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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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[Press release] During the virtual event held on 12 May 2022 to launch the 2022 WEPs campaign, both parties reiterated the importance of having a holistic approach to implementing gender-inclusive strategies that span an organisation’s value chain and impact the wider business ecosystem.
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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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I first really become aware of feminism and women’s empowerment was the Emma Watson speech at the HeForShe campaign in 2014, when I was 16. That speech had a big impact on me and to girls and women everywhere. I also grew up in a very matriarchal family, my mother was the boss, my grandmother was the boss, my brother is a bit terrified of me sometimes, I think. But I guess I didn’t realise that until I saw that speech. So, I started reading more, educating myself, and as I read I encountered gender-based violence (GBV).
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I am the founder of Monsters Among Us, a Malaysian youth-led non-governmental organization. As the name indicates, we combat child sexual abuse and violence and sexual and gender-based violence in Malaysia. Our niche area is child protection.
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Eight outstanding Malaysian private-sector companies and corporate leaders were celebrated as gender champions of the 2021 Malaysia WEPs Award Ceremony on 29 October 2021. The champions were among applicants evaluated by a panel of six high-calibre judges from investment organizations, boards of directors, the community, academics, finance, women and youth empowerment.
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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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Gender-based violence Rapid Response Teams in 17 communities, led by local police, and consisting of a Women’s Union Officer and a Justice Officer, Youth Union Officer or Community Leader, deliver timely and coordinated responses and protection for women and girls experiencing violence in their communities.
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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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In the past 18 months, by trapping women with their abusers, COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns have worsened the already-widespread violence against women while preventing many of them from getting help. But even those who do manage to contact the police come up against another long-standing challenge: a culture and system that treats the survivor as a big part of the problem.
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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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Economies in Asia and the Pacific will recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic if more women are appointed at the top of supply chains, and women’s opportunities are prioritized throughout the workplace.
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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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More than 150 business people, officials and civil society representatives took part in the launch of the campaign Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Activator Malaysia, aimed at enabling a gender-inclusive culture and implementing the WEPs in Malaysian businesses. 
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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...