A coffee house as a beacon of hope
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. Around 1.6 million jobs were lost in 2021, affecting more women than men, according to the International Labour Organization. With little resources left, four out of ten households say they have had to reduce their food consumption. In addition, almost 1 million people have been internally displaced by conflict since February 2021, swelling the number of those in need of humanitarian need across the country to 14.4 million.
Kayin State in south-eastern Myanmar has been particularly hard hit by the escalation of armed conflict, seeing 83,300 internally displaced people (IDPs). Women and girls constitute 77 per cent of the people living in IDP camps, where they continue to be insufficiently protected from gender-based violence and lack adequate health services, particularly for pregnant women.
A Norwegian-funded project is providing grants to women-led NGOs to support women in crisis-affected states such as Kayin. The project is called Centring Women and their Priorities in Myanmar’s Peace Process: Implementing UN Security Council 1325 and Related Resolutions. The programme localizes relief aid to help provide livelihoods and income generation.
As a result, 158 women leaders and women business leaders were trained in decision making and business planning to adapt to the current crisis. During the two-month project implementation, they were trained in leadership, confidence, and business planning. They also expanded their support networks by connecting with existing women’s groups. Through small grants, these women, all members of local community-based organizations (CBOs), were able to apply their new skills to building small businesses and creating an income for themselves and their families.
Nan Hnin Si Mway, one of the grantees and members of the CBO Land of Hope who started running a small local coffee house thanks to the project support, states, “We are so happy that we could learn the technical and business skills that will allow us to make a living. We sell coffee, juices and drinks, pizza, and other bakery foods and are thinking of adding new items to the menu.” Through their example, they have generated further interest and support from family and community members towards empowered young women and the important role they play in responding to the crises. The coffee house run by Land of Hope has become something of a community café, welcoming community members for learning purposes whenever women leaders organize a skills-development training.
While the project was able to provide new incomes for 158 women, Nan Hnin Si Mway is looking at what she can do for her community beyond the project: “We will use 10 per cent of our profits for the community and we plan to share our skills with more women. We thank so much everyone who worked behind of this project supporting and encouraging the young women like us here in Kayin State.”
The Government of Norway through UN Women Myanmar provided grants to nine women-led civil society organizations between September 2021 and April 2022 as an emergency response to the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and the military takeover. At least 19,000 marginalized and vulnerable community members, many of them members of households led by a single female head, benefitted from emergency assistance provided by women-led organisations. Emergency aid comprised COVID-19 public health awareness materials and kits, multi-purpose cash transfers, small grants and short-term training on business skills and financial literacy in Kayin, Mon, and Kayah States in South-eastern Myanmar.