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Myanmar’s population is facing a double crisis from the COVID-19 and the military takeover of February 2021, which is steadily wearing out their social and economic resilience.
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Ko Aung Lin, a 36-year-old famer and a member of the Mro ethnic group, lives in Ah Htet Myat Lay village, Ponnagyun Township, in Sittwe of Rakhine state in Myanmar’s far west. He is the only man among the 10 volunteers chosen in Rakhine for a joint project by UN Women and United Nations Population Fund to prevent violence against women and girls and help survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions delayed the start of the project.
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Rakhine State, Myanmar – Daw Aye Mu had always wanted to learn how to expand her small business making snacks in western Myanmar. In July 2021, she was selected to attend the UN Women and World Vision Start to Improve Your Business (SIYB) training, along with a cash grant from partner organization Meikswe Myanmar. She explains how the opportunity was a stroke of personal good fortune amid difficult times for her country.
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Naw Moh Moh Than, 18, aspires to become a teacher but she has had her journey disrupted several times. When she was in secondary school, armed conflict in Kayin State forced her and her family to flee to a displaced persons camp. With the help of one her teachers, she resumed her schooling in the nearest town but then the COVID-19 pandemic forced all the schools to close since the start of 2020. Still, Naw Moh Moh Than remained determined. She joined a sewing training that UN Women organized in the camp and made cloth masks that humanitarian groups bought and distributed to women across Kayin State, which is mostly populated by the Karen ethnic minority.
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Since February 1, women and girls have been at the frontlines as leaders of civil society organizations, civil servants, activists, journalists, artists and influencers exercising their fundamental rights to express their hopes for the future of their country. Even before the coup, women, who make up 75 per cent of Myanmar’s healthcare professionals, were at the forefront of the COVID-19 response. Now, during a tragic surge in COVID-19 cases, many women continue in their activism and serve their communities while also assuming significant responsibilities as caregivers for sick family members, and for their children’s home-based learning.
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Upon her return to Myanmar in 2019, she invested her savings of MMK 200,000 (USD 122) in her online business. “Doing business was not really in my plan while I was in Thailand,” she said. “But I knew that I am good at using phones and social media. I knew the area and some people. When I returned to Myanmar, I felt certain I could start my online shop. I am still young and can get around easily to take orders to customers, especially with my motorbike,” she said.
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After 11 years away, Aye returned to Myanmar in 2014 pregnant and with around 10 million MMK (USD 6,075) in savings. She spent most of that on a house and used 1,500,000 MMK to start her sewing business in 2015. She felt that she was at her best when sewing, and also felt confident that she had learned to be punctual, systematic and disciplined. Ni Ni Aye says she dreamed of starting a clothing business back in Thailand ever since she started working in Thailand. “I remitted half of my salary to my parents and I saved the other half for my dream business.”
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We call upon Myanmar’s military and police to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and that demonstrators, including women, are not subjected to reprisals. We further call on the military and police to respect the human rights of women who have been arrested and are currently being detained and reiterate the calls for the immediate release of all detainees.
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As the world marks International Women’s Day, women across Myanmar are once again demonstrating their leadership and agency following more than one month of political instability and violence in the country.
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On 9 February 2021, there were several reports from Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay and other cities in Myanmar of demonstrators having been injured by security forces in connection with the peaceful disobedience movement sweeping across the country. It was later confirmed that Ma Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing a 19-year old woman, who was shot in the head by security forces, was the first reported victim of this violence.
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Interview with Sandi Swe, volunteer at a quarantine centre, Myanmar
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Nang Pu grew up amid the civil conflict in Kachin State, northern Myanmar, and has long been an advocate for the participation of women in peace and security. Her efforts have been recognized at the highest level, speaking to the UN Human Rights Council in 2019 in Geneva about violations of women’s rights in the conflict areas of Kachin and Rakhine. “One week after I was born, there was an armed conflict in our town. My mother tried to bring my brother and me to a hiding place in...
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Interviews with staff and volunteers from Myanmar’s Women’s Organizations Network (WON) and Migrant Monitoring Group (MMG), Myanmar
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Phyu Lin is a strong advocate for gender equality and human rights in Myanmar. For more than 20 years, she has been promoting the empowerment of women and gender justice in the peace process in the country’s civil and ethnic conflicts. “I have spent my adult life advocating for gender equality and human rights in Myanmar. With our ongoing peace process, it is now more important than ever that women are part of the decision-making. Without women’s meaningful participation in the peace talks, sustainable peace will not be possible..."
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At first, it was difficult for the women migrant returnees to settle into the quarantine centres and hold to physical distancing rules. Fear of stigmatisation of those who have stayed in quarantine facilities has also been a huge concern, so much so that some women hid or bribed taxi drivers to drive them directly to their home villages.
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The world in lockdown has created a ‘profound shock to our societies and economies, and women are at the heart of care and response efforts underway[1]. Primarily as caregivers, women are not just sustaining families, but also serving as front-line responders, mainly in the health and service sector.
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Mi Kun Chan Non is the chairperson of Mon Women’s Organization, which helps empower the women of the Mon ethnic group in Myanmar.
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UN Women has been working with other United Nations agencies, partners and the Government to raise public awareness about COVID-19. Initiatives by UN Women’s Sittwe office include providing information geared toward women, helping women get health and social protection services, and ensuring that virus control measures, such as quarantine centres, meet women’s needs and concerns
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To prevent an added humanitarian crisis in the already-vulnerable Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, 24 Rohingya volunteers are working with UN Women to mobilize their communities and raise awareness on COVID-19.
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I left Myanmar to go to Thailand 16 years ago because I wanted to have a better job and better wages. I could do many tasks, but there was no job in my village in Kayin State that provided enough income for me to support my family. At the time, information about migration was not as easy to find as it is today, especially in my small village.