In connection with UN’s International Day Against Violence Against Women on 25 November, the Embassy of Finland’s Senior Specialist Sanna Takala wrote a blog post about Finland’s activities which strive to promote and secure the rights of women and girls in Myanmar.
On Väestöliitto‘s blog, Sanna Takala wrote:
Promoting and safeguarding the rights of women and girls in the conflict zone is a key part of Finland’s development cooperation in Myanmar. Until February 2021, this meant to support in the states of Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan, where there have long been armed conflicts but since the military coup, support has been extended across the country.
The military coup in Myanmar has increased the risk of a return to a more patriarchal society and a decline in women’s rights. Sexual violence has increased with unrest. Sexual and reproductive health services are poorly available when public health care is not working. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. The effects of the economic collapse that followed the coup and Covid also hit women-dominated sectors such as the textile industry and small businesses in particular.
At the same time, the pro-democracy movement has challenged traditional gender roles and also shown that social norms have changed. Women have led peaceful demonstrations and been at the forefront of opposing the coup. The majority of striking government employees are women; teachers, health care staff, and lower-ranking officials.
Finland is working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to reduce and prevent the realization of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights and sexual and gender-based violence. With the changing operating environment, support is focused on work that protects life and dignity, as well as the protection of women. With low levels of public health services amid COVID and political unrest, UNFPA has provided safe obstetric services for women. As sexual violence increases, there is a growing demand for UNFPA women’s shelter and justice services.
Despite the difficult operating environment and security situation, women’s shelters have continued to operate. One of the beneficiaries of the project and the clients of the shelter is a 19-year-old pregnant single parent. She explains the importance of basic hygiene products such as soap, comb, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and new underwear: “My self-esteem has recovered and I feel valued again,” she says.
Finland, together with the United Nations Organization for Gender Equality, UNWOMEN, also supports the continuation of the activities of non-governmental organizations promoting women’s rights in the shrinking environment of non-governmental organizations. About half of the organizations have had to close down for security reasons. At the same time, the role of NGOs as guardians of women’s rights has been emphasized. Protecting equality organizations is also important so that women’s views are included in the peace debate and reconstruction at the start of the debate.