Human Rights Day programme aims at protecting vulnerable women
UNFPA, Finland and Sweden are launching a 3-year US$11.8 million joint initiative to protect the rights of women and girls in Myanmar, according to a press release on December 10. Working with local and international partners, the focus is on the most vulnerable women and girls in the remote and conflict-affected areas of Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan states. The initiative is a commitment to prevent and respond to violence perpetrated against women and girls in Myanmar, and to realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The agreement is signed in conjunction with Human Rights Day, marked on December 10, and the culmination of the global campaign 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
“Women and girls of childbearing age in Myanmar carry extraordinary burdens as deep poverty and gender discrimination are compounded by armed conflict and inter-communal violence,” says Janet E. Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.
In last month’s election, when the National League
for Democracy party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a majority, people cast their votes in the hope for change. With a staggering 645,000 people displaced internally – the highest number in Southeast Asia – the challenges ahead are daunting. For women and girls affected by conflict and forced displacement in Myanmar, these include conflict-related sexual violence and domestic violence.
Called “Women and Girls First”, the UNFPA/Finland/Sweden joint initiative will provide comprehensive reproductive health care as well as emergency assistance, including post-rape treatment, along with counselling and support to survivors of gender-based violence. The services will be delivered through mobile and stationary clinics, and through Women and Girls Centres. The initiative aims to increase understanding among women and girls of their rights, and to mobilize men and boys for gender equality. It seeks to create avenues for women and girls to voice their issues, concerns and expectations to decision-makers. Working with a broad range of stakeholders, it will strengthen the capacities of individuals, communities and institutions to better prevent and respond to violence, and to support expanding access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.
“During crisis, women and girls have virtually no access to protection, security or justice, including legal aid. Perpetrators of sexual violence - whether they are family, community members or armed forces - act in an environment of impunity. Against this backdrop, access to justice and rule of law is essential to improving the safety of women and girls. It is an underlying aim that cross cuts all programme areas,” says Silja Rajander, Counsellor, Diplomatic Mission of Finland in Myanmar.
Women and girls have specific needs that are often ignored during crisis. While on the run or while living in shelters, they often lack access to basic sexual and reproductive health support. Without assistance by midwifes or provision of contraceptives, women and girls are at increased risk of unsafe sex, unwanted pregnancy and unsafe delivery, and are at a higher risk of infection by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. At 200 per 100,000 live births, the Myanmar maternal mortality ratio is much higher than the Southeast Asia average of 140, and in areas of conflict even higher rates are documented.
“Women are the fabric that holds families together. With this initiative we are ensuring their safety and health, and by extension safeguarding the security and welfare of entire communities,” says Tomas Lundström, Counsellor, Embassy of Sweden and its Section Office in Yangon.
Today, women’s representation in parliament in Myanmar stands at 4.42 percent, the lowest in Southeast Asia. The November 2015 election and Myanmar’s democratic transition process is a moment in history which may open the door for women to take a more active part in the country’s social, economic and political development. Ensuring gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is central to Myanmar’s transition towards a more democratic society, and by placing women and girls first, this initiative is dedicated to doing just that.