months hiding in the jungle. When [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] was under house arrest, people thought, This is the leaders life and its hard. So we risked our lives for democracy. Sometimes my parents complained that I didnt give much time to the family: I said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is still living far away from her children. And I kept doing what I was doing.

Jessica Mudditt

ESPITE calls to involve women in peace talks between the Karen National Union and the government, the director of Karen Womens Empowerment Group (KWEG), Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, believes that there has been no significant increase in womens participation in 2013. Since 2010, Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe has facilitated a signature campaign lobbying the president to involve women in the peace process as well as leading a campaign to end the worlds longest civil war, which began shortly after Myanmar gained independence from the British in 1948. Naw Susanna told The Myanmar Times she is disappointed that aside from sideline meetings held every month, official peace talks have not taken place this year. Because [the talks] arent official, they dont appear in the media, she said. She said the situation on the ground is much improved, although the calm remains fragile: The fighting has stopped, so the people are happy. However when the government and the Karen National Union (KNU) agreed to a ceasefire [in January 2012], there were many incidents of land grabbing. So the people are very worried about the future. Naw Susanna said that the government gave land to an agricultural company without compensating the owners, and she is concerned that if this issue isnt solved, peace can turn to conflict. She is also concerned about the people living

Susanna Hla Hla Soe in traditional Karen dress. Photo: supplied is currently in the process of extending its programs. The organisation is based in Yangon but now has projects in the Delta Region and Karen State. One of its main spheres of activity is assisting women who have suffered domestic violence. seen as an indication that more women are aware of the support provided by KWEG, and are willing to utilise it. KWEG offers free counselling and works with a lawyers network group, who accompany victims to file a case with the police. If police dont take any

After a divorce, the man must pay the woman K 100 a month as child support. The law simply isnt relevant today Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe
but I doubt that many government officials know about it. Perhaps only those from the Department of Social Welfare know of it at the township and village level, nothing is known, she said. Along with providing emergency relief for disasteraffected communities, KWEG also provides vocational training for women, as well as microfinance loans and education for disadvantaged youths. Help is provided to women from all ethnic backgrounds. KWEG is marking its 10th anniversary this year and In 2012, KWEG supported 20 victims of domestic violence, of which 15 resulted in convictions. Naw Susanna said there were 20 cases in the first five months of 2013. She said that although this may appear to show an increase in the prevalence of domestic violence, it could also be action, we follow up, she said. Support is also provided to cover lawyers fees and transportation the latter of which is particularly important to women living in the Delta area, because Naw Susanna said that transportation to the central court is often timethe situation in Karen State, when I raised the issue of the trauma women and children were suffering from, she agreed to help us provide counselling. After she went back to the United States, the US embassy in Yangon contacted me and provided funds to create a womens centre for trauma healing.

Did you know

Women account for 70 percent of the population living in absolute poverty (on less than US$1 a day). Women are largely excluded from formal peace processes. Only 1 out of 13 participants in peace negotiations around the world since 1992 were women.

Women make up 80 percent of all refugees and displaced people. Women make up more than 50 percent of the global population, but fill less than 20pc of all parliamentary seats worldwide.


Access denied
Despite efforts to improve the situation, limited reproductive health care options in rural areas often result in tragedy
convents in Yangon Region. The foundations doctors and nurses are volunteers, distributing medicine provided by Marie Stopes International, an international NGO based in London, UK. But despite the foundations efforts, conditions often force women into making difficult and dangerous choices. There are many cases involving women determined to get an abortion. Their poverty pushes them to take the risk. In addition to lacking knowledge about pregnancy-related issues, Daw May Oo Tha said that many women are unsure about how to best take care of themselves and their children. They are particularly uninformed about treatment options for the many gynaecological problems they face throughout their lives. On one occasion,

Cherry Thein

woman holds a pregnancy tester upside down, concealing it with her fingers to hide the result. She already knows what it says. Because her nearest mobile health clinic is far from her village and she was busy working in the fields, she missed out on getting a Depo-Provera birth control injection, which only protects her against pregnancy for three months at a time. Her options now either childbirth or abortion scare her, as she has heard that many women die regardless of which one they choose. She is trying to conceal her unwanted pregnancy to get another injection now, which she believes will abort the foetus. But it is not an easy decision: She is downcast, refusing to talk or listen to others, including the doctors and nurses who scold her when they discover what she is doing and try to convince her to keep the baby. The womans situation is a common one, according to Daw May Oo Tha, vice chairperson of the WinWin Foundation, a nongovernmental organisation offering mobile healthcare treatment in Kyaut Tan village, Bago Region, where the woman was being treated. She said many women in villages cannot access healthcare services because of difficulties with transportation and communication, which is why the mobile outreach services are crucial. The foundation offers healthcare services in five areas: Kyaut Tan village; Latar Gone village, near Yangon-Nay Pyi Taw Road; Mingalar Yarma village in Twante township; Khet Hti Ya village in Nyaung Done township in Ayeyarwady Region; and two Buddhist

Women learn about reproductive issues during a workshop. Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing an operation as soon as possible, Daw May Oo Tha said. She looked so pale and thin. Our foundation gave a recommendation letter to get a free operation. Unfortunately, the help came too late. When the mobile clinic returned to the village one year later, Daw May Oo Tha said, I was told that she was dead. Unsanitary toilets and a lack of access to clean water mean waterborne diseases are common among village women, often using belly-pushing as a delivery aid, some practice it as a means to induce abortion. Even after a successful birth, newborns sometimes die from malnutrition. Mothers working hard in the fields to cover the daily family expenses are sometimes too busy to take time off and care for their babies. As a result, some turn to ready-made powder instead of breast milk, especially if they have had many children and are no longer capable of producing milk themselves. But the their complaints of transportation difficulties, floods, being unable to get out of the fields because they have to dig ground nuts before irregular rains and so on, but they are real stories. These women have many kinds of obstacles to accessing medical treatment. Daw Naw Naw Win, a nurse at the clinic, said that even if the women reach the clinic, other factors may interfere when they return home. Although we try to give reproductive health country needs to step up its efforts in health education, and adds that women should not be the only ones being targeted. We need more hands to cooperate, especially male counterparts, to change old attitudes and practices, Daw May Oo Tha said. There is a ray of hope on one issue: The government recently reinforced its commitment to fight child malnutrition by joining the list of countries signed up for Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN). Launched in 2010 and endorsed by the UN Secretary General, SUN is a global movement for more action and investment in improving maternal and child nutrition. In an address in Nay Pyi Taw on May 15, Minister of Health Dr Pe Thet Khin said nutrition is more than just a matter of health. An individuals nutrition status, whether malnourished or wellnourished, is not only limited to his or her health status.It also impacts the countrys economy and education. Of course, the same could be said for reproductive health, particularly for women in rural areas. Too often having to choose between their work in the fields and the health of themselves and their children, women are finding out too late that short-term needs are leading to long-term loss. But without proper access to healthcare, and with little education for both sexes, many women will keep being forced to repeat the same choice in future really, its no choice at all.

There are many cases involving women determined to get an abortion. Their poverty pushes them to take the risk. Daw May Oo Tha, vice chairperson of the Win-Win Foundation
Daw May Oo Tha met a patient who was rushed to the mobile clinic with a prolapsed uterus. Prolapsed uteruses are often caused by a weakening of the muscles around the uterus due to a decrease in oestrogen produced in the body as women age. The uterus can collapse into the vaginal canal or in extreme cases known as procedentia, as happened to this patient the uterus falls outside the vagina. Worse still, the womans prolapsed uterus had been bitten by a stray dog while she was using a squat toilet, and the wound had become infected. The mobile clinic team gave the woman first aid and, though unable to perform surgery onsite, told her to go to the townships hospital nearby, where they had arranged for her to be treated without cost. I told her to go and get leading to urinary tract infections which can result in permanent damage to the womb. In the absence of doctors and clinics, local residents sometimes try to treat problems with traditional medication or other methods some of which cause more problems than they fix. Another cause of a prolapsed uterus is the so-called belly-pushing practice, in which midwives or husbands push on a heavily pregnant wifes belly in an attempt to speed up delivery. The practice is somehow helpful [for faster deliveries] but not totally, said Daw May Oo Tha, as the full-force physical pressure applied to a pregnant womans belly can sometimes make her uterus come out. The danger is well known, according to Daw May Oo Tha: As well as powder is not nutritious, Daw May Oo Tha said, and many dont know how to use it properly. Very few mothers know about reproductive health and most fail to practice birth control, Daw May Oo Tha said. Sid Naing, of Marie Stopes International, told The Myanmar Times some find even the safe and relatively inexpensive intrauterine device frightening due to unfounded fears it can move up to a womans head and give her headaches. We can call it culture, Sid Naing said, but its mostly related to low levels of education, even lower levels of health knowledge and belief in traditional sources of information. Lack of access to more trustworthy sources of information plays a big role, Daw May Oo Tha said. You might doubt knowledge and training many times, they often fail to practice [what we teach]. They said their husband or mother-in-law or religion wont allow it, she said. Abortion is currently illegal in Myanmar, except when the life of the mother would be put at risk by delivery. The countrys predominantly Buddhist makeup no doubt reinforces this view: Buddhists, who believe in reincarnation, traditionally think of karma passing from one individual at the moment of death to another individual at the moment of conception rather than birth. Though foetuses are unborn, many Buddhists nonetheless consider abortion to be taking a life, something their religion prohibits, though the sin may be lessoned if there are good intentions behind it. Daw May Oo Tha said the


Tall order
Basketballer Ma Thet Su Htwe is gearing up for the SEA Games, but laments the impossibility of earning a living solely through sport
success at it. Its why I cannot prioritise basketball as Id like to. Aung Si Working in ILBCs physiHein cal education department is a small but important consolation. She can play basketball with high school N the gymnasium at students while coaching one of Yangons private them at the same time. She schools, Ma Thet Su is sad, however, to see many Htwe stands with a young women not showing basketball in one hand. an interest in sport. She is busy demonstrating Women of this generalessons for a crowd of tion arent very interested in young students at the sport. There are barely ten International Language women in a school who are and Business Center deeply enthusiastic about (ILBC), where she works it. Their minds are busy as a physical education with fashion and beauty teacher. Its a role that often rather than playing a sport. overshadows her other The number of Myancareer playing basketball mar women athletes will at the national level. continue to decrease, she Soon, however, she will added, since there are fewer be taking a temporary leave friendlies and competitions from teaching in order to for women than for men. join the Myanmar team. When she was 12, Ma They are preparing to play Thet Su Htwe was inspired against the best teams Asia to take up basketball when has to offer at the upcomshe spotted children shooting Southeast ing hoops at a In our Asia Games. Precourt near her paratory training She joined country we home. has been undera summer course way since May cannot live at her school in at Gold Camp in Ahlone township. by sports Nay Pyi Taw. During trainMa Thet Su ing sessions with alone. Htwe is as pascoaches from Ma Thet Su Htwe sionate as any the Myanmar other outstandBasketball Feding national athlete, but eration, her playmates were she could not immedimostly men, but that didnt ately leave her work at intimidate her. Rather, she ILBC where she has been said it was just the opposite. working for nine years When I get into the upon being chosen. So she rhythm of play, I lose any requested to join the team sense of gender. late. Besides, she added, Her difficulty, she exthe desire to keep up with plained, is the very situathe men motivates me. tion that challenges many At 5 feet 8 inches, Ma Myanmar female athletes: It Thet Su Htwe will be the is impossible to make a livtallest among her teaming solely through sport. mates, and a key player at We cant do sport on a the upcoming SEA Games, professional level without her biggest tournament yet. a backup career. Its only Her only previous interpossible to play when national experience was youre young, because in a six-country invitational our country we cannot live tournament in 2000, when by sports alone, Ma Thet Myanmar was the runnerSu Htwe told The Myanmar up behind Malaysia. No Times. doubt she will be looking This is what stops most for a better finish come Myanmar women from December. doing sports and achieving

Ma Thet Su Htwe (centre) with fellow basketballers Cho May Thaw of the Yangon Region team (left) and Theint Theint Tin Yi of the SEA Games team (right). Photo: Ko Taik

Did you know

According to an ancient Sumerian legend, the universe was created by a female, the goddess Tiamat. This role of a female creator is not unique, as the Australian Aboriginal creation myth also credits

the creation of life to a woman. The worlds first novel, The Tale of Genji, was published in Japan around 1000 AD by female author Murasaki Shikibu.


Are women asking for trouble if they go out alone late at night?
On May 27 The Myanmar Times reported that the number of rape cases in Mandalay Region had increased, with 20 cases reported in the first quarter of 2013 compared to 14 during the same period last year. While some may argue that the rise reflects an increased willingness by victims to report rape to the authorities, Police Major Soe Nyein said one reason behind the increase was that more women are going out alone late at night. Reporters Su Phyo Win and Ei Ei Thu hit the streets to find out if the public agrees with this controversial statement.
Daw Nan Thazin Kyine 38, housewife Thaketa township I tell my two teenage daughters to be home by 8pm. More men are going out at night and many go to pubs and get drunk. Women have to be aware of their clothes and behaviour, though some have to go out late at night. Rapists should have some respect. How would they feel if their mothers were raped? I worry that sexrelated videos on the Iinternet can lead to rape. Daw Than Than Aye, 53, tutor Lanmadaw township Better police coverage would help women not to be afraid. Employers should take responsibility for their staff if they ask them to work late at night. Women can take safety measures such as taking mobile phones with them, or going out with friends and family members. Police should assume greater responsibility, and men should control themselves.

U Khaing Myo, 54 author and poet Pazundaung township You cant say rape has increased because more women go out alone late at night. If our neighbourhoods were safe, crimes like rape would not occur. Improving living conditions can help reduce the incidence of rape. More than 70 percent of people live in rural areas with inadequate electricity and water. They have to go out to get water and bring it back on darkened streets. Upgrading infrastructure would help, and so would better police protection.

Ma Su Myat, 17, student Kyauktada township If a rape case occurs it is because of the sin of both man and woman. A man should treat a girl as he would his mother or sister. And also a woman shouldnt go outside alone late at night. If she must go somewhere, she should be accompanied by family or friends.

Ma Hnin Ei Wai, 20, cashier Kyauktada township Its the mens fault. We have to go home when our working hours are over. Women like me have to make a living. My shift ends at 9pm. Sometimes women are ashamed to admit theyve been raped. Men take advantage of this fear, and will strike again if they get away with it. Men should treat all women with the same respect they have for their mother or sister.

U Myint Mout, 50, cartoonist Yuzana Garden City Western influence encourages Myanmar women to wear shorts, which can provoke mens lust. Sexual videos and photos are spreading through the internet and teenage social networks. Some men will take advantage of women, and women have to protect themselves by going out with a partner or wearing traditional dress.

Ko Chan Thar, 30 language teacher Mingalar Taung Nyunt township Companies with staff that work late should take responsibility for their safety when going home. In developed countries, companies arrange transportation for their staff. Women should dress appropriately and avoid seductive behaviour in public. Teenage drinking can lead to rape. Women must carefully choose when, where and with whom they go out.

Ma Tin Myo Myo Oo, 24 sales manager Kyauktada township Rape cases occur in rural areas more than in urban areas because rural people are less knowledgeable. So to reduce the number of rape cases, we need to raise awareness about rape in rural areas. A woman who has to go outside late at night should take colleagues and friends along to be safe.


Big girl in Myanmar

Becky Cavender describes her journey to self-acceptance in a country where females are particularly petite.
at! I am so fat! How many times have you thought that when you faced yourself in the bathroom mirror? Or maybe youve just avoided the mirror altogether. I know Im guilty (on both counts) but telling myself Im fat or avoiding the issue has not helped create a positive body image. Body-hating attitudes and words assail us constantly. Harmful, self-loathing language is often passed down from mother to daughter as though its a tradition as though all girls should pick apart their bodies in nasty, disrespectful ways. Girlfriends perpetuate this self-hate language. Its so common that its part of our background noise: We just accept it. The media doesnt help. Im not immune to this language, especially since Im no skinnie-minnie. Far from it. At the beginning of the year I adopted the words ignite and glow as my touchstones for the next twelve months. My goal was to ignite a sense of deep self-love, self-care, and body acceptance. Living in a region of the world where most people are described as very thin (in comparison to Europeans/Americans/Pacific peoples) means that big girl body-hating syndrome can rear its head on a regular basis. In Myanmar, youll stand out a bit if you dont look Southeast Asian, and anything else that makes you different will certainly compound that. For example, if youre big, have light skin, or dark skin, or if youre tall, youll generate more than the average amount of attention. Tourism is growing and many expats are moving here, but its not so diverse that you can be anonymous and blend in. Many Westerners are large compared to people from this region of the world. Were usually taller, wider, thicker and bigger breasted (if you happen to have breasts). One of my very petite friends told me after a trip to Japan, I felt like a giant there! Oh my gosh! If my tiny friend felt like a giant there, I dont dare go to Japan! Its not uncommon to hear thin Western women say that its a challenge to buy clothes off the rack in many stores here. Clothes are simply tailored for smaller frames and in the rare case that you can buy plus-sized clothes, youre actually looking at average US/UK/AUS sizes:

Basically, if youre larger than a size 6 or 8, youre considered plus-sized. So, whats it like if youre a real plus-sized person living in this region? What if youre one of the millions who have struggled with negative body image? When your body has bulges and sticky-out bits like mine, you will get noticed more than the average Jane. Its part of traveling or living in Southeast Asia. That more-than-average noticing can feel tricky if you dont completely love your full-sized self. If youre an introvert (like me), it just gets trickier. Being a big/large/fat girl was a concern when I moved to Myanmar. I was worried about being made fun of,

been teased (to my face) when I lived in the USA or UK. Ive never been thin, but I seemed to miraculously avoid the taunts that many obese people experience. Learning how to handle the stares, mocks and teases was hard and negatively impacted my already negative body image. I didnt want a rematch in Myanmar. Because I was a big girl moving to Yangon, my strategies included not learning the word for fat in the Myanmar language. Im quite sure there have been times Ive been teased, but by not knowing the word for fat, Ive been able to pretend I cant hear or understand the universal sing-song tone of voice people use when

tion was, WOW! You are REALLY fat! I felt humiliated. It took every ounce of energy to not get out of the taxi just as a matter of principle. Maybe I should have. Being called fat in Southeast Asia isnt necessarily a negative thing. Its quite acceptable here to talk about peoples size. Commonly, locals will greet each other and make comments on the other persons weight. Many average-sized expats get regular feedback about their size like, Your face is looking fat. In some countries, being told youre big can be a compliment. My sense is that its not necessarily a compliment here, but rather an observation (perhaps

Becky Cavender. anyones lying when they tell me I am. And as I focus on growing self-love, Im realising that acknowledging my body for what it is right now is an important step towards acceptance. Im not talking about the kind of acceptance where you accept all the negative, warped messages wrapped around the word fat. I mean, acceptance for who you are. Heres the thing: we might not look like other peoples ideal. Hell, we might not even come close to our own ideal. Regardless, we must be kind to ourselves and tell our bodies were grateful for them, despite our lumps, bumps, and sticky-out bits. If we cant feel a sense of gratitude for our bodies exactly the way they are and for how amazing they truly are, were not sending positive messages to ourselves. Were not recognising that were special and precious: imperfect bodies and all. Strangely, living in Myanmar is helping me learn to respect my body regardless of how I look because Im more aware of my size, even when that feels uncomfortable; but its that very awareness that is allowing me to be honest with myself, and instead of tearing down my body with negative self-talk, Im learning to appreciate it. Our bodies get us from point A to point B. They carry us. They allow us to breathe to walk. I can wrap my arms around my child and give her a hug. Our bodies have these amazing things called nerves, which enable us to feel and experience touch. So why should I or you get all mean on ourselves? When you think about it, were pretty amazing. Go love your bumps and have a beautiful day. I plan on loving mine, starting with what I see in the mirror.

Living in a region of the world where most people are described as very thin means that big girl body-hating syndrome can rear its head on a regular basis. Becky Cavender
stared at, pointed at, laughed at, sneered at ... you name it. I even lost 36 kilograms before moving here (for a variety of reasons and I still have a lot more to lose). When I lived in Ethiopia, I had precisely those experiences I worried about. Construction workers near my house called out when they saw me and not the good kind of shout-outs. Men yelled after me, laughing and calling me fat in Amharic (the local language). It was hurtful, embarrassing, and took quite a toll on me. Because I knew the Amharic word for fat, I was aware of exactly what they were saying and knowing they were calling me fat did nothing for my self-esteem. The teasing was tough. Although I was heavier back then than I am now, Id never mocking others. For the most part, Ive avoided self-esteem bodyshaming moments here. Ive occasionally been pleasantly surprised. If youre big, you learn to be sensitive towards certain types of smiles on peoples faces that may indicate imminent judgment or teasing. Occasionally, Ive been sure a cashier or hair dresser was about to make fun of me after giving me a wry smile, but instead, theyve said, Youre very beautiful. These incidents have shocked me, made me straighten up my back a bit, and feel slightly ashamed that I assumed they were judging me. Still, some unpleasant incidents occurred in Yangon; recently, I shared a taxi with a friend and when we got in, the drivers immediate reacwithout much judgment). Ive been trying to learn, with great trepidation, to accept this cultural aspect of living here. It has not been easy; my ever-too-common I-dont-like-my-body selfspeak blurts out. Most Westerners know that in our cultures, just mentioning the weight/size of another person is considered offensive and rude. So, when youre told (as if you didnt know it) that youre fat to your face by a stranger, its weird. Its also disarming and frustrating. Yet, there has been a surprising and not fully negative element to being called out on the fat carpet. It has helped me stand in my skin with my head held a bit higher. Confused? Well, first of all, I am fat. So, its not like


Slicing into Yangon with Vicky Blades, founder of Yangon Expat Connection
The unsung hero of Yangons online community talks to The Myanmar Times about the Google group she founded and how its grown into a behemoth over the past two years.
writes about parenting and the ups and downs of life in Myanmar, though she says with a modest laugh that she can barely post a photo. The Swedish-born ideas woman is also a professional actress (under the name Anna Blades) and the founder of what may be described as a spin-off website, called Another reason YEC got off the ground was because people started contacting me about the blog. Writing long emails was very timeconsuming, and part of me wanted to put all that information in one place for the wider community, she said. By the end of 2011, Vicky said YECs growth went ballistic and membership reached 1000. Today it stands at 1914 members. The group isnt open to the public membership requests are approved on the basis that a person is living in Yangon and wants to connect with other people, whether it be to sublease a flat, join a sporting team or find a particular type of food you name it, the YEC members have asked it. We were stricter in the beginning [about membership] because we had more time. Vicky said. If a person didnt explain why they wanted to join, wed ask them to tell us a little bit more about themselves. Vicky said that due to the volume of people joining YEC, it isnt always possible to do individual checks. However a new team of moderators that came on board in February endeavour to vet potential members. I think weve managed to avoid any sort of spam postings, Vicky said. The three moderators, Sandra, Cliff and Marc, have each moderated other forums in the past and they have been something of a godsend to Vicky, who was spending a few hours each day moderating the forum. There was a point after Jen got a full-time job that it was just too much. Its hard to know exactly how much time I was spending on YEC because I was doing it between nursery and playgroup drop-offs and stuff, but it certainly felt like a full-time job. Vicky said that her inbox fight] raged on and on. It was just ridiculous. Its pineapple pizza, she said with a smile. Emotions ran high on another occasion when a YEC member asked where spoons were available to purchase in Yangon. Im convinced it was a joke, Vicky said. Yet with YEC, you never know. Im astounded by what people put in print. I dont think people realise that what they say goes out to 1900 people. Although YECs policy is to never remove a post, the same cannot be said for members who seriously misbehave. However Vicky said she can count on one hand the number of people who have been removed from the group during the past two years. We try to take the approach that people say things in the heat of the moment, not realising its a public forum. We try to give them the chance by saying its not tolerated or acceptable and to make sure they wont do it again. This is done privately, although general tickingsoff have also been issued to the group as a whole most recently this happened when the argument over expensive rent escalated into snide racial comments. One of Vickys most embarrassing moments on YEC occurred shortly after giving birth to her second son, Oscar. As Vicky explained, Someone called Daphne posted on YEC that she and her husband had just arrived in Yangon and were looking for some adult friends to play with. Id just had a baby and my response was in that frame of mind. I emailed back that she should join the IFG [International Friendship Group]. Then Jenny emailed me and said Im not sure thats the sort of friendship she was looking for. I was mortified. High jinks aside, when I asked Vicky whether the number of members could ever reach a point when the group becomes too large to be manageable, her answer is far less optimistic than expected. The future of YEC is something Ive thought long and hard about. Ive debated it with friends for many months now. I think there is going to be some natural attrition, in that the group will one day just fade away. Compared to the rest of the world, theres still very few websites for Yangon and Myanmar. But thats going to change, and I think people will start using other websites. I spoke to a friend last week whos lived in Yangon for eight years she said she thinks shell unsubscribe from YEC. She said, It used to be interesting and sometimes entertaining, but now its just the same questions over and over again, and there are too many businesses posting. Id rather go to a website and search for the information I want. Vicky believes that YEC has changed a lot just as the city itself has. However she is keen to emphasise that YEC is a dynamic group and as information changes on an almost daily basis, it is YEC that keeps up. She rues the fact that some people possibly out of fear of being criticised reply privately to queries rather than sharing the information with the wider YEC community. We are currently the first point of contact for a lot of people, but I think that will change, Vicky said. I dont know how long weve got. I think just letting it happen naturally is the best way forward. For the moment however, YEC isnt going anywhere, and the number of new members continues to increase by 3.6 people a day. There would be few expats who could say that Vickys creation hasnt made their life a little or a lot easier at some point during their stay in Yangon. Some may wonder whether YEC will take the socialising offline from time to time that is, in the form of facetoface get togethers. In the old days, we said wed have a party when we reached 200, 500 or 1000 members - but we never did, she said. The dance club Hola approached Vicky and put on a second birthday party for YEC earlier in the year. Although there isnt anything in the pipeline at this stage, Vicky is very much open to the idea. As the networking extraordinaire said: I love nothing better than going around chatting to people. I can do that all day long.

Jessica Mudditt

HEN Vicky Blades moved to Yangon with her young family in January 2011, she found the lack of information available online kind of scary. We knew there were international schools but that was kind of it, she told The Myanmar Times. Three months later, she and a friend named Jen Herink decided to redress the information void. As Facebook wasnt reliably accessible at the time (due to the governments heavyhanded censorship), the pair spent an hour in Coffee Circles cobbling together a Google group called Yangon Expat Connection (YEC). It opened its virtual doors to members on April 19, 2011. The idea was to create a forum where expats could pool information and share practical tips about living in Yangon. Although the groups name has the word expat in it, Vicky said that it was always meant to be inclusive and theres no policy whatsoever against locals joining. We should maybe change the name to Yangon Connection (there is already a Facebook group of this name), but the YEC is so well known, she said Vicky said that initially, the number of members joining was steady, though nothing astonishing. We never thought in a million years that it would grow the way it has, she said. Vicky believes that part of the groups early success was due to the fact that the internet was becoming more affordable in Myanmar, so there was an increasing number of people using the internet from home. Wed text each other and say, Wow, there are a hundred members. When asked whether shes a techie, Vicky said, Oh my God, no! Im a fortysomething mum of two. I struggle with Facebook; I have a Twitter account and never use it. Vicky does have a blog she

Vicky Blades founded YEC in April 2011. Photo: Boothee is continuously full of questions from members such as how to reverse accidentally unsubscribing or not knowing how to change the email digest of posts. Naturally, this should be discouraged, because the instructions can be found online. The moderators have full-time jobs and no one is paid to ensure YEC functions smoothly. was asking a staggering US$15,000 per month in rent. A back and forth between members and the person who wrote the original post went on for a couple of weeks and the comments got pretty nasty. Vicky said, Obviously I have a personal opinion, but as a moderator of YEC I have to stay as neutral as possible. However I can totally

I dont think people realise that what they say goes out to 1900 people. Vicky Blades
Although a lot of businesses have joined YEC in recent times, since June 1 it is no longer possible to send out regular posts about restaurant menus or events. This decision was made following negative feedback from members about receiving such emails however, a number of members who support receiving all emails are becoming increasingly vocal. With such a large number of members, its no doubt impossible to please everybody. Im really proud of what people say about [YEC], Vicky said. It had its moments. There is been some controversy. The most recent was stirred following a posting from a real estate agent who understand why people got upset I also think some of the replies were much more humorous than people realised. Theres often a joke behind what people say, but because its electronic and text, I suppose its hard to know if people are being sarcastic or making fun. I take everything with a big pinch of salt, she added with a laugh. Another well-known controversy was the pineapple pizza fight. It began innocently enough, when the owner of the newly opened Papa Pizza posted a menu. Some YEC members were livid that pizzas with pineapple were available and a fight ensued over the validity of such a creation. Some were joking and others took it seriously. [The


The top performing student of 2009-10 talks to The Myanmar Times about life after highschool

Bride trafficking to Brain box China unveiled

stay calm, just as she did in high school. I just try not to get stressed. If I lose interest in studying, I listen to music. When I have holidays, I go shopping with my family. I do yoga in the morning three days a week before I go to university, she said. She advises others to attend class regularly and study the

Shwe Gu Thit Sar

WHILE most people spend about an hour a day studying during their final year at school, Ma Khing Khing Lwin Kyaw spent six. The effort paid off: In 20092010, she was the top performing student of her graduating class, receiving a mark of 558 in Grade 11. It felt wonderful, she said, when asked how she felt upon hearing her results. But shes also humble about the achievement: In spite of having an obviously strong work ethic, she attributes some of her success to her parents encouragement. My parents didnt pressure me strongly, but they always supported me. When asked whether she ever faced jealousy or teasing from fellow students, she said classmates and the general public responded kindly. I did photo modelling for chicken stock and was repeatedly interviewed by journalists. When my address appeared in print, I

Ma Khing Khing Lwin Kyaw said her parents support contributed to her achievement. Photo: Shwegu Thitsar

Nowadays, Myanmar women have equal opportunities in education. - Ma Khing Khing Lwin Kyaw
got friendly letters from others. Ma Khing Khing Lwin Kyaw now wants to put her smarts to use as a successful doctor. While she would like to study in foreign schools at some point, she would prefer to stay and work in Myanmar rather than settling overseas. Shes currently attending University of Medicine-1 in Lanmadaw township in Yangon. Life at university is stressful, Ma Khing Khing Lwin Kyaw said, but shes trying hard to both understand the lessons and lessons afterward. She also said that women must be ready to compete with men in the workforce, but that people should be studying for knowledge, not to become rich. Nowadays, Myanmar women have equal opportunities in education and also in business, with men as well as with people in another countries. So I want to encourage women to try to have good moral behavior, be smart, graduate and become successful. - Translated by Mya Kay Khine

ost cross-border human trafficking in Myanmar involves women tricked into travelling to China to get work, only to find a groom waiting for them on the other side. Thazin (not her real name) was trafficked to China from Yangon and forced into marriage in 2008. Now 29 and back in Yangon, she said that one day she drank a cup of coffee spiked by an acquaintance, woke up in China and was soon married against her will. According to the UN InterAgency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), 70 percent of Myanmars trafficking cases in 2010 involved stories like Thazins. In 2010, the authorities recorded 122 cases of forced marriage, up from 104 in 2009, Myanmars Ministry of Home Affairs reported. For more than a decade, Myanmar women have been trafficked across the 2,000km border to marry men who are unable to afford the dowry required by a Chinese bride, said Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, national program coordinator for UNIAP in the Mekong region. Chinese husbands-to-be pay upwards of US$8,000 to arrange these marriages, many believing their bride is willing. On the other hand, Myanmar parents, looking for a better life for their children and themselves, accept as little as $1,000 for their daughters, according to UNIAPs 2010 report. It is a local custom and some think cross-border marriage is normal, Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw said. China and Myanmar now consider such arranged marriages to be human trafficking, and in 2009 they signed a comprehensive trafficking memorandum of understanding. As Myanmars five-year plan of action to combat trafficking comes to an end in 2011, the number of cases recorded has increased, along with the number of traffickers apprehended.

Photo: Natalie Bailey/IRIN In 2010, the authorities prosecuted 502 perpetrators (197 male, 305 female) and rescued 381 people (89 male and 292 female). Sting operations as well as education about the dangers of falling into a recruiters trap have made these arrests possible, said a senior official from Myanmars Central Body for the Suppression of said David Brickey Bloomer, child protection director with Save the Children UK in Myanmar. Anti-trafficking work in Myanmar is primarily focused on rehabilitation and reintegration; there needs to be a greater commitment on the part of all towards more prevention strategies which are inherently sustainable, he said. Instead of helping, Thazins brother said the police in Yangon demanded $600 as a bribe before they would search for her. He was unable to afford this sum, so Thazin remained a captive of her husband until she could take no more and managed to escape. I even tore off my clothes. I was running naked, she said, until she reached a bus station near the border where people clothed her and returned her to Myanmar. The US State Department releases its 2011 Trafficking in Persons report in the coming weeks. Myanmar has always ranked among Tier 3 countries, the lowest ranking possible in anti-trafficking performance. The 2010 report acknowledged the work done against international trafficking, but condemned Myanmar for continued in-country forced labour. IRIN

It is a local custom and some think cross-border marriage is normal.

Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, national program coordinator for UNIAP

Trafficking in Persons, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The 176-strong Trafficking Task Force, trained by the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons Project and funded by the Australian Agency for International Development, has been deployed in 23 locations around Myanmar, including hotspots such as Muse, a border town, as well as source cities such as Yangon. Special attention is being paid to buses, the main mode of transport used by traffickers. But prevention efforts are still the primary need,


Women of My

Padaung woman in Inle Lake, Shan State. Photo: Douglas Long

Rakhine woman in Mrauk Oo, Rakhine State. Photo: Thandar Khine

Palaung woman living near Kyaukme in Shan State. Photo: Douglas Long

Akha woman and child near Kengtong in Shan State. Photo: Douglas Long

Burman women working near Shwebo in Sagaing Region. Photo: Douglas Long

Shan Gyi (Tai Long) women in Kengtong, Shan State. Photo: Douglas Long

A Muslim woman at wedding in Yangon. Photo: Thandar Khine


The constitution of Myanmar recognises eight national ethnic races to which 135 ethnic groups belong. These photographs provide a glimpse of Myanmars ethnic and cultural diversity.

Eng woman living near Kengtong in Shan State. Photo: Thandar Khine

Khamti Shan women in Kaung Mu Lon village, Kachin State. Photo: Douglas Long

Burman women living along Ayeyarwady River in Mandalay Region. Photo: Douglas Long

An Eng woman in Kengtong, Shan State. Photo: Thandar Khine

Chin woman in Kanpetlet, Chin State. Photo: Douglas Long

Danu women near Pindaya in Shan State. Photo: Douglas Long

Pa-O women at Kekku Pagoda in Shan State. Photo: Douglas Long


In conversation with writer Khin Pan Hnin

Zon Pann Pwint

HE was hooked by the age of seven. As soon as Khin Pan Hnin was able to read, she was caught up in the novels of doctor-turned-writer Teikkatho Phone Naing whose career is, in some ways, mirrored by her own. His characters completely overwhelmed me. In some ways they resemble the author, she said. Many of Teikkatho Phone Naings characters are doctors. Khin Pan Hnin was the daughter of supportive parents who encouraged their two daughters to study hard. At school, she quickly became an outstanding pupil. Being the elder sister, I was much indulged and wasnt asked to help in the kitchen because my mother wanted me to concentrate on my studies. At school I was smart, and I was determined to become a doctor, she added. Khin Pan Hnin matriculated with flying colours and in 1967 was admitted to the Medicine Institute (1) in Yangon, where her first poem was published in a school magazine in 1969. While studying, she contributed poems to Pyi Ni Nyo Pyar (White, Red, Brown and Blue)

Doctor-turned-writer Khin Pan Hnin turned to writing after the public began turning its back on general practice medicine. Photo: Zon Pann Pwint magazine. Her debut novella Lan Shaut Thu Myar (Walkers) was published in 1981. Her first short story was printed in Lone Ma Lay (Lady) in 1985. I enjoyed my literary career, but I wasnt going to give up medicine. Then, in 1989, my life changed, she said. The writer, whose real name is Dr Khin Myint Oo, opened a clinic in Shwebonethar Street and pursued a medical career until 1989.

Some men write under female pseudonyms to attract readers.

At that time, patients didnt want to consult general practitioners they wanted to go direct to specialists. Patients would pay no attention to their GP , and they complained a lot. I

didnt see much of a future for my clinic, she said. So she turned to writing first poems, then fiction. I went to Yangon in 1991 about the time magazines started to feature news articles. My friend, writer Maung Sein Win (Padeekone) was running Shwe Tha Min (Golden Deer). At first, when he asked me to report the news, I didnt think that was the job of fiction writers. When the magazine closed, she continued her journalistic career

at Snap Shot. I never gave up writing short stories, because its my passion. I usually write at the office once Ive finished subbing the stories for tomorrows paper, said Khin Pan Hnin, now lifestyle editor at Union Daily. Myanmar women have a strong presence as writers now. Myanmar literature has always had equal numbers of men and women, but female writers are particularly strong in the new generation, she said, adding that some men write under female pseudonyms to attract readers. I thought Nora Saung was female, until he moved to a house near mine, she said. Khin Pan Hnin said she seeks inspiration from books and sometimes from films, and derives her motivation from intense feelings. Writers these days write when they feel dissatisfaction. I want them to write when they feel satisfaction, she added. Khin Pan Hnin recalled the effect of censorship on her work. I wrote a story about a row of seven houses in my street in Mayangone township, near the Mental Health Hospital, where former General Than Shwe lived. Nobody was allowed to have parties or funerals. The whole story, which was entitled Door No 8, was censored, she said. Sadly, despite the fact that censorship has been lifted, the manuscript has since been lost and cannot be published.

Juggling act: working mothers

Nuam Bawi

BEING a teacher takes integrity. Teachers take the place of parents during school hours, said Daw Myint Myint Cho, a primary school teacher in South Dagon. Life is harder for working mothers. We cant know how our marriage will turn out, or what problems we might face if our husband dies. At least if we have a job, we have an income and some respect. Daw Myint Myint Cho, 53, a teacher since 1986, works at Primary School No 9, South Dagon. Despite the

challenges, she has never considered quitting. By juggling work and her duties at home, she managed to put her two sons through dental and medical universities, with support from her husband, a township judge. He would help me with the housework, even washing and ironing, she said. Teachers work regular hours. Journalists, not so much. Aye Thu San, a senior reporter at 7 Days, says a reporters life is particularly difficult for a mother news doesnt wait. Before I got married I had time to follow the news, and before I had the baby I could still devote plenty of time to work. That changed after my daughter arrived. Being a mother is a kind of weakness

A mother and daughter take part in a singing contest held on Mothers Day. Photo: Ko Taik compared to other reporters without children, she says. Competition is fiercer than ever, now that daily papers are operating. Reporters have to write more, and faster. Reporters with children to look after cant devote the same amount of time to the job as journalists who dont have children, she said. Aye Thu San graduated from Computer University in 2005 and entered journalism soon afterwards. I had no idea how hard it was going to be, she said. Six years into her career, she married her boyfriend. My husband has known me since before I became a reporter, so this is not a new thing for him. But having a child does make things more difficult. Sometimes he feels I spend too much time at work. Recent political developments have made journalism even more demanding, though salaries have risen. This is a difficult job for a mother, says Aye Thu San. Making a success of working motherhood means not just choosing the right life partner, but choosing the right job as well.


With a little help from her friends

An association of businesswomen is working hard to achieve broad-based success
the construction industry. Daw Hnin Wai said membership is rising as businesswomen attending the groups seminars become interested in joining afterwards. The more members join, the more the group is able to reach out to others. The association earns money from member fees and by renting the fourth floor of the MWEA building to groups as a meeting space. In return, it uses these profits to arrange microfinance loans for women in rural areas. But the benefits arent just financial. We have our own activities on the first day of the month. During presentations, senior members share their experiences with new members and new members introduce themselves. MWEA is also casting its net more widely. The group is currently drafting a policy aimed at improving womens rights and opportunities nationwide. They plan to submit a draft to the government for consideration. For more women to experience success in business will require teamwork and negotiation, Daw Hnin Wai said but it will also require a change of popular opinion about roles for women in society. Some housewives arent interested in their husbands jobs so they may stay away from the business, she traditional roles are changing, with many women becoming enthusiastic about working. But while some women are breaking through into traditionally male-dominated professions such as journalism and policing, starting a business remains a challenge. The main problem, Daw Hnin Wai said, is access to money. Even if women have a good idea for a business, they often lack the capital to get it off the ground. We need more organisations to support [womens businesses], Daw Hnin Wai said. Asked what aspiring businesswomen need to keep in mind, Daw Hnin Wai said the important thing is to do well from the beginning and not to give up easily when confronted by challenges. Fortunately, thats precisely where the WMEA can help. Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA) is located on 288/290, Shwedagon Pagoda Road, Dagon Township, Yangon. Ph: 95-1-253287, 376639

Ei Thae Thae Naing

LTHOUGH women have the same rights as men, a lack of awareness is common, as is gender discrimination in the workplace. But the secretary of the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA), Daw Hnin Wai, is happy to be part of an organisation working to change all that. I am proud to be involved with MWEA because it is the only womens [business] association in Myanmar, Daw Hnin Wai said. She has been MWEAs secretary for the past 13 years and since the association was founded in 1995, the group has been working to help women enter and succeed in business, offering a place for aspiring and established businesswomen to pool their knowledge and help one another succeed. Recognised by the

I am proud to be involved with MWEA because it is the only womens [business] association in Myanmar.
Daw Hnin Wai

Daw Hanin Wai is keen to see more women involved in business. Photo: Ei Thae Thae Naing Ministry of Social Welfare as well as international organisations, the group counts many successful businesswomen among its ranks, both Myanmar and foreigners. MWEA has more than 1600 members, who range from business owners to education professionals to women working at an administrative level. One member who recently passed away, Daw Sal, went from selling cooking oil at a local market to selling diamonds. Another member, Daw Hla Waddy, stands out as one of the few businesswomen working in

said, adding that this is partly because, in Myanmar culture, women are often taught to obey and be gentle, while husbands are traditionally seen as the head of the family. In the past, many women only needed to learn how to do housework, as they rarely worked outside the home. In recent years, these

Female divers live it up in South Korea

Myo Lwin

WHEN the female Korean tour guide told her busload of mostly male passengers that we were on our way to see the women of Jeju Island, she seemed to be expecting a reaction. Our group of visiting journalists had lately become very much aware of the issue of Korean comfort women which continues to agitate relations between South Korea and Japan 70 years after the end of the war. Two former comfort women in their 80s had travelled to Japan to condemn comments by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto that appeared to defend Japans practice of sexual enslavement. Our guide swiftly moved to enlighten us. The women of Jeju Island, a one-hour flight from Incheon Airport, near Seoul, catch fish for their living, and sell their fresh catch right there on the beach. I was born in Jeju. The women dive into the sea without oxygen masks,

swimsuit or flippers and hunt for seafood, she told us. These are mature women in their 50s and 60s. The oldest of them still diving and catching fish is 84 years old. We stepped down to the narrow rock way to reach the beach area in Jeju Island where the divers were selling their rainbow-hued catch as the waves smashed against the rocks and the chill wind blew. Snug in their warm jackets, four or five pairs of divers were selling live fish from big plastic containers, with tiny plastic stools for

instant consumption. The next day we attended Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity to discuss the theme: 21st Century: Asian Century,Womens Century Achieving Economic Potential through Gender Equality. Speakers said the 21st century has been called the Asian Century in regard to economic development and the Womens Century from a standpoint of womens empowerment. Participants discussed how these two concepts could be combined, even reconciled, in a region that ranks low for gender

The oldest of them still diving and catching fish is 84 years old.
Tour guide

customers. The women welcomed us with broad smiles and invited us to buy their wares. Some Korean men were already ordering fish which the women cut into small and thin slices to go along with the local rice liquor called sochu. Every morning the women come to the beach, dive, catch what they can, change clothes and open shop to sell their catch for

equality according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Economic Forum (Davos) and the Asia Society. But many in Korea say mens rights are declining slowly as womens rights are rapidly improving. Mr Hyeyeong-mun Joo, a 30-year-old nuclear engineer from Busan, said gender equality in Korea had greatly

improved in the past five years, but equality was not yet at hand. Women were normally paid less. But he also told me of his struggles to buy a home without which, he said, he would not be allowed to marry. In Korea, a man must own a house. The furniture and household things will come from the womans side. So all I need is the house but property prices are very high. A 24-year old English translator agreed that South Korea had seen recent advances in gender equality, but added that there was still discrimination in the workplace. Many companies pay women less than men, she told me. Striving for the best education to get the best job in a competitive environment placed stress on both genders, said the translator. A man must buy a house so that the wouldbe mother-in-law would agree to let him marry her daughter. Because of the pressure, couples are marrying later, in their early 30s, she said. A former minister of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family of Korea, Ms Kim Kum-lae said they looked

A female hawker sells seafood on Jeju Island. Photo: Myo Lwin forward a society where women were empowered. I lived with my motherin-law at one time. She discriminated against me. I had to fight back. I had to try hard to get equal opportunities with my husband. It was difficult during my political life, she told a special session at the Jeju Forum. Womens rights have been improved but there is still much to be done, she told the meeting. A director of the UNDP Gender Team, Ms Randis Davis, said the elimination of gender disparities would benefit not only women and girls, but the family and society as a whole. Retired psychologist Ms Chung Miriam praised her fellow Oxford alumna Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, citing not just her good education, but also her character. The Korea Foundation, an affiliation of the Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored the five-day trip of 23 journalists from around the world.