Coun­sel­lors com­bat gen­der-based vi­o­lence in Kachin IDP camps

The Myanmar Times - - News - THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­times.com

“MY hus­band forced me to have sex when I was preg­nant. He threat­ened to beat me if I re­fused. He put me through hell,” said the woman.

Daw Lu Bu, a case man­ager at the Myitta Foun­da­tion, an or­gan­i­sa­tion com­bat­ing gen­der-based vi­o­lence (GBV), was able to help the woman. “She suf­fered so much, she didn’t have the strength to con­tinue her mar­riage. We asked the vil­lage elders to help her get a di­vorce. Now she’s liv­ing with her two children in a safe place. The com­mu­nity sup­ported her ef­forts to escape from her abu­sive hus­band.”

Sex­ual vi­o­lence can oc­cur even in a mar­riage, says Daw Lum Nai. She was speak­ing at a re­cent gen­der­based vi­o­lence aware­ness event at the Mainar IDP camp in Waing­maw town­ship, Kachin State.

Gen­der-based vi­o­lence can in­clude phys­i­cal, men­tal or so­cial abuse, at­tempted or threat­ened with some type of force – in­clud­ing co­er­cion, ma­nip­u­la­tion, de­cep­tion, cul­tural ex­pec­ta­tions, weapons or eco­nomic cir­cum­stances, she told the as­sem­bled crowd.

In con­flict-af­fected Kachin State, the Myitta Foun­da­tion is fight­ing gen­der-based vi­o­lence with sup­port from the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund (UNFPA). They have es­tab­lished eight cen­tres where IDP girls and women can ac­cess GBV ex­perts for ad­vice in gov­ern­men­tand non-gov­ern­ment zones of Waing­maw town­ship.

“Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and trafficking are the worst forms of GBV in our area. We raise aware­ness by train­ing, run­ning an em­pow­er­ment pro­gram for girls and women to show that GBV is pre­ventable. We pro­vide sup­port ser­vices for the sur­vivors,” said co­or­di­na­tor Daw Hkawng Nan.

Gen­der-based vi­o­lence hap­pens be­hind closed doors. Shame and so­cial pres­sures keep women from speak­ing out. But the seeds of change are be­ing sown.

In the Nantsanyam camp, the IDPs ex­press their feel­ings through dance and song.

Ko Thaung Lay, 39, who at­tended the Septem­ber 14 train­ing pro­gram, told The Myan­mar Times, “This is the first time I’ve come. They told me that part­ners in a mar­riage should re­spect each other. A wife is not her hus­band’s prop­erty, and her con­sent is es­sen­tial.”

He added, “The train­ing helps to build peace within the house­hold and the fam­ily. I’ve learned that shar­ing house­hold du­ties is also es­sen­tial to build a happy mar­riage, even though the tra­di­tional view is that car­ry­ing wa­ter or wash­ing clothes is a woman’s job. Men are ashamed to do it.”

The foun­da­tion started its GBV aware­ness pro­grams here in 2014, with four staff and two male vol­un­teers in each cen­tre at 11 IDP camps in Waing­maw town­ship.

“Most of the fund­ing for UNFPA’s GBV ac­tiv­i­ties comes from donor coun­tries that take a spe­cial in­ter­est in the pro­mo­tion of gen­der equal­ity and women’s em­pow­er­ment in Myan­mar. The main donors are Aus­tralia, Fin­land, Italy, Swe­den and the UK,” said Yenny Gam­ming, a me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tion spe­cial­ist with UNFPA Myan­mar.

Ini­tially, the pro­gram was for fe­males only. But later the women said men’s aware­ness should be raised too. Now men also par­tic­i­pate in the courses, and male vol­un­teers join the fight against gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

Ko Zau Seng Naw, 21, who lives at the My­oma IDP camp, said, “I’ve been work­ing as a vol­un­teer for about four months. We discuss GBV in our so­ci­ety. We lis­tened to the men’s opin­ions about gen­der equal­ity and en­gaged with the prob­lem of vi­o­lence in the com­mu­nity. I’m so happy when my job en­ables me to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Daw Aye Than, who has lived in the Waing­maw camp for five years, said, “It’s about open­ing peo­ple’s minds. Many peo­ple who were will­ing to go to the train­ing say they’ve found ways to solve their prob­lems. The women know men don’t have the right to beat their wives when they’re drunk.”

‘We need pre­ven­tion poli­cies and pro­grams that in­clude pro­tec­tion ser­vices and jus­tice sup­port for sur­vivors of vi­o­lence.’

GBV co­or­di­na­tor, Myitta Foun­da­tion

Daw Seng Hkahm

The pro­gram ex­plains what gen­der­based vi­o­lence is, and how to pre­vent and sur­vive it, said co­or­di­na­tor Daw Hkawng Nan. “We en­cour­aged the women to come to us for so­lu­tions, and to speak to us in con­fi­dence. I don’t discuss their cases even with the cen­tre man­ager.”

Now the com­mu­nity wants the train­ers to work not just with the IDPs but also with the larger com­mu­nity. “Lo­cal res­i­dents and vil­lage heads want train­ing in women’s em­pow­er­ment,” said U Aung Htwe, a male vol­un­teer at Nantsamyam IDP camp.

There are few laws to sup­port ef­forts to fight gen­der-based vi­o­lence, how­ever.

Daw Seng Hkham, the GBV co­or­di­na­tor of Myitta Foun­da­tion, said, “There’s no spe­cial law against gen­der-based vi­o­lence. We need pre­ven­tion poli­cies and pro­grams that in­clude pro­tec­tion, ser­vices and jus­tice sup­port for sur­vivors of vi­o­lence.”

A po­lice of­fi­cer at­tached to the GBV train­ing said the po­lice needed more fe­male of­fi­cers and more trained of­fi­cers to han­dle these cases. “Response ser­vices should be put in place to en­sure that women have ac­cess to jus­tice,” she said.

Photo: UNFPA/Yenny Gam­ming

A gen­der-based vi­o­lence case man­ager speaks with a woman at a Kachin IDP camp.

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