Tourism in Myanmar
Tourism in Myanmar has become a concern following the recent Rohingya crisis. Tourists and tourism organizations are debating whether it is safe or ethical to travel to the nation. But beyond the political issues, it is clear that tourism can benefit Myanmar’s communities. In order to ensure tourism will have a direct, positive impact on the people of Myanmar, it is crucial for the tourism industry to employ local Burmese. Additionally, tourists can educate themselves about what they can do to help improve the livelihoods people in the regions they are traveling to.

While many have considered a boycott of Myanmar due to the state’s violence toward the Rohingya, the benefits of tourism for local communities are too important to lose. Liddy Pleasant, the managing director of Stubborn Mule Travel, says avoiding tourist travel to Myanmar would have a “profound impact on local people.

As the problem itself is political, a boycott of tourism to Myanmar would likely only hurt local populations without affecting the country’s leadership. Furthermore, many primary tourist sites are located far from the areas where the persecutions of Rohingya are happening, meaning the tourism economy does not support these efforts. It also means that tourists should not feel unsafe traveling to Myanmar.

Boosting Tourism in Kayah State

Currently, most tourism in Myanmar is to six main regions: Bagan, Inle Lake, Yangon, Mandalay, Kyaikhto and Ngapali Beach. According to the International Trade Centre, expanding tourism to other regions of the nation could help those areas benefit economically. One target area is Kayah, a state in eastern Myanmar. As one of the poorest states in the country, ITC started working on increasing tourism in Kayah with the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, Union of Myanmar Travel Association, Myanmar Ministry of Commerce and Myanmar Tourism Marketing in 2014.

In building the tourism industry in Kayah, the main goal is to enrich local people and businesses. Working with a variety of Kayah’s residents — including the youth, the elderly and people from various ethnic backgrounds — companies have started offering cultural tours. The Kayah tourism sector primarily employs local residents as guides for cultural tourism. In particular, these companies offer opportunities for ethnic minorities, many of whom have recently returned to the country after being displaced.

Overall, the work in Kayah provides a model for how all tourism in Myanmar should develop, focusing on providing job opportunities, particularly in low-income areas. The project has had success in growing tourism to the region, with tourism increasing by 140 percent between 2014 and 2016. As the tourism sector in Kayah continues to grow, perhaps companies can extend similar efforts to other parts of Myanmar, thereby benefiting impoverished Burmese.

Tourist Considerations and Responsibilities

Ideally, all tourism sites would have a positive impact on the local population. Therefore, tourists need to make the effort to educate themselves on the areas they are traveling to if they want to support local communities and businesses.

One consideration is respect for the culture. Due to religious beliefs, men and women should dress appropriately while in Myanmar. This generally involves wearing pants and covering the shoulders and upper arms. It is also important to communicate with locals, asking them questions about their culture and trying to learn about their way of life.

If there are concerns about financially contributing to the government of Myanmar, the solution is to go local by shopping at markets, eating in local restaurants, hiring local tour guides and purchasing craft products made by local Burmese. This is the primary way that local communities benefit from tourism and can have a direct impact on the livelihoods of people tourists come into contact with.

Tourists should also take care not to contribute to the abundance of waste Littering is a huge problem caused by tourism in Myanmar. Garbage builds up on riverbanks, turning them into landfill sites. The nation is currently struggling to keep up with waste disposal. In general, minimize waste. In some cases, it may be better to take items back home with you and dispose of them safely.

Overall, the tourism sector in Myanmar needs to continue so the people of the country can economically benefit. Meanwhile, tourists can educate themselves about the political situation in Myanmar and decide for themselves whether they feel it is right to travel there. If they do, it is important to focus on supporting local communities and businesses to positively impact the livelihoods of many.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in MyanmarChild labor in Myanmar continues to be a concern for one of the poorest nations in Asia. It is estimated that 1.13 million children, ages 5 through 17 work as laborers in Myanmar. This amounts to 9.3 percent of the child population. Said conditions are a violation of human rights and deprivation of well being.

Impact of Poverty

The prime factor of involvement of children in the workforce is poverty. With more than 32 percent of the nation living below the national poverty line, children work to supplement low household incomes.

However, employers exploit children and pay extremely low rates. In some cases, children as young as 14, working in garment-producing factories, make as little as 17  cents per hour; Yet, the nation’s minimum wage is $3.60.

Government Involvement in Child Trafficking

In August 2017, it was estimated 690,000 people fled from Myanmar due to acts of violence caused by the Myanmar government. Of those, nearly 400,000 were children.

In Myanmar, there is an abundance of trafficking, with little to no intervention. Frequently, the displacement of young girls to China is due to trafficking, for work, or marriage to Chinese men as child brides.

Additionally, Myanmar also has the highest number of child soldiers globally. In these cases, young boys against their will have to comply with captor commands. These commands are in sync with militarization goals and tactics.

Impact of Child Labor

One prominent consequence of child labor in Myanmar is the lack of education among children. One in five children drops out of school in order to work. In Myanmar culture, it is socially acceptable and common to see children working, rather than in school. Also, children who are in the workforce usually have little awareness, nor education about their safety and health rights in the workplace, leading to a high risk of fatal injuries.

The agricultural industry employs 60.5 percent of children in the workforce. Construction and fellow small-scale industries also have a significant role in employing child laborers. Just over half of these children perform potentially hazardous work that is likely to harm their physical or psychological health. Children as young as 15 to 17 make up 74.6 percent of the child workforce exposed to hazardous jobs.

The Intervention of Child Trafficking in Myanmar

Although child labor in Myanmar is widespread, the government of Myanmar is addressing this issue with the support of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The Myanmar Program on the Elimination of Child Labor Project was a four-year program (2013-2017) funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, overseen by the ILO. The goals of this project were to increase awareness of children in the workforce while improving the legal and institutional laws concerning child labor.

The Myanmar government ratified the ILO Convention No.182 which prohibits the worst forms of childhood labor and is in the process of finalizing the country’s first National Action Plan. This proposal outlines ways to reduce child labor in Myanmar while improving the lives of the children all together.

Child labor in Myanmar is a prominent issue as it affects millions of lives. There is, however, a reason to be optimistic, as the Myanmar government and fellow organizations have begun prevention protocols, ensuring a better future for the children of Myanmar.

– Marissa Pekular

 

Photo: Flickr

Girl Determined Promotes LeadershipA program called Girl Determined promotes leadership among adolescent girls through a multi-faceted, engaged approach. In Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia, it is common for young girls to grow up wishing they had been born boys. Despite progress and distribution of equal rights in developed nations, women and girls living in Myanmar still face extreme oppression today. Unfortunately, they continue to fight for some of their most basic human rights.

Women and girls regularly face issues such as gender inequality, violent relationships and extreme prejudice. 2016 Demographic and Health Survey found that 21 percent of women had reported experiencing physical, sexual or psychological violence from their partner. Researchers even believe that, given the authoritarian-style government in Myanmar, the real number is actually much higher.

Part of the problem is that girls between the ages of 12 and 17 lack the confidence and empowerment needed to speak up for their rights. In a nation where females are born into the expectation that they will remain subdued, gaining the courage to challenge the norm can be difficult. Girl Determined is working to change that.

The Program

The program is structured primarily around Circles. Circles are weekly after-school peer groups that provide young girls with a place to share their experiences and learn from one another. Currently, more than 2,000 girls across Myanmar participate in Circles. The meetings follow a curriculum that addresses five categories:

  1. Decision-making
  2. Self-confidence
  3. Building friendships
  4. Understanding cultural and religious differences
  5. Girls’ rights and planning for one’s future.

During the group sessions, topics can range from universal experiences among adolescents, like puberty and chore lists, to challenges exclusive to the female Myanmar community. For example, shared fears concerning the risk of sex trafficking, lack of education and violence witnessed in war.

To provide support for Circles, Girl Determined hosts an annual Girls’ Leadership summer camp, a Girls’ Conference and a number of athletic programs and campaigns. They are encouraged to keep a journal, plant seeds and participate in team sports. All of these opportunities are designed to put girls at center stage. Furthermore, the program intends to create an outlet to advocate for issues that inherently affect them.

The Impact

Through something as simple as open discussion and encouragement, participants are paving a brighter future for girls in Myanmar. Adolescent girls have become a marginalized group after decades of being taught to follow cultural norms and remain silent. Girl Determined promotes leadership, while also functioning as a platform for real change. Many of the girls who have participated in the program say it taught them to speak up, specifically against gender-based violence and has mobilized them to spark change in their communities.

In 2013, over 800 participants gathered for a conference in Rangoon to celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child. Teenagers from Girl Determined advocated for policy change in the social welfare department. The local news even covered their statement. Since their statement, women’s organizations working closely with the government have implemented protection for girls into Myanmar’s National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women.

The Circles program is entirely voluntary, so the program measures its overall success is by retention of attendance. Across various project sites in Myanmar, attendance averages at 90 percent. Overall, this speaks to the power in how Girl Determined promotes leadership among young women.

– Anna Lagattuta
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in Myanmar
Myanmar is currently in the middle of a challenging transition to democracy amid ongoing human rights violations. With 32 percent of the population living below the poverty line, Myanmar is considered one of the most underdeveloped countries in Southeast Asia. Keep reading to learn the top 10 facts about living conditions in Myanmar.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Myanmar

  1. Energy. As of 2017, over 25 percent of all households in Myanmar use solar energy to power their homes. From 2015 to 2017 the number of households with electricity access — solar and otherwise — increased by 1.1 million, which accounts for about 2 percent of the population. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, to this day, more than 60 percent of households in villages are still not connected to the public grid.
  2. Water. Most areas of Myanmar have abundant rainfall, but some residents still need to transport water from the source to where they live, increasing the risk of contamination. In the Rakhine state, the floods from the 2015 cyclone have damaged access to clean water for 78 percent of villages. However, efforts by PLAN International to clean ponds and build rainwater catchment systems are underway to provide relief.
  3. Education. Literacy rates in Myanmar are now promisingly high at 80 to 90 percent depending on the state. The gender gaps in literacy have also closed and high school enrollment rates have doubled over the last decade. In the same time period, middle school enrollment rates have also risen 20 percent.
  4. Employment. The number of people working in Myanmar has been on the rise, as well as the percentage of households earning income from non-agricultural work. In particular, the number of women employed in Myanmar has increased by over 5 percent in the last decade.
  5. Housing. Housing materials vary greatly due to accessibility to resources, geographic and socioeconomic reasons. According to the World Bank, “eight in 10 households had a quality roof in 2017, compared to four in ten in 2005.” Newly found accessibility to quality roofing materials like corrugated iron has lead to this increase.
  6. Freedom of Expression. When Myanmar’s newly elected government, the National League for Democracy (NLD), took office in 2016 hopes were high for long-awaited law reform. However, under the NLD freedom of expression is still being regularly repressed and restricted with large numbers of peaceful activists, critics and journalists being prosecuted.
  7. Technology. Smartphones have seen the most rapid growth of any consumer good in the past decade and are the most commonly used technology in Myanmar. The majority of households in Myanmar do not own or use a computer, with 10.9 percent being by far the highest ownership rate (in the city of Yangon).
  8. Sanitation. When it comes to sanitation there are again large differences between rural and city areas when it comes to accessibility. For example, only half of all homes in Rakhine have a toilet whereas, in the rest of the country, 94 percent of people have a toilet in their home. PLAN International helps by providing basic sanitation needs and teaching the importance of things like washing hands to stop the spread of diseases.
  9. Refugees. Since 2017, mass killings of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine have forced over 900,000 Rohingya to flee human rights violations. However, these refugees are now trapped in refugee camps in Bangladesh facing monsoons and flooding seasonally. Out of all Rohingya refugees, 55 percent are children. Due to intensely cramped living conditions, diseases spread rapidly and sanitation facilities are lacking. Sexual violence also remains to be a pressing issue in the camps, in addition to psychosocial suffering. U.N. agencies and humanitarian organizations are providing assistance with food, water and shelter. Additionally, organizations provide psychosocial aid, health and sanitation services when possible.
  10. Child Protection. Due to economic problems and violent government instability, there are currently over 460,000 children in need of humanitarian assistance. Organizations like UNICEF and Save the Children are working to provide psychosocial support as well as other nutrition, and sanitation based support to thousands of children. UNICEF’s WASH team is working to provide clean water, access to toilets as well as promoting the importance of handwashing in order to help with basic health and sanitation needs. Access to these three aspects (clean water, toilets and hygiene services) all together help support one another to alleviate the risk of disease in struggling areas.

The current situation in Myanmar is very complicated and clearly presents some challenges to mend the gaps between living conditions in rural versus city areas.

Amy Dickens
Photo: Flickr

Natural Disasters and Impoverished Countries
Just when one might think that impoverished people are facing enough difficulties, they become enlightened about other tragedies that make life more dismal for these people. According to Britain’s Overseas Development Institute, there is an overlap between countries already facing extreme poverty and countries that are more likely to be devastated by natural disasters.

Fortunately enough, this combination has occurred before so future governments and organizations will know what to do when such tragedies strike again. Countries have recovered. There is hope that these other countries will not face travesty forever. In the text below, some cases of natural disasters and impoverished countries who were able to recover are presented.

Myanmar

In 2008, Myanmar was struck by Cyclone Nargis that left a total of 138,000 people either dead or missing. Cyclones are not the only natural disaster that Myanmar is prone to. Earthquakes, floods, droughts, tsunamis and landslides also affect the country. Since 2012, climate change has affected the country greatly.

The organization Give2Asia has been present in Myanmar in previous years. Give2Asia is a network of charitable communities from over 25 countries throughout the continent. Their work in the country consists of breaking down the components that affect Myanmar’s economy and people the most and improving the situation in these fields.

The population most affected by natural disasters are the urban and rural poor, the agriculture population and communities that live on the coasts. The Give2Asia states that poverty is both the cause and result of natural disasters. Majority of the population depends on agriculture and fishing livelihoods to survive, so when a natural disaster hits and destroys all of their hard work, it is understandable that this cycle continues.

Because of this, many nongovernmental organizations and the Myanmar government began implementing disaster and risk reduction measures. Some of the measures are as following: early warning systems, adapting agriculture to climate change and creating disaster-proof buildings.

An example of an organization that has helped Myanmar in the past is Ar Yone Oo (AYO), that was put together shortly after Cyclone Nargis. The group targeted vulnerable and poor areas of Myanmar that were affected. After helping in the aftermath of Nargis, the group stressed the importance of implementing educational programs in poor communities aimed at learning these people what to do in the face of disaster. AYO was able to increase emergency preparedness in two townships as well as the entire Chin state of Myanmar.

Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004

The tsunami of 2004 affected 10 countries in South Asia. The death toll was over 200,000, over a million people were injured, and tens of millions of people were displaced. Relief Web calls this natural disaster “the single biggest challenge ever faced” by international aid, especially from nongovernmental organizations. This tsunami was an example of how natural disasters and impoverished countries are often connected.

Australian nongovernmental organizations and aid were able to prevent the suspected second wave of death, usually caused by disease, due to their quick response time and ability to provide clean water to the injured. By June 2005, Australia had committed and spent around $34 million on disaster relief in Indonesia alone. Australian organizations such as the Australian sectors of Red Cross, CARE, Caritas, Oxfam and World Vision were all publicly funded by the country and gave further aid to the affected countries. Due to this grand effort by just one continent, reconstruction was possible. The organizations consulted local communities on how they wanted to be restored so that the communities could build back better.

Work of the Indonesian Government

The Indonesian government also valued community input, which was a bold step at the time. Because they prioritized what the people wanted, they were able to create jobs and homes for the community and lessen the poverty rate. The government created programs that aimed to provide the best recovery for the whole population.

The Indonesian Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Agency (also called BRR in the country) was a group that worked for four years to rebuild Indonesia, specifically Aceh. During this time, the organization constructed over 140,000 houses, 4,000 kilometers of roads, 1,700 schools, 1,100 health facilities and 13 airports. Not only that, but the organization provided jobs for 40,000 teachers and gave out 7,000 fishing boats. Through caring for the livelihoods in the communities, this and other organizations were able to help these countries recover.

These stories are important to remember when looking to the future of disaster recovery and how to help already impoverished countries. By looking at the correlation between natural disasters and impoverished countries, and seeing what can be done to prevent total devastation, the terrifying future of repeated natural disasters might not be as bad predicted. Other countries can learn from the nongovernmental organizations in these cases, as well as Australia’s incredible effort.

– Miranda Garbaciak
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts about Myanmar Child Soldiers
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, might be on its way to achieving democracy but it is still far away from achieving a stellar record when it comes to human rights. This becomes especially evident in the case of child soldiers.

In this article, the top 10 facts about Myanmar child soldiers will be presented, one of the biggest problems this nation is currently facing.

Top 10 Facts About Myanmar Child Soldiers

  1. According to Human Rights Watch, Myanmar has the highest number of child soldiers in the world. Children are army members of both confronted sides- the national army as well as rebel groups in the ethnic minority regions outside the capital of Yangon. Roughly 350,000 soldiers make up the Burmese army with an estimated 20 percent of them being child soldiers.
  2. The children are usually taken against their will from public areas, such as parks and train stations in their town. They are often abducted and forced to be conscripted. If they refuse, they are threatened with jail time.
  3. After the 2008 Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, many families were separated and many identification documents were destroyed or damaged. This made easier for the army recruiters to prey on the vulnerable children, particularly orphans since there is no one to identify and protect them.
  4. One of the examples of exploitation of children for army purposes can be seen in the Northern Rakhine state. It has been verified that 53 boys have been used by the Border Guard Police for various purposes that include maintaining the camps, as well as constructing and carrying equipment.
  5. The largest ethnic opposition groups, the United Wa State Army, has the largest number of forcible child conscripts. Another notorious group, the Kachin Independence Army, is the only military group in Burma that recruits girls.
  6. Boys as young as 12 are forced to fight and to commit human rights violations against the civilians that they are made to round up. This includes setting villages on fire and carrying out extrajudicial killings.
  7. Human Rights Watch has urged the Burmese government as well as all opposition ethnic rebel groups that forcibly recruit children under the age of 18 to stop the practice and release all current child soldiers. It has also called for these state and non-state actors to cooperate with international organizations such as UNICEF.
  8. In June 2012, the Burmese government signed a Joint Action Plan with the government and armed groups to take steps in order to reintegrate the child soldiers into civilian life. The plan also entailed allowing U.N. workers to access military bases.
  9. Since signing the deal in 2012, the government has released 924 children, according to a statement released by child protection agency UNICEF.
  10. The government has released 75 child soldiers in 2018 as part of the above mentioned process to end decades of forced recruitment of soldiers under the age of 18.

In conclusion, Myanmar’s development will be incomplete without the eradication of the problem of child soldiers. As long as the ethnic groups and the official Myanmar Army continue to use child soldiers to fight in their wars, the twin path of democracy and development are still a long way off.

Maneesha Khalae
Photo: Flickr

Radio Naf
At the start of 2017, the refugees of Rohingya fled in the thousands from Myanmar. Today, many of their lives are still in disarray as they search for family, look for new homes and deal with the trauma from the violence that drove them out of their country.

Rohingya refugees often lack the information to take the next steps towards these goals. The use of media within camps has been vital to dealing with the emergency and keeping refugees connected with each other and the outside world, so Rohingya refugee media has been given a new voice: Radio NAF.

Radio NAF: A Voice for the Voiceless

In times of crisis like this one, access to information is almost as vital as food, shelter, and water. Local media can and has been used as a platform to update refugees on the status of their hometowns, educate them on sanitary practices and guide them toward necessary resources. Moreover, media has been used as a platform for refugees to voice their experiences and call the rest of the world to action.

Radio NAF is a community-based radio station in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh. The station serves the rural and underserved communities in the region, which also happens to be home to the largest Rohingya refugee settlement, Kutupalong. The station interviews refugees and discusses the issues that affect them.

Due to the poor radio reception in these areas, all of the shows are prerecorded and brought to the communities through seven “listener clubs.” While the population in the settlement has declined slightly, listenership and attendance have risen, indicating that this is an invaluable source of information for those that come to and remain at the settlement.

But, another reason for the influx in attendance could also be the station’s ability to provide a voice to the voiceless. The station’s interviews allow individuals and groups in the settlements to make statements and send messages that reach far beyond the Rohingya refugee community. Its programs also tackle important issues like violence against women, and it also provides entertainment of the children in among the refugee, who comprise more than half of the population.

British Broadcast Corporation Media Action

Radio Naf is backed by the British Broadcast Corporation (BBC). BBC’s international development charity, BBC Media Action, has worked in conjunction with local Radio Naf employees—some of whom are refugees themselves—to analyze the issues and needs of the Rohingya refugees as told by the Rohingya refugees themselves.

The charity focuses its efforts on alleviating these specific problems, but it also shares all of its information with the United Nations, NGOs and governments working to mitigate the crisis. Through Rohingya refugee media, the people have the ability to make their voices thoroughly heard and get the message out to these organizations for swift and proper actions.

BBC backed Radio Naf has uncovered sanitary, financial, linguistic and logistic issues that continue to persist in the Rohingya refugee camps while sharing crucial necessities and calls to action to key players in the relief, which has been the focus of Radio Naf and its interviews. But, in order to bring about progress, this hope must be met with an eagerness to hear their voices and act on those issues.

Rohingya refugee media is an essential component to connecting refugees and working to alleviate some of the pain and misfortune that they have lived through. It has developed a platform for the spread of hope. This hope, after even a year into the crisis, echoes from community to community, from settlement to settlement.

– Julius Long
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Myanmar
In an interview with UNICEF Myanmar, one father, living in the impoverished Rakhine state of Myanmar, stated that his main hope for his daughter’s future is that she gets a good education.

Even as considerable progress is made by the government and humanitarian organizations, girls’ education in Myanmar continues to persist as a problem plaguing the millions of girls entrapped in the cycle of poverty. However, this is a problem that can and hopefully will be solved.

In the text below, top 10 facts about girls’ education in Myanmar are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Myanmar

  1. Education is a constitutional guarantee in Myanmar, which is a clear sign of the government’s support for this issue. Thus, any girl who wants to attend school has the legal right to do so.
  2. While schools are technically free from fees, a myriad of hidden costs such as uniforms, supplies and even transportation can prove to be an inhibiting factor in a girl’s ability to attend school. Many girls are forced to help their families in the workforce rather than go to school, earning money and helping immediately instead of investing it in their education.
  3. The majority of girls in Myanmar attend primary school. As USAID survey has shown, 77 percent of girls were reportedly enrolled in primary school in 2000, in comparison to boys at 78 percent. Although there is no gender gap regarding primary school enrollment, there is a gap in secondary school enrollment: most girls drop out, either by choice or the constraints of poverty. This trend is further illustrated by the fact, reported by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, that roughly 1.7 million girls over the age of 15 are illiterate in the country.
  4. Girls’ education in Myanmar is complicated by the fact that there are 135 ethnic minority groups within the country. Thus, inequities exist between the accessibility of education for girls of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, the recent outbreak of violence against the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority has caused 727,000 people to flee to Cox’s Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh. Given the limited resources in refugee camps, young Rohingya girls face an uphill battle in receiving an education while displaced.
  5. Many young boys in Myanmar have been mobilized as allies in the fight for girls’ education. In interviews conducted by UNESCO Bangkok in partnership with the Myanmar Literary Resource Centre, young boys living in and around the city Yangon were brought to tears discussing the plights their female counterparts face. One boy, Htun, declared, “If girls are happy and have access to basic rights like education, they can find better work, do more and earn more. Everyone will be happier, right?”
  6. Many geographical constraints prevent girls from attending schools. In addressing this issue, within the past three years, the government has started developing an informal education office to aid and support informal education measures, such as religious-based schools or certificate programs. This new office is entitled as the Department of Alternative Education.
  7. UNICEF is one of the largest supporters of informal schools, recognizing the power of girls’ education to combat poverty in some of the poorest states of Myanmar. This organization has built schools and programs around the country. One of the examples is the work in the Yangon region.
  8. Nonprofit organization GirlDetermined has taken an innovative approach by specifically targeting young girls’ potentials as future leaders. By engaging them in workshops all over Myanmar, they are mobilizing a new generation of girls who do not only have the capacity to lead but the belief that they can as well.
  9. Making room for girls in schools ensures they have a safe space, helping prevent sexual assault and harassment. The United Nations Population Fund realized the correlation between these two issues, so on November 25, 2015 (the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women), they launched a campaign across girls’ and women’s centers in Myanmar, posing the question: “Everyone benefits from girls’ education. How have you?”
  10. Educated girls from Myanmar are changing the country. As reported by The Guardian, a group of girls who participated in GirlDetermined’s education and empowerment workshops took their skills to the streets, crafting and publishing a statement on the lack of female representation in Myanmar’s parliament. Their actions created a ripple effect, leading to other women’s groups to call for more women in the country’s politics as well.

Girls’ education in Myanmar sits at the intersection of pressing global issues, namely poverty and sexual assault.

Empowering girls through education will not only improve the futures of the girls themselves but the future of Myanmar’s economic and political standing in the global system as well.

– Miranda Wolford

Photo: Pixabay

poverty and dictatorship
Among the 10 dictatorship countries profiled, poverty is endemic. Poverty alleviation in these 10 dictatorship countries is in some cases associated with human rights abuses, violent crackdowns on the political opposition and indigenous people. In the last two decades, however, some of these countries have moved towards embracing democracy, which has brought an influx of government institutions, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and foreign investment working to promulgate poverty alleviation.

The State of Poverty in 10 Dictatorship Countries

  1. Cambodia – In June of 2018, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was officially qualified as a military dictator by Human Rights Watch. Through an environment of fear, Cambodia has been littered with human rights abuses, crackdowns on the opposition, coercion and repression of the media. In September of 2018, the United Nations Development Program stated that 35 percent of all Cambodians are still poor regardless of the decline in the Multidimensional Poverty Index. In 2006, the Ministry of Planning established the IDPoor Programme to guide government services and NGOs to provide target services and assistance to the poorest households. As of December 2017, The IDPoor Programme has assisted 13 million people and has covered 90 percent of Cambodians.
  2. Cameroon – Current Prime Minister, Paul Biya, seized control of Cameroon from his fellow despotic predecessor in 1982. Biya has since ruled the central African country with an iron fist. In 2014, 37.5 percent of the people were living in poverty. However, a development NGO called Heifer Cameroon has been playing a positive role in alleviating the strains of poverty for Cameroon’s most poor and vulnerable communities. Heifer Cameroon has assisted 30,000 families by spurring job creation among the rural poor through focusing on the dairy industry along with other livestock.
  3. Eritrea – Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, took power after its independence and has since entrapped his citizens in a cloud of fear. Furthermore, the nation was rocked by internal war, drought and famine. According to estimates of The World Bank, 69 percent of Eritrea’s population lives below the poverty line. Despite these conditions, Eritrea has drastically improved its public health conditions. Indeed since its liberation, life expectancy has increased by 14 years to 63 years. And over 70 percent of the population now has access to clean water, compared to just 15 percent in 1993.
  4. Ethiopia – In 2000, Ethiopia had one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, but by 2011, the poverty rate had fallen by 14 percent. In 2018, Ethiopia became Africa’s fastest growing economy in the sub-Saharan African region. However, some of the country’s development schemes have been wildly unpopular, such as the mass land-grab that is displacing Ethiopians so the government can lease out the land to foreign investors. On the other hand, some developments have actually made improvements in average household health, education and living standards.
  5. Madagascar – Madagascar has experienced a long period of political instability since its independence in the 1960s. Current President Hery Rajaonarimampianina was democratically elected in 2014. Rajaonarimampianina has prioritized recovering Madagascar’s relationship with foreign investment agencies, like The World Bank, IMF and The African Union. Unfortunately, in 2018, 75 percent of Madagascar’s population are still living under the poverty line.
  6. Myanmar – From 1966 to 2016, Myanmar existed under a military dictatorship that bore multiple wars spurred out of hatred and persecution of Rohingya Muslims and Christians. The crackdown and ethnic cleansing created a major refugee crisis. Today, Myanmar is reportedly inching towards democracy, but the military, headed by Gen. Than Shwe, still has major sway. In 2015, 35 percent of the population of Myanmar lived in poverty.
  7. Rwanda – Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s regime is often associated with maintaining peace and stability since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. However, critics of Kagame cite numerous human rights abuses and fear that the President is leading the country towards dictatorship. Still, Rwanda has taken major strides in addressing and decreasing the poverty rate. Between 2000 and 2010, the poverty rate declined by 23.8 percent. Recent economic growth within the country has been evenly distributed and pro-poor, with the majority of the Rwandan population benefiting from this economic growth.
  8. Sudan – President al-Bashir came to power in 1989 and reigned with a brutal dictatorship in Sudan until his exile in 2015. Poverty in Sudan is endemic. In 2018, 2.8 million were in need of humanitarian aid and 4.8 million were food insecure. Such high rates of poverty engender low literacy levels, crumbling infrastructure, little to no access to health services and high rates of food insecurity.
  9. Tunisia – President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali headed Tunisia’s dictatorship until 2011 when he was ousted by a people’s revolution. However, that stability was maintained by the military, which performed countless human rights abuses. However, poverty reduction strategies have rung successful as the poverty rate in Tunisia fell by 10 percent from 2000 to 2015.
  10. Zimbabwe – Robert Mugabe, who was the President of Zimbabwe for 37 years until 2017, had long been seen as a dictator and is attributed by The Economist as “ruining” Zimbabwe. Mugabe’s policies led to hyperinflation and an infrastructure system in disrepair. Build Zimbabwe Alliance claims that 72 percent of the population still lives under the poverty line. The main causes of poverty in Zimbabwe are the economic recession of 2008 and global warming’s impact on agriculture.

These 10 dictatorship countries have taken strides in increasing access to education, healthcare and economic growth. Such programs have been most successful in regards to pro-poor poverty reduction. The political outlook of some of these countries is improving, but there is still a lot of work needed to improve poverty in all of the countries listed.

– Sasha Kramer

Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Hunger in Myanmar
Myanmar is the second largest country in Southeast Asia but has one of the least developed economies in the world. Food security in the country is threatened by natural disasters, isolationist policies, conflicts and ethnic violence. Millions of people are living below the poverty line. It is important to know the top 10 facts about hunger in Myanmar to help illustrate food insecurity conditions in the country.

What are the Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Myanmar?

  1. Approximately 25.6 percent of the 53 million people living in Myanmar (formerly Burma) is below the poverty line. According to the World Food Program U.S.A. (WFP), around 298,700 people don’t have access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food and are in need of food assistance. Women, people with disabilities, the elderly and minorities are the most affected.
  2. The Human Development Index (HDI) measures basic human developments, taking into account variables such as life expectancy, years of schooling and income. According to the index, Myanmar ranks at 148 out of 189 countries. The majority of the country’s population, almost 70 percent, live in rural areas where poverty is two times as high and food insecurity conditions are much worse than urban areas. Statistics from the World Bank in 2015 show that 6.4 percent live with $1.90 a day.
  3. Children are more prone to illness and infections when their growth and development are hindered due to a poor diet. In Myanmar, 29.4 percent of children under five have stunted development. According to statistics from 2016, 18.9 percent of children are underweight.
  4. The infant mortality rate in Myanmar is high because of malnutrition: for every 1,000 live births, there are 35.8 deaths. According to 2012 statistics from UNICEF, the child mortality rate was 52 for children under five. For a child’s development, it is crucial to receive adequate nutrition in the first weeks and years of their life. Malnutrition and stunting in infants can reduce if mothers breastfeed their children for the recommended six months. Save the Children is an organization that aims to provide nutrition information and encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies. Their nutrition programme works to ensure that families have access to, and can afford, nutritious food.
  5. The average rate of enrollment in primary school is close to 88 percent. 75 percent of those children make it to fifth grade. However, about half of those students finish school; the net completion rate is 54 percent. Poor families in rural communities cannot afford to send their children to school or provide enough food for them. These children eventually discontinue their education and start working. The WFP aims to keep children in school by providing school lunches.
  6. Myanmar is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and is one of the top 10 countries most affected by climate risk. Extreme climatic conditions such as irregular or heavy rainfall threaten its agriculture which contributes 30 percent of the national GDP. As many as 85 percent of the households in Kayah, a state in eastern Myanmar, frequently experience food shortages due to environmental challenges.
  7. Myanmar heavily relies on agriculture and faces many challenges. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program aims to fight poverty, malnutrition and hunger by implementing agricultural sustainable development programs. The Climate-Friendly Agribusiness Value Chain Sector Project in the Central Dry Zone (CDZ) of Myanmar plans to implement $27 million to decrease food insecurity for the rural poor. The projected impact of the project targets 100,000 people, in eight townships across the CDZ,  half of whom are women.
  8. Floods, food insecurity, armed conflicts and inter-community violence create waves of displacement. In fact, more than one million people in Myanmar have been displaced since June 2011. According to Action Against Hunger, there are around 863,000 people who need humanitarian aid in Myanmar, 241,000 of which are displaced. Being forced to flee their homes also means these families leave behind their livelihoods. Refugees and internally displaced people are left with no means of securing meals for themselves.
  9. Tuberculosis and HIV patients have higher nutritional needs during their treatment periods, and Myanmar has one of the highest number of patients. TB rates are among the highest in Asia, and Myanmar is among the 20 high TB burdened countries. It is also one of the 35 countries that has 90 percent of new HIV infections in the world. The WFP offers food assistance to 17,000 patients to ensure treatment adherence and success.
  10. Food security and malnutrition are accompanied by issues such as the lack of access to water and sanitation. According to an estimation from 2015 by the CIA World Factbook, 19.4 percent of the population didn’t have access to improved drinking water sources such as piped water, protected wells or springs. In 2017, Action Against Hunger’s nutrition and health programs reached 31,233 people. 9,344 people benefitted from water, sanitation and hygiene programs while 9,837 people utilized food security and livelihoods programs. The organization’s operation in the country started in 1994 and in 2017, it helped a total of 50,414 people.

These top 10 facts about poverty in Myanmar may paint a grim picture but the country has developed in many ways from 1990 to 2017. It reached the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger by half in 2015 and its HDI value has increased by 61.5 percent,i.e. from 0.358 to 0.578. Life expectancy has increased by 8 years and the mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling increased by 2.5 years and 3.9 years respectively.

Many organizations that work on alleviating poverty and ending hunger help thousands of people each year. However, the above top 10 facts about hunger in Myanmar show that there is still a lot of work to be done.

– Aleksandra Sirakova
Photo: Flickr