Myanmar's Healthcare System Post Coup

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military seized control of the country in a coup. Following a series of raids, several democratically-elected government officials were arrested, including the president, Aung San Suu Kyi. Since the coup, many protesters have taken to the streets, resulting in more than 100 deaths on March 27 alone. Even before the coup, Myanmar’s healthcare system was in shambles. However, NGOs and other groups believe that the coup, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, will exacerbate conditions in the country. The situation is compounded by the return of 100,000 migrant workers to Myanmar in March 2021.

Effect on COVID-19 and Immunizations

Healthcare workers were among some of the first to join the pro-democracy movements. However, this has led to shortages of staff, significantly impacting healthcare service delivery. According to The New Humanitarian, “Soldiers have also occupied major public hospitals and attacked healthcare workers, including emergency responders trying to help injured protesters.” With limited healthcare services available, some doctors are volunteering their time and community groups are stepping in to bridge the gap in healthcare. “The public health system has practically collapsed,” said Andrew Kirkwood, the senior U.N. official in Myanmar, during a briefing in March 2021.

Additionally, the coup has stalled routine vaccinations for children. Due to healthcare workers joining the movement, as well as continued fighting in the remote regions, many refugees and citizens are unable to get their children vaccinated. By July 2021, close to one million children were unable to receive their vaccinations since the coup began.

Due to the fragility of Myanmar’s healthcare system, COVID-19 testing and treatment also came to halt, producing uncertainty regarding Myanmar’s vaccination rollout amid the coup. The coup and the counter-protests induced outbreaks, worsening COVID-19 and causing shutdowns. With the economic strain as well as the risk of the virus, Myanmar’s impoverished families are struggling. Fortunately, in July 2021, the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar stepped in to scale up “the provision of critical health services and COVID-19 vaccination efforts.” The U.N. Country Team is also working to increase testing rates and accelerate the COVID-19 vaccination rollout while tackling the oxygen shortage.

Effect on HIV/AIDS

The coup also led to the shut down of HIV treatment programs and testing, putting many lives at risk. Before the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar implemented several programs to tackle HIV/AIDs in impoverished areas. With the ongoing conflict, it has become harder to access anti-retroviral drugs and there are concerns of shortages due to disrupted supply chains.

ICAP, a global public health NGO, with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief  (PEPFAR), is “collaborating with the community-based organization Myanmar Positive Group (MPG) to build its capacity to deliver HIV care services.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, ICAP provided “virtual conferencing software for community self-help groups” to host virtual support meetings as these services are crucial to controlling HIV in Myanmar. ICAP also provided training on using virtual software and conducting tele-counseling. During the coup, these established tools will ensure these services continue.

The Good News

Several NGOs stepped up to help Myanmar. The Myanmar Red Cross is intensifying its efforts for humanitarian assistance and healthcare. The organization reported in June 2021 that nearly 236,000 people require assistance as COVID-19 shutdowns and the coup exacerbate poverty. About 2,000 Red Cross healthcare volunteers provided frontline assistance to those injured during the protests and others in need of healthcare services. The organization also provided ambulance services.

The EU also stepped in to assist with a donation of “€9 million in emergency humanitarian aid” in April 2021. The funding will go toward “emergency health support, protection, food security and multi-sector emergency assistance” in Myanmar.

With organizations taking a stand to help Myanmar’s most vulnerable people during the coup, citizens will receive the aid they need while the country awaits the end of the widespread violence and instability.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

child soldiers in MyanmarFor half a century, Myanmar has struggled to reduce its number of child soldiers. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has a long history of using children in armed conflict, which began when the country gained independence in 1948. In 2002, Human Rights Watch listed Myanmar as the country with the highest number of child soldiers. Though Myanmar has taken action to reduce this, the number of child soldiers in Myanmar is still disturbingly high, requiring greater intervention.

Previous Use of Child Soldiers

According to the Child Soldiers Global Report 2001, 20% of Myanmar’s army was made up of children younger than 18. Although Myanmar’s legislation does not establish compulsory military service laws, it does require each district to meet a recruitment quota. District authorities that fail to meet the quota often receive fines. Hence, to meet the quota, many underage children are coaxed into joining the army through financial rewards or prestige. Other times, the army abducts children from public areas, forcing them to become soldiers. The highest number of recruited child soldiers in Myanmar occured between 1990 and 2005 when the military junta was in power.

During this time, Myanmar received several on-ground assessments by the Committee of Experts of the ILO, followed by recommendations to revise the Village Act and the Towns Act. The Committee requested that the government amend these Acts to comply with the Forced Labor Convention of 1930. Hence, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified by Myanmar in 1991.

After several concerns raised by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch verified that Myanmar had approximately 70,000 child soldiers in 2001. Myanmar’s government responded to international concerns in a letter to the U.N. Security Council in 2004. In the letter, the government demonstrated no interest in making any legislative amendments nor any intention to prosecute local authorities for forced labor and child abuse by stating that “the Myanmar Armed Forces is an all-volunteer force and those entering military services do so of their own free will.”

Gradual Measures to Reduce Child Recruitment

Finally, in 2005, four local officials received prison sentences for the illegal imposition of forced labor after supposedly recruiting child soldiers. In 2009, several rebel groups such as the Chin National Front signed unilateral deeds pledging to stop recruiting child soldiers.

In 2012, Myanmar signed the Joint Action Plan. This committed the government to work alongside the U.N. to prevent child recruitment. Following the Plan’s implementation in 2012, which established stronger age assessment procedures and the adoption of military directives prohibiting the recruitment of minors, 956 children and young people were released from the army. Further improvements occured in 2015 when Myanmar signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the use of minors in armed conflict.

Since then, Myanmar’s government and the U.N. have launched several public awareness campaigns, also establishing a hotline so that citizens can report cases of recruitment of minors. As a result of the continuing decrease in child recruitment and Myanmar’s efforts to protect children, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres removed Myanmar from his annual “list of shame,” which names countries that have committed grave violations against children.

The Need for More Action

Despite Myanmar’s recent efforts to decrease the number of child soldiers, in 2021, the United Nations verified the recruitment and use of 790 children in the previous year. With 56 children dead and 17 children abducted, the U.N. believes Myanmar will return to the “list of shame” unless the government follows U.N. recommendations, including:

  • Release children using the framework of the Joint Action Plan
  • Make the 156 pending cases of suspected minors a priority among national courts
  • Prosecute those who are guilty

With 10 armed attacks in national schools in 2020, the United Nations also strongly recommends that Myanmar endorses the Safe Schools Declaration, which requires states to commit to safeguarding schools and universities from armed hostilities.

Existing efforts as well as implementing U.N. recommendations will help to fully eliminate the use of child soldiers in Myanmar, protecting the well-being of children across the country.

– Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

Child Marriage in MyanmarChild marriage in Myanmar, despite being internationally classified as a human rights violation, is still legally protected. The legal age to wed with parental permission is 14 and many parents condone young weddings due to extreme poverty.

Child Marriage in Myanmar

Child marriage is not an issue unique to Myanmar. Roughly 40 million girls around the world (aged 15-19) are in a marriage or union. Global child marriage rates are improving though, decreasing by 25% since 2000. Education plays a significant role in this decrease across countries that are successful in working to eliminate this human rights violation.

Recent studies find that despite international efforts and success in lowering rates in other nations, rates of child marriage in Myanmar for girls aged 15-19 are still increasing. While experts have a difficult time tracking underage unions, Girls Not Brides estimates that 16% of girls in Myanmar marry before their 18th birthday.

There is a stark intersection between child marriage and extreme poverty. Many parents seek to marry off their young daughters because of the perceived assurance of security. This is especially prevalent when it becomes difficult for a parent to provide for their child. Parents want the instant financial relief of one less person to feed and the promise that their child will be provided for.

The Dangers of Child Marriage

  • Prematurely ends childhood. Premature marriage forces adult responsibilities and domestic duties on children. This often comes with social isolation that stunts emotional growth and harms mental health.
  • Lack of access to healthcare. Many child brides are not given the autonomy to make their own medical decisions and lack access to health services due to “oppressive conditions.” Unaffordable medical costs and isolation from medical facilities, especially in impoverished areas, also prevent girls from accessing healthcare.
  • Higher rates of physical and sexual violence. Many child brides lack sufficient education and are wholly dependent on their older spouses. When subject to domestic violence, these girls experience isolation with nobody to turn to for help. Child marriage also sees higher rates of abuse than unions formed in adulthood.
  • Complications in pregnancies and deliveries. Getting pregnant before the body is fully mature has serious, and even lethal, consequences for both young mothers and their babies. These complications include fistulas, miscarriages and neonatal conditions.
  • Disrupts education. Oftentimes, young girls have to leave school for marriage. Because the girls must focus on domestic responsibilities as wives, the girls permanently drop out of school. This limits socioeconomic mobility and results in spousal dependency.

The Importance of Education

Emphasizing the importance of education to parents and making education more accessible to impoverished communities is essential to decreasing child marriage in Myanmar. Girls who receive a secondary school or higher education are three times more likely to get married after the age of 18. Investing in education for young girls ensures that they have the skills and knowledge to rise out of poverty and make informed decisions about their bodies, their relationships and their lives overall. With education, girls are able to achieve economic independence as education paves the way for well-paying employment opportunities.

United World Schools

United World Schools aims to make education accessible, inclusive and empowering to all, especially young girls. The organization’s work in Myanmar is motivated by the fact that more than 91,000 elementary school-aged children are not able to pursue education.

The organization primarily works in Cambodia, Nepal and Myanmar to construct and develop schools over a five to seven-year period. Then, the organization slowly transitions the schools to government ownership. The organization primarily addresses the inaccessibility of education for isolated, impoverished communities. Also, United World Schools offers free education in local languages in these areas.

United World Schools addresses the issue of child marriage in Myanmar by emphasizing the importance of education, especially for young girls. The organization has been successful in establishing more than 50 partnerships with communities and local leaders in Myanmar to bolster education initiatives. In Myanmar, the organization has also enrolled more than 3,000 children in their schools and funded the staffing of more than 200 local and government educators.

Properly funded schools that address language barriers and operate in remote regions are crucial to keeping girls in school. With this in mind, there is hope for protecting more young girls from child marriage in Myanmar.

– Jaya Patten
Photo: Flickr

Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar
Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh is home to the largest refugee population in the world. Today, there are almost 1 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where poverty rates and living conditions are increasingly affected by changes in annual weather patterns. Massive rainfall in late July 2021 has flooded the region while displacing more than 21,000 refugees and killing 14 people in the district. The government, refugee volunteers and international aid have joined together to provide aid to Cox’s Bazar. The partnership between the groups is important in preventing instability associated with extreme weather.

Rohingya Refugees in Cox’s Bazar

In 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees came west to Cox’s Bazar fleeing persecution from the Myanmar Military. In the past four years, Bangladesh has felt the continued strain of sharing resources with nearly 1 million refugees. The government has remained strict on laws against building more weather-resistant, permanent homes for the displaced Rohingyans. Refugees remain in makeshift shelters exposed to a yearly cycle of worsening weather extremes. Fires in March 2021 destroyed the shelters by the thousands while killing 11 refugees in the process.

The 2021 Monsoon Rains and Flooding

In the same way that too little rainfall will affect agriculture, increase water scarcity and spark fires, too much rain damages housing and infrastructure. Floods and landslides that monsoon rains cause have increased the need for both repairs and supplies in the camps. Over the span of a single day in late July 2021, the region saw near half the average rainfall for that entire month. Heavy rain continues to fall as projections have determined that the monsoon season could last another three months.

The Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) in Bangladesh released a report on August 1 placing the affected number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar at 46,545. More than 6,000 shelters have undergone damage and others still require assessing due to ongoing floods.

Emergency Response

Floods, landslides and windstorms have local volunteers working to save stranded families, repair the camps and deliver supplies to affected community members. More than 5,000 displaced Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have found shelter with extended family or in community spaces. In addition, 62 learning centers are currently functioning as temporary shelters.

International aid from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and its network of humanitarian partners has provided support and disaster response training to both refugee and local community volunteers. The UNHCR Emergency Response Team has been assessing damage to shelters and providing emergency supplies.

The August ISCG report details that 1,060 emergency kits went to affected shelters. Teams are focussing themselves on servicing hygiene facilities and water sources while distributing water treatment tablets and soap.

Changing Weather in South Asia

The World Bank predicted the vulnerability of Cox’s Bazar to natural disasters, similar to the recent floods back in 2018. Recognizing poverty as a serious consequence of rising global temperatures, the World Bank identified hotspot areas where the standard of living would experience a great effect from changing environmental conditions.

South Asia is home to many hotspots. The region varies from extreme hot to extreme cold, making it more vulnerable to changing weather patterns. Bangladesh, especially the district of Cox’s Bazar, is a hotspot where people could see an average 14.4% decline in their incomes by 2050. The effects of environmental changes threaten the ability to sustain both local communities and refugees in the area.

Looking Forward

Bangladesh host communities and Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar have been working alongside one another in recent disaster relief. Organizations similar to the UNHCR are in place to provide key services and supplies to supplement Bangladesh’s shared resources. To date, the area has only received 30% of the annual Joint Response Plan budget. Increased international funding gives the communities an opportunity to plan and prepare for more unprecedented conditions together.

– Angela Basinger
Photo: Flickr

The Opium Epidemic In MyanmarMyanmar has been suffering from an opium epidemic for decades. The country’s political instability and lack of economic opportunities outside of the world of illicit drugs are driving it. However, various initiatives are emerging to encourage another way of life. A French coffee company has emerged to give opium-producing communities hope and offer them an alternative livelihood.

The Opium Epidemic in Myanmar

Myanmar is the second-largest producer of opium in the world. The poppies the country produces end up as heroin, which is transported to neighboring countries. Alternatively, Myanmar citizens themselves purchase it for use. Opium use has historically been medicinal or traditional, with people offering it at ceremonies such as weddings. However, more serious drug-related issues have arisen. There are now many cases of HIV/AIDs and hepatitis C. This is due to the general switch to the more cost-effective manner of injecting heroin rather than smoking it, resulting in the unsanitary sharing of needles.

Due to the long-lasting political instability in the country, the health system collapsed whilst international aid dwindled as a political response to the deteriorating governance in Myanmar. In this time, the production and consumption of drugs also skyrocketed.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), between 2006 and 2014, the production of opium increased from 240 tons to 670 tons per annum. This is due to a mix of factors, such as poppies being more lucrative than other crops. This resulted in a rise in living costs for these impoverished farmers. Ultimately, for many, there are no other viable means of making enough money. However, an initiative to fight the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee has emerged to make a difference.

Alternative Development

The UNODC works with governments and other organizations in Southeast Asia, where poppy cultivation and consumption is rife, to create programs of alternative development. The aim of this is to permanently eradicate poppy cultivation by providing sustainable alternative livelihoods to producers.

In 2014, in an attempt to alleviate the opium epidemic in Myanmar, the UNODC set up the Green Gold Cooperative (GGC), which brings together many families from various villages in the Shan state to give them an alternative livelihood to opium production. Shan is a northern state of Myanmar, producing 90% of the country’s opium.

The cooperative provides a change in occupation for almost 1,000 farmers. In addition, it is giving the community social space facilities such as nurseries. This initiative works on several levels, including working to improve gender equality, with 50% of the administration board being women. The cooperative continues to evolve as a success story, having received its Fairtrade certification in 2019.

Malongo and the Green Gold Cooperative (GGC)

Malongo is a French coffee company, and in 2017, it formed a partnership with the GGC and the UNODC, subsequently launching its new Shan Mountain Coffee in 2019. For Malongo, this was not simply a charitable act to fight the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee. First and foremost, this was a business initiative as the company wanted to create a market alternative where the workers benefit from the added value of the high-quality coffee they produce, and, where consumers can be sure of the quality when purchasing it on the international market. Malongo, therefore, provided training for each stage of coffee production.

There were other substantial local benefits that came from this business initiative. Not only did it provide livelihoods, but it also increased peace through uniting different ethnic groups in the region that historically were in conflict to work together and leave poppy cultivation behind. These local groups can also consume their coffee, an evidently safer alternative to the opium they used to produce.

Coffee production has also helped environmentally as poppy cultivation brought about deforestation, soil erosion and decreased biodiversity. Now, many former poppy fields are becoming forests and the replacement production of coffee provides eco-friendly and sustainable crops. The farmers take great pride in coffee production. The particular coffee even became internationally sought out in top markets due to its high quality.

The Role of Foreign Aid

The importance of foreign aid in fighting the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee is unprecedented. Germany and Finland were the main financers of the development program, with Switzerland providing resources directly to the GGC.

USAID has also played a key role by giving technical assistance and market advice to locals since 2013, helping more than 8,000 farmers with the quality and sale of their coffee beans. This foreign aid has, in turn, meant these countries benefit directly from their work abroad as Myanmar now exports coffee to more than 16 countries, including the U.S.

These alternative production initiatives have significantly improved the economic, social and environmental situations for the farmers involved, and, overall opium poppy production is decreasing in Myanmar. This has served private sector interests as Malongo’s return from its investment is embodied in its high-quality coffee range. Additionally, countries such as the U.S. can now enjoy an emerging and increasingly stable trading partner in Myanmar. This initiative, benefiting all parties involved, is proof that public and private interests can overlap and bring about profound and long-lasting change in suffering communities.

Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in Myanmar
Although the overall poverty rate in Myanmar reduced to around 25% in 2017, the child poverty rate has increased to 31%. More than 5.5 million children in Myanmar lived in poverty or extreme poverty in 2017. To make up for the lack of food and basic necessities in their households, these children are likely to take jobs in construction and factories, exposing them to hazardous working conditions. As a result of child poverty and child labor, Myanmar ranks 112 out of 172 countries in Save the Children’s End of Childhood Index, which measures the extent to which children are “missing out on childhood.”

Children’s Rights, Child Mortality and Rural Births

In the early 1960s, the world saw Myanmar as one of the most prosperous nations in South Asia due to its abundance of natural resources. However, in 1962, a coup d’état that established a military dictatorship under the Burma Socialist Programme Party pushed children’s rights aside.

Unsurprisingly, fundamental rights are not equally shared across Myanmar’s socioeconomic makeup. A high poverty rate is accompanied by high child mortality. As of 2019, the mortality rate for children under 5 was 44.7 per 1,000 live births compared to 5.6 deaths per 1,000 births in the United States. Additionally, the exact number of children born is unknown as around 65% of births are not officially reported due to midwives only registering rural births informally.

Limited Access to Education

The Myanmar government does not allocate sufficient funds to education and many families cannot afford to send their children to school. Consequently, around 3% of children in Myanmar have had no education and an estimated 8.6 million people older than 15 are illiterate. Without education or basic literacy skills, it is virtually impossible to find a high-paying job outside of factory or construction work.

Child Labor Working Conditions

In Myanmar, the poverty trap forces 1.1 million children aged 5-17 into dangerous working conditions. Unable to participate in both school and the formal workforce, these children find themselves stuck in an inescapable cycle of generational poverty. They work as porters, cleaners, cooks, field laborers and more, either due to coercion by the Burma National Armed Forces or to help supplement their household income.

Some employers are quick to exploit an influx of undereducated child workers who are unaware of the health and workers’ rights violations they face. The standard workweek in the United States is typically 40 hours, but a quarter of child workers in Myanmar aged 12-17 typically face workweeks of 60 hours or more. Most child labor takes place in rural areas and a minimum of 197 children work in dangerous conflict-ridden areas such as Kachin, Rakhine and Shan due to coercion.

Breaking the Cycle of Child Poverty

To break the brutal cycle of generational poverty that forces children to choose between putting food on the table and getting an education that will propel their success, it is crucial for impoverished families in Myanmar to receive consistent and sufficient resources from organizations and government agencies.

UNICEF is helping to break the child poverty cycle in Myanmar by teaming up with non-governmental organizations and focusing on improving access and quality of education. It is also working to shield children from violent coercion and abuse, especially children in marginalized communities. Providing Myanmar’s children with adequate education and protecting them from forced labor will allow them to live safer and more opportunity-filled lives.

Child poverty affects millions in Myanmar and poses a threat to generations to come. There is room for hope, however, as organizations such as Save the Children and UNICEF focus on alleviating the extreme conditions that many children of Myanmar face through building partnerships and delivering results on a large scale.

Melanie Goldsmith
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in Myanmar
Myanmar, once known as Burma, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia with a population of around 52.4 million people. Of the population, 26.6 million people are women. Over the last decade, Myanmar has embarked on an accelerated socioeconomic and political transition. However, it has fallen short in correcting the gender inequality ravaging the nation’s laws and policies. Despite the country’s development, there is still room for improvement in upholding women’s rights in Myanmar.

Gender Disparity in Myanmar

Global indices and national data show the disparities between Myanmar citizens on the basis of sex. The 2020 Gender Inequality Index ranked Myanmar 147 of 189 countries, while the 2021 Social Institutions and Gender Index identified Myanmar as the eighth-most discriminatory country out of nine Southeast Asian nations.

Despite the country’s 2008 Constitution guaranteeing equal rights and equal legal protection to all persons, a subsequent report from the CEDAW Committee voiced concerns. Namely, the constitution contains references to women mostly as mothers. This reinforces their stereotypical role as caretakers in need of protection. It also states that “nothing in this section shall prevent the appointment of men to the positions that are naturally suitable for men only.” Despite equal rights in areas such as inheritance law or marital property, Myanmar’s deeply rooted patriarchal values still shape families and restrict women’s participation in all levels of decision-making.

Key Areas of Discrimination

One area that severely limits women’s participation in decision-making is economic activities. According to the 2014 census, only 50.5% of working-age women were part of the labor force, nearly 34% less than men. Moreover, women tend to have employment in lower-skilled jobs and lower-level posts, which suggests that Myanmar’s society values men’s work more than women’s and pays accordingly, creating a gender wage gap.

Other key areas of concern include the high maternal mortality ratio and insufficient access to reproductive health services. As of 2017, Myanmar had the highest maternal mortality ratio in Southeast Asia, with 282 per 100,000 live births. One can mainly attribute these maternal deaths to Myanmar’s crumbling healthcare system.

Hospitals lack basic equipment because of funds that the military junta appropriate, resulting in poor coverage of reproductive health services. In fact, to date, there is very little known about the patterns of maternal health service utilization in Myanmar. High fertility rates and delays in reaching emergency care also contribute to the problem. A further concern is the heightened discrimination of women in ethnic minority groups. Also worrisome, the most impoverished rural areas suffer from an exacerbation of these issues.

Action to Improve Women’s Rights in Myanmar

Several organizations are now taking action to improve women’s rights. A top priority is educating people on the importance of women’s rights and addressing the surrounding myths and misconceptions. Of these organizations, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is extremely important. As a governmental organization working toward gender equality, it launched the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (2013-2022) to promote and protect women’s rights in Myanmar.

The plan, which aligns with the 12 areas outlined in the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, presents a significant strategic opportunity to integrate women’s rights in Myanmar’s reform agenda. Although Myanmar is not yet at the level of its Southeast Asian neighbors, women’s political participation has increased since the plan’s implementation. According to the Department of Social Welfare, 10 domestic vocational centers were established to support women’s development and security in top conflict areas.

The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, which emerged in 1991 to promote the quality of family life, is Myanmar’s largest NGO. It is also the leader in providing sexual and reproductive health services across the country to more than 200,000 clients annually. Additional bodies include Myanmar’s Women Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA), a strategic alliance established in 1995.

The MWEA is composed of more than 1,600 businesswomen highlighting the capabilities of Myanmar’s women entrepreneurs. The MWEA actively engages foreign donors and potential investors to create business opportunities for women entrepreneurs. An example of this is the 2020 India-Myanmar agreement to create a roadmap for collaborative opportunities between women entrepreneurs of both countries.

A Hopeful Future for Women’s Rights in Myanmar

All of these organizations and measures advocate for the advancement of women’s rights in Myanmar. The most crucial areas are improving women’s education and health, advancing women’s roles in the economy and ending violence against women. The progress of these bodies and organizations reflects Myanmar’s evolving socioeconomic landscape.

However, these gains have been under threat since the military takeover in February 2021. But, while the military junta attempts to regress the country back to its repressively patriarchal roots, the women of Myanmar are on the front lines, representing 60% of protestors and some 80% of the movement’s leaders.

Myanmar’s women embrace the opportunity to not only change the present after a long history of military oppression but also secure a brighter future. Although Myanmar has a long way to go before it reaches gender equality, these protests make it clear that Myanmar’s women are the voice of the revolution, committed to achieving gender equality.

– Alejandra del Carmen Jimeno
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Poverty in Myanmar
In 2017, Myanmar’s poverty rate was approximately 24.8%. By December 2020, the second wave of COVID-19 was estimated to bring the poverty rate to almost 50%. COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar has been devastating but aid aims to remedy the situation.

A Breakdown of COVID-19 in Myanmar

Myanmar’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was in late March 2020. In the weeks leading up to the first positive case, Myanmar’s government outlined its plan for curbing the virus’s spread. On April 6, 2020, Myanmar’s government initiated lockdowns and ordered schools and businesses to commence remote operations.

The daily numbers and seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in Myanmar increased in September 2020 when restrictions first eased. The seven-day average rose from three to 300 by mid-September 2020 and peaked in October 2020 with a seven-day average of more than 15,000. November 2020 witnessed a steady decline. Myanmar’s COVID-19 seven-day average has remained at fewer than 100 cases since mid-February 2021.

Recently, COVID-19 cases in Myanmar have been increasing again. Many world doctors and health officials question the validity of the reported numbers since the military seized power on February 1, 2021. The military imprisoned doctors who opposed it and COVID-19 testing slowed as a result. COVID-19 case numbers in Myanmar are potentially higher than officially reported.

Myanmar’s Response to COVID-19

In early June 2021, Myanmar reached a recorded 144,000+ COVID-19 cases and upwards of 3,000 deaths. Myanmar’s economy halted and COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar, requiring the government and the people to strategize in order to encourage economic flow.

Economically, Myanmar’s government endeavored to stimulate halted areas of the economy. Service sectors and tourism contributed significantly less to the Myanmar economy. However, information and technology services expanded and the agricultural areas of Myanmar stayed stable.

To improve the Myanmar economy, the government drafted a plan costing $2 billion. The government received its funding from international partners. The funding goes toward stimulus packages, investments in infrastructure and improving public services such as healthcare.

Immediate Economic Impact of COVID-19 in Myanmar

The progress Myanmar has made over the past decade in decreasing its poverty rate halted and even reversed. COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar demanded that its government make significant investments that will benefit many workforces, but tourism, for example, cannot improve without open borders. Tourism became an intriguing industry for work in Myanmar in 1995. It now represents 3% of the employment force but displayed signs of expansion until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The year 2015 was a peak year for tourism in Myanmar. An estimated 2.5 million tourists spent 773 million kyats or $469,000. Until 2019, tourism accounted for 55% of the gross domestic product (GDP). The tourism industry hopes for an employment boom when Myanmar’s borders fully reopen.

Moving Forward

AstraZeneca is the only vaccine in Myanmar. The first shipments to Myanmar arrived in January 2021. As of June 2021, Myanmar has distributed three million vaccines. Fears of the AstraZeneca vaccine and its side effects spread after reports of blood clotting post-injection. Britain halted usage of the vaccine until further research could solidify its effectiveness but Myanmar did not.

Myanmar’s vaccination progress had two major distribution advancements between March and May 2021. Myanmar prioritized vaccinating healthcare workers. The distribution then expanded to include more categories of workers. It could take six months before another 10% of the population will have both vaccinations. Currently, only 3.1% of Myanmar’s population is at full vaccination status. Help from international allies will be necessary to make notable progress in vaccination distribution. The U.S. has a large supply of vaccines from all its distributors and intends to distribute vaccines internationally. Myanmar is working to raise funds to obtain more vaccines.

Aid Within Myanmar

For several decades, Myanmar’s poverty rate garnered the attention of many non-government organizations hoping to help. One such organization is World Vision International (WVI),  an organization based in England that typically works directly to support children. Recently, it dedicated the majority of its efforts to feeding and helping children affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in Myanmar.

In Myanmar, the organization works with local businesses to offer food and shelter to children. During the pandemic, WVI expanded its efforts to ensure child poverty levels do not rise even further. WVI has worked in Myanmar for decades. The organization recognized COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar and advocates on behalf of the people to the Myanmar government. WVI secured masks, gloves, sanitizer and cleaning stations throughout Myanmar.

Looking Ahead

WVI maintained money flow as much as it could in areas that lack of work devastated. It also delivered food to hard-to-reach areas of Myanmar. Other organizations followed WVI’s example when COVID-19’s impact on poverty in Myanmar peaked and negatively affected life for many in the country. With the combined efforts, the poverty level, which rose in 2020, stabilized. It is an arduous road to recovery for Myanmar. Myanmar should be able to reduce the impact of the virus on its poverty levels with assistance from allies and committed organizations.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in Myanmar
Period poverty is when women do not have adequate access to sanitary napkins and other resources to aid them during menstruation. This leads many women to use the same napkin for an extended period of time, increasing the risk of urinary tract infections. Period poverty in Myanmar is particularly prevalent.

Period poverty research is a relatively new topic. There are no formal records documenting how many women lack access to pads. Additionally, the investigation into period poverty is more recent in Southeast Asian countries. Based on the information that some have acquired, here are five facts about period poverty in Myanmar.

5 Facts About Period Poverty in Myanmar

  1. Women Often Stay Home: Period poverty has long-term effects on women. For example, when women are on their period, they tend to stay at home, where they are closer to sanitary napkins and other supplies. Women spend about 10-20% of the year at home due to their period and a lack of sanitary items. In addition, disabled women and women in prison have little to no access to pads.
  2. Organizations Providing Sanitary Products: Organizations such as Bloody Good Period and The Pad Project have been working hard to raise money to donate sanitary napkins to women in countries facing period poverty. Zuraidah Daut is a social activist in Malaysia who places empty boxes outside of storefronts to collect donations. Many people donate pads and sanitary napkins for those who cannot afford them.
  3. Adequate Sanitation Facilities: Another reason women and girls might stay home during their periods is a lack of adequate sanitation facilities at school or work. For example, in many schools, girls and boys share toilets, which increases the likelihood of girls staying home during their periods. Public facilities also do not always have soap, water or a place to dispose of sanitary products.
  4. Cultural Stereotypes: Many people hold stigmatizing cultural stereotypes about periods in Myanmar. For example, some people in Myanmar believe that periods are dirty. As a result, about 50% of women think periods are a disease. Furthermore, about 80% of women reported feeling embarrassed by their first period. People in Myanmar commonly believe that women should not wash their hair, go to temples or eat tea leaf salad to cleanse themselves during their period.
  5. Changing Mindsets: The good news is that women in Myanmar are improving their mindsets about periods. Burmese artist Shwe Wutt Hmon displayed an art exhibit exploring the shame surrounding periods and menstruation in Yangon, Myanmar. The piece involved asking 30 different women about their experiences and opinions of their period. Hmon encouraged women to accept menstruation and respect their bodies. Her exhibitions depict women eating tea leaf salad and kneeling with their legs chained and sitting beside one another, which are all superstitions the Myanmar people connect to the perception that periods as dirty. This effort and others like it are essential for changing long-held beliefs about women and menstruation.

Period poverty in Myanmar prevents many women from having access to sanitary products or adequate sanitation facilities. Cultural stereotypes around menstruation also make managing periods difficult for women. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals are intervening and educating others on better and safer practices. Over time, sanitary products will hopefully become more accessible as the stigma surrounding menstruation decreases.

– Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About IDPs in MyanmarIn recent months, the eyes of the international community have been on the actions of the Myanmar military and the state of internally displaced people (IDPs). Ethnic minorities in the country have been experiencing this violent instability at the hands of the military for generations. However, COVID-19 and the military coup in February 2021 have exacerbated the situation for IDPs in Myanmar. The coup affected several states in Myanmar, including the Rakhine, Kachin, Shan, Kayin and Chin states.

5 Key Facts About IDPs in Myanmar

  1. Thousands flee because of violence and conflict: As of December 31, 2019, there are more than 450,000 IDPs throughout Myanmar due to conflict and violence. This number does not include the additional 800,000 Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh or the 100,000 ethnic minorities from Myanmar who fled their homes in April 2021 to seek refuge in camps along the border. The armed conflict between ethnic militias and the military has resulted in IDPs fleeing to the refugee camps. Natural disasters have also forced IDPs to flee to the camps.
  2. Diseases are quicker to spread in refugee camps: Camps are overcrowded with poor living conditions. These camps have led to higher rates of communicable diseases, including tuberculosis, scabies, dysentery, COVID-19 and other viruses. Human Rights Watch and others have referred to some IDP camps as essentially “open-air prisons.” COVID-19 rates in IDP camps are thought to be underreported due to a lack of testing and access for aid organizations to assist people.
  3. Limited access to aid: Crucial aid is blocked by the central government. During the pandemic, restrictions on movement in Myanmar have prohibited humanitarian organizations from properly distributing medical care and emergency supplies to IDPs in the camps. The lockdowns have also prevented children in IDP camps from attending school. Additionally, adults have not been able to work, making it difficult for parents to pay for school and food.
  4. Lost and stolen property: Many IDPs have no land to return to. Before the military coup, the government in Myanmar prioritized closing IDP camps throughout the country, but many IDPs in Myanmar no longer have homes or land to return to. This is a result of natural disasters and military attacks destroying people’s homes. People have also lost land to large development projects, which only benefit the central government and international entities. Additionally, some IDPs lost their properties due to changes in laws and citizenship requirements.
  5. Protests and violence in Myanmar: The military coup in Myanmar has led to increasing difficulties. With massive civil unrest occurring throughout Myanmar, including outside of ethnic minority areas, IDPs are vulnerable to additional violence from the military. At the same time, many ethnic Burmese protestors are beginning to show solidarity with the struggles of ethnic minorities. Some have even condemned the military’s brutality toward ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya.

Finding a Path Forward

International NGOs and the U.N. have a presence in Myanmar. However, access to sensitive regions is not always possible for aid workers. Fortunately, many ethnic groups have grassroots organizations that deal with various issues faced by IDPs and refugees in neighboring countries. Women’s rights groups have been particularly vocal in advocating for the rights of ethnic minorities throughout the country. Unfortunately, at leadership levels and in educational opportunities, there is still a wide gender gap. This makes women’s rights groups’ work crucial in shifting attitudes to be inclusive of all voices in Myanmar.

The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) is a collective of 13 different organizations representing several ethnic groups from Myanmar. While each organization has specific needs, all share the same goal of involving women in peace negotiations between ethnic militias and the Myanmar military. There have been ceasefires of varying success over the years. However, long-term peace agreements have been elusive and certain voices, such as those from WLB, are crucial in advocating for ethnic minorities. Voices from the WLB are also important in defending the rights of children and other vulnerable groups.

Despite uncertain times for the future of Myanmar, there are hopeful signs that the long-term issues faced by ethnic minorities are receiving more attention, both within Myanmar and throughout the international community.

– Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr