Myanmar GirnBurma Girl
Girls' power increases in Myanmar
Two years ago, after she moved to Rangoon, she signed up to a programme of extracurricular peergroups for marginalised young women in Burma's marginalised suburbs and peasant villages threatened by early marriages, early childhood education, home abuse and exploitative work. Conducted by a community-based organisation called Girl-Defined, the programme, Colourful Gels Circles, features debates on choice, self-confidence, fellowship and culture and religion.
Over 1,300 women aged 12-17 take part each weeks in the peergroups that meet on the fringes of Rangoon and Mandalay and in the towns of Sagaing and Monywa in north-western Burma, says Brooke Zobrist, the organization's CTO. A 13-year-old from the township of Yar Thar Thar Thar in Rangoon, Win Win Win Nwe has been with us for two years.
Burma's female population faces obstacles to jobs and healthcare, and they are still under-represented in the political arena, with men occupying about 95 per cent of the Parliament. In the midst of high levels of misery, young ladies are under pressure to find a career or spend time at home looking after their younger brothers and sisters instead of in school.
During the past weeks, the third edition of this year' s meeting was hosted by Young Investigators in Rangoon' s Hlaing Township, focusing on the right of schoolgirls. Some 420 young women, among them over 100 young women, took part in the all-day meeting, while more than 800 women took part in a Mandalay meeting the previous fortnight. A declaration on sex discriminatory practices in the field of training emerged from the meeting.
The declaration, written since March by a group of schoolgirls in the programme, depicts the pressures to drop out of college because of money problems and urges the authorities to offer free schooling through high-schoolers. Burma's state-run colleges do not levy fees, but the educational system continues to be largely underfinanced after many years of junior leadership, and the parent usually pays for textbooks, uniform and repair of buildings.
According to Unesco, about a third of school-age pupils in the state never begin their schooling. In his first months in power, President Thein Sein called on legislators to raise the number of students, and the federal administration has committed itself to introducing a free, mandatory elementary schooling system by 2015, although the federal educational budgets remain restricted in comparison to defence outlays.
"A lot of schoolgirls are staying home to look after their brothers and sisters - guys don't," says Than Than Oo, 14, who wants to go to college but fears that she won't get a break. "I' ve got to take good charge of my family," she says. In addition, the girls' declaration demanded changes in the law so that more females could be admitted to faculties of medicine and universities of applied sciences, since at present the number of points awarded to undergraduates in these examinations is higher than that of their males.
Burma's junior professors have had to reduce the examination requirement for men because female physicians earned higher marks and female physicians exceeded the number of males. However, in engineer and other universities of applied sciences, the vast majority of men are undergraduates.