“I'm not afraid of people anymore”: How training on gender-based violence changed harmful attitudes in a rural Myanmar community


Author: Alexandra Marie Peard

Ma Shwe and others in her community participated in gender-based violence awareness-raising sessions via a digital learning platform. Illustration: UN Women/Poompat Watanasirikul.

English | မြန်မာ

Ma Shwe* said she “was just a young girl” when an act of sexual violence perpetrated by a man from her village crushed her self-confidence and left her feeling terrified.

Ma Shwe was raised in a small farming village in rural Myanmar with around 200 households. After the attack, she felt judged by her community, shamed and outcast. “I was afraid to live in my environment, and so I left my home and village,” she said.

She only felt safe enough to return when she found out the perpetrator had also left the village, and enough time had passed that it seemed clear he would not return. By then, Ma Shwe had a child and she wanted to live with her family again and raise her child in the village she grew up in. On returning though, she continued to feel judged by those around her, and as she dealt with the ongoing physical and mental health impacts of the violence, it was a daily struggle to feel safe and comfortable.

“I used to feel shy and afraid of people,” she said, “but there was a training in my village on gender-based violence and I attended. After the training I felt that I can accept being alive.”

Ma Shwe accessed a range of services, including counselling sessions, with the support of a local women-led organization – one of many that UN Women works with across Myanmar to reach and support women and girls who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing gender-based violence (GBV). She also attended training courses and awareness raising sessions that were delivered through a digital learning platform, which made it accessible for a wide range of people from the community, including men and boys. The sessions aimed to break down harmful social norms and attitudes that perpetuate violence and discrimination against women and girls.


“After the training, I saw that the views of the people around me had changed a lot,” she said. “This change is important. It gives people like me who have suffered from violence the strength to keep spirits high. It makes people feel equal and understand everyone has rights, so they learn to value each other.”
— Ma Shwe, a small farming village in rural Myanmar

“After the training, I saw that the views of the people around me had changed a lot. This change is important. It makes people feel equal and understand everyone has rights, so they learn to value each other,” Ma Shwe said.

As fighting in Myanmar continues to escalate and the economic, political, and humanitarian crisis worsens, families are in financial distress and coping capacities are stretched to the limit. Women, girls, people with disabilities and internally displaced people are among those most marginalized. The crisis is perpetuating gender disparities in employment and increasing vulnerability to trafficking and gender-based violence, including sexual exploitation and harassment, and intimate partner violence, which Myanmar women have said is the most common form of gender-based violence in their communities. Women’s organizations in Myanmar play a vital role in preventing and responding to gender-based violence by providing services at the community level, bolstering women’s empowerment, and reaching those at risk of being left behind.

A representative from the women-led organization supporting Ma Shwe said when she first started accessing the GBV services, “She cried openly because of the comments from some people around her and every day was a time of worry and sadness for her.”

“However, she attended the awareness sessions and accepted that it was not her fault. In addition, she was able to regain her self-confidence and acceptance of her own existence as she received timely counseling sessions,” the representative said.

UN Women works with other UN agencies, including UNFPA, and local partner organizations to provide GBV prevention and response services across Myanmar, including helping men and women in communities better understand GBV and harmful social norms; and supporting women and girls who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing sexual violence with cash assistance and access to the health, psychosocial and legal services they need. A new joint programme supported by the Government of France, will provide additional support for UN Women and UNFPA to deliver GBV services in in communities affected by the ongoing conflict.

While Ma Shwe continues to struggle with the impact of the violence that was perpetrated against her, she now feels more comfortable in her community. She said she has hope for the future and even dreams of one day opening her own business.

“I feel like I've got my own life back, and I'm not afraid of people anymore.”

[*] The name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual.
[1] Myanmar Humanitarian Needs and Response Plan 2024, UN OCHA, December 2023. Available online.
[2] Findings from focus group discussions conducted for 2023 Multi Sectoral Needs Analysis