Women’s empowerment is the process in which women elaborate and recreate what it is that they can be, do, and accomplish in a circumstance that they previously were denied.
In Myanmar, men are seen as the heirs to property, the rightful recipients of good education, the decision makers, the business owners and the autonomous head of the family.
Empowering women is a difficult thing to do in a culture which still honours a man’s superior position. We have to work closely with and understand, the needs of the women in the communities in which we serve. That’s why we focus on bringing women together to build a community of trust first. Trust is a hurdle here in Yangon. Speaking about family problems openly and admitting when a woman is being controlled and beaten is seen as shameful.
Creating groups where women can come together and enjoy time together, singing, discussing, learning and sharing their hopes and dreams may seem simple, but it’s incredibly powerful. When a woman feels she can trust, there is something inside of her that bubbles up to the surface; a sense of hope and confidence that she can make changes to herself, her family life and her community.
Once a community group is at this point, they are invited to share ways in which they can start small businesses which will provide for and support their families. Women have excelled in soap making (a basic essential!), making hand crafted goods, basket weaving, rug making and small food businesses – all by sharing knowledge, teaching one another and looking for ways to do something that is enjoyable and community-based.
These small businesses bring in income. Income becomes savings (to provide for monsoon seasons where there’s no casual labour for their husbands, for medical emergencies, for unplanned events). Women become income generators and decision makers. They become empowered women. Their daughters become empowered daughters, and so the cycle continues.