The following is a blog by Nant Thi Thi Oo, a data entry associate with Namati’s program in Myanmar.
In November 2015, I had the chance to participate in a learning exchange hosted by Namati and the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers Association (BNWLA). I was very grateful to be selected to go. The exchange focused on women’s empowerment and the use of paralegals in improving women’s access to justice. Namati’s land rights program in Myanmar, where I work, does not focus on women and child rights and I was excited to learn about this topic of women’s empowerment.
The exchange was for two weeks in Bangladesh and we had more than enough time to visit local organizations and government departments. We learned about the organizations’ work, challenges they faced, and how they tackle those challenges.
I shared my challenges and received opinions from other participants too. One of the challenges I shared was about advocacy. We do not have a strong relationship with the government in Myanmar and therefore there are some challenges when we do advocacy work.
I learned many things about advocacy, monitoring and evaluation, and more. But what I learned about women’s rights really impressed me and it encouraged me to do more women empowerment work in Myanmar. Before the exchange, I did not know how there could be a link between women’s empowerment and our land rights work. I just thought that I could learn about women’s rights in other countries’ contexts but did not think that these learnings can apply to my work.
After the exchange, I shared the experiences and learning that I gained from the participants and activities in Bangladesh with my colleagues in Myanmar. My team members were so inspired by my exchange and understood that we need to include gender aspects in our land rights work. My colleague Caitlin Pierce and I decided to work together to research and publish a policy brief on the topic. We published the brief, called “Gendered Aspects of Land Rights in Myanmar: Evidence from Paralegal Casework”, in April 2016. The brief recommends actions the Myanmar government can take to help increase women’s engagement in land use management and access to tenure rights.
When I was developing the brief, I reflected on the learning experiences from Bangladesh to help me think of more gender aspects to research and include. For example, I always believed that in every sector in Myanmar, women’s involvement is lesser than men’s. They are not in favored positions; most of them stays behind the curtains to support the men. I did not agree with this and my disagreement became stronger during the exchange visit in Bangladesh. I saw there that most of the women suffer a lot and carry too much of the family workload. But when I visited the Victim Support Centre, I saw most of the police officers are women. I realized that women can do like men. They are not different. I was so inspired to see these policewomen – I want it to become more like that in my country. That is why in the brief I had included recommendations for more women to be involved in land-related government sectors in higher positions. Our research showed that in Myanmar, only 42 out of 16,758 village tract administrators are women and there is not one female Township Administrator.
When the brief was published, I tried out the best ways to approach the government – just like we discussed in the exchange. I learned there that when doing advocacy work you need to approach the right persons in the right way. If your way of approach is wrong, the advocacy is not effective. I learned that having a good relationship with government is a kind of support for advocacy. Then, when we are meeting with government officials and sending our brief, they will pay more attention to our recommendations.
The things I learned about advocacy worked well. I was invited as a special guest to talk about the experiences of gender and land rights to members of parliaments in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw. Other organizations also found that our women and land rights policy brief is useful for them. I was so honored to present our work to MPs and other organizations. They all agreed on what I said about needing to have more women empowerment in our country. I included my learning exchange experiences when I talked to the government officials and partners – it helped to make my recommendations stronger.
I am really thankful to our Myanmar program staff and participants at the Bangladesh learning exchange. Because of the learning exchange, I was motivated to research about gender and land rights work in Myanmar, and the most inspiring thing is that I can now share that research and learning exchange experiences with other partners and organizations.