7 Facts about the Rohingya GenocideThe Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is not just persecution, but a genocide. According to an April 2018 Al Jazeera feature article, Myanmar has taken part in “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya people by not recognizing the group as people and stripping away basic human rights such as food, shelter and clothing. There is also extreme military violence to eradicate the Rohingya, which has led to seeking refuge in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

7 Facts About the Rohingya Genocide

  1. The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for centuries. They speak Ruaingga, which is distinct to other Myanmar languages, and they are primarily Muslims. According to Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, evidence of a 1799 document shows that the Rohingya have resided in Myanmar since the 18th century and possibly earlier, considering the earliest records of Muslims in Myanmar are from the 12th century. Today, there are 1.1 million Rohingya living in Buddhist Myanmar.
  2. The Rohingya have had no state identity since 1982. The British rule (1824-1948) considered Myanmar as a province of India, and there was a high volume of Indian and Bangladeshi migration of laborers to Myanmar, which was considered an internal migration. After independence from the British, the Myanmar government recognized the migration as illegal. According to a 2015 report from the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, The Union Citizenship Act was passed in 1948 following independence, and the Rohingya were not included. A 1962 military coup required citizens to obtain national registration cards, and the Rohingya were only given foreign identity cards, which limited jobs and educational opportunities. In 1982, a new citizenship law was passed, which did not recognize the Rohingya as one of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic groups.
  3. Religious violence plays a large role in the tension between the Rohingya and the Myanmar government. Since 1982, the Rohingya have been persecuted and victims of violence. The Rohingya make up 2 percent of Buddhist Myanmar’s population but represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar. Often overlooked, religious violence has been key in the tension between the Rohingya and the military. In 2012, Muslim men had allegedly raped a Buddhist woman, which created massive religious violence against the Rohingya, forcing about 140,000 into camps for internally displaced people. According to CNN, from August to September 2017 alone, 6,700 Rohingya were killed by the Myanmar government while 2,700 died from disease and malnutrition.
  4. The majority of the Rohingya live in the Rakhine state, one of the poorest states in Myanmar, and it is illegal for the Rohingya to leave. In addition, 362 villages have been destroyed by the military. Rakhine is filled with “ghetto-like camps” and lacks access to education, healthcare, services, homes, water, etc., stripping the people of basic human needs.
  5. Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace laureate and Burmese leader, has kept quiet on the genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi has neither criticized nor praised the Myanmar government for the genocide and does not recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group. The Myanmar military claims it “maintains peace and stability,” although the U.N. states that the Myanmar military has committed crimes against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi and her government, in fact, recognize the Rohingya as terrorists, in particular to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
  6. The U.N. states that the Rohingya genocide is the “world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.” UNICEF estimates 687,000 have sought refuge dangerously by boat, primarily in neighboring Bangladesh, and over half of them are child refugees. However, Bangladesh has presented resistance to the refugees, because a poor, densely populated country such as Bangladesh will be unable to sustain them. In August 2017, the U.N estimated that there are at least 420,000 Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia. Additionally, there are around 120,000 internally displaced Rohingya. An estimated half a million Rohingya are still in Myanmar.
  7. International aid has provided 700,000 Rohingya with food, and aid is imperative to save the ethnic group. International help has greatly impacted the Rohingya community. In addition to food, countries, such as Pakistan and India, have helped with providing refugee camps for the Rohingya. Almost 100,000 people have been treated for malnutrition. By January 2018, 315,000 children have been vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. The U.K. has provided 59 million euros for those fleeing Myanmar, and the U.N. Security Council has appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence against the Rohingya.

The Rohingya genocide is described as “the world’s most persecuted minority.” Myanmar is committing crimes against humanity with ongoing violence, refugees, disease, malnutrition, poverty, etc. The Rohingya genocide must be seen through a humanitarian and moral lens to put an end to the atrocities being committed.

– Areina Ismail
Photo: Flickr

Myanmar
Children, exploitation and guerrilla warfare have become an unfortunate triad all too familiar amongst the people of Myanmar. A country rife with decades of internal armed conflict, the nation relies on the recruitment of underage Myanmar child soldiers into its national army, Tatmadaw Kyi, to help supply ethnic wars with manpower.

Who and What

The children’s purpose? According to Hope for the Nations, the youths are needed to serve and “defend the drug lords of the area at the cost of losing their parents, families, homes and even their own lives.” In fact, some children are recruited and trained at the mere age of 6.

An excerpt from a compilation of personal accounts from former Myanmar child soldiers reads: “Living under armed guard, Arkar Min received one meal a day—a bowl of rice with some oil and salt. He had no bed and slept on the concrete, using his lungi as a pillow. There were six other conscripts, most of them 15; the eldest was 17. None of them had joined voluntarily—they’d been offered work, hoodwinked, kidnapped, and sold into service.”

The Why: Political Instability

It’s near impossible to look at these human rights violations of Myanmar’s youth without looking at the country’s political climate. Following the 1948 breakaway from the United Kingdom, the nation was ignited in upheaval and political turbulence. One of the major causes of these debilitating occurrences was the ethnic minority groups who were unable to compromise on the multi-faceted dilemma of sharing political power. An overwhelming surge of battles erupted between indigenous groups, which led to the enlistment of their vulnerable youth in armies as a chance to seize power.

State armed forces eventually acquired power in 1962, and Myanmar fell under even greater distress. A corrupt and oppressive military dictatorship reigned for virtually 50 years, failing to condemn or control ethnic wars and child soldier recruitment and exploitation. Luckily, 2011 brought hope to the nation when the military handed over power to a civilian government.

A Breach In Corruption

The nation’s established civilian government has brought sought-upon relief to countless families, citizens and children. Not only has the government advanced the national armed forces to more professional levels, but it has also released hundreds of underage children who were wrongfully recruited into war.

The U.N. estimates that thousands of people have been displaced as a result of internal conflict and fighting. According to Aljazeera, in 2015 the military released 146 underage recruits; since its agreement with the U.N. to end the recruitment of children into the military, 699 have been released.

Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar stated, “I am delighted to see these children and young people returning to their homes and families. We are hopeful that institutional checks that have been put in place and continued efforts will ensure that recruitment of children will exist no more.”

Hope For the Youth

There exist many initiatives that aim to eradicate the exploitation of Myanmar child soldiers. Project AK-47, for example, reaches child soldiers and brings them from hopelessness to hopefulness and care. Planting themselves in highly regulated and classified regions of Southeast Asia, members of the Project provide the oppressed youth with basic needs like shelter, food, clothing and education, as well as deeper needs like spiritual care and love.

The utmost goal of Project AK-47 aims to mentor the children into becoming leaders within their own communities. According to Hope for the Nations, some of them will end up as teachers, government leaders, or even workers on tea plantations. It is vital that they are taught how to create a positive impact amongst their own communities and regions, and to carry the spirit of excellence with them wherever they may go.

Positive Redirection and Potential Solutions

Following in line with hopeful solutions, Myanmar’s November 2015 Parliamentary election ensued a large victory for the National League of Democracy. So much so that citizens remain hopeful that their new government will mend the country’s broken human rights situation. This is the time where advocacy will ring strong, and where advocates’ voices of concern will hold ground with developing governments.

A unified voice from the world and from native citizens to remove children from army ranks is a push in the right direction. According to Child Soldiers International, advocates “will be engaging with the national authorities and civil society to see Myanmar opt in fully to the relevant international laws and ensure that domestic laws that prohibit child recruitment are fully observed.” The ultimate goal is loud and clear: to protect the rights of Myanmar’s voiceless youth is to eradicate the recruitment and the exploitation of underage children within the military.

– Mary Miller
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ education in Myanmar
The education of girls and women has been found to be of paramount importance for the success of individuals, communities and nations, leading to increased efforts to improve girls’ education in Myanmar, among other countries. Women who receive a higher level of education generally receive higher pay and tend to have fewer health problems. Additionally, education increases job opportunities for women, positively impacting them as well as employers.

Pressures of Poverty Hurt Girls’ Access to Education

In Myanmar, however, many girls (and boys) do not complete their education, with many students dropping out once they reach high school. During the 2009-2010 school year, 42 percent of boys and 44 percent of girls between the ages of 14 and 15 were no longer attending school.

One of the main reasons students leave school is because their parents can no longer afford it. According to UNESCO, public schools in Myanmar do not charge tuition fees, but “hidden costs, such as school supplies and transportation, make them unaffordable for many.” If parents can only afford to send a few of their children to school, girls are more likely to stay at home.

In addition to being less able to afford school, poorer families are more likely to see “work as a better long-term option for their children,” particularly if the school is not providing high-quality education, according to a UNICEF report. They may also need their children to work in order to help support the family. During the 2009-2010 school year, 85.5 percent of children from the richest households attended secondary school, while only 28.2 percent from the poorest households did.

Furthermore, lack of interest has been found to be a common reason for not completing secondary education. This could be due to quality-related issues if parents believe that the school curriculum is not preparing their child for future employment. It could also reflect incidents, including bullying and gender-based violence, that children (girls in particular) drop out of school to avoid.

Focus on Girls’ Education in Myanmar Sees Great Success

While these are continuing problems that make advancing girls’ education in Myanmar difficult, some significant improvements have been made, most notably in achieving gender parity in enrollment in primary, middle and high school. By 2010, girls comprised approximately 50 percent of students at each level.

Additionally, according to a U.N. report, girls who were able to complete high school and take the Matriculation Exam, which is “both a high school completion exam and a university screening exam,” passed at higher rates than their male counterparts. In 2012, 55 percent of exam takers and 58 percent of students who passed the exam were female.

Even more striking is the significantly greater enrollment of women in higher education institutions in Myanmar. In 2012, 59 percent of undergraduate students, 80 percent of master’s degree students and 81 percent of Ph.D. students were female.

There are a few explanations for this phenomenon. First, boys have a greater likelihood of being employed immediately out of high school, and therefore may not feel the need to enroll in higher education. Second, more girls than boys become teachers, a profession for which higher education is required. They are also more likely to become professors; in 2012, 82.6 percent of higher education academic staff members were women.

As girls who are able to receive a good education are becoming academically successful and enrolling in undergraduate and graduate programs, the next steps in Myanmar are to improve girls’ access to education and ensure their education is high quality. Ideally, the number of women who are passing the Matriculation Exam and attending higher education institutions will then continue to increase as well.

Girls’ education in Myanmar is a continuing priority for the nation’s leaders and United Nations organizations, including UNICEF, which has been active in Myanmar for more than 60 years and plans to continue working to bring education to all children in the nation.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Myanmar
How does one remain faithful in the face of death? This is the question many Rohingya Muslims are currently faced with, both in Myanmar and in the refugee camps in surrounding countries to which they have scattered in the past two years. They are trying to survive amid governmental strife, warfare, abuse and trafficking since an acceleration of cultural oppression and threats that started in 2011.

Government military campaigns in Myanmar have caused more than 700,000 individuals to flee to refugee camps in search of safety and stability. While searching for safety and aid, women and children have reported gang rape and murders by military officials, and even exploitation in the countries they reached hoping to find help. Another 100,000 refugees fled the country to escape the inevitable harm of monsoon season. Even as they travel to receive aid, it is possible that they will at least be injured.

However, featuring this kind of information exclusively in news headlines is how the media misrepresents Myanmar. Citizens of Myanmar are actually living resilient and fulfilling lives with support and aid from humanitarian efforts. They are able to focus their energy on a bright future ahead.

Programs Helping Myanmar Youths and Families

In 2012, with the help of UNICEF, Myanmar began the “Seven Things This Year Initiative,” a project working with mothers and children to promote “key family health practices.” The project encouraged proper planning for each family. As of 2016, this project is being evaluated for sustainability; however, it has already benefited many displaced refugees and expectant mothers.

In 2018, training programs are providing opportunities for successful integration into communities by offering education and vocational training through apps. Residents participating in training can gain skills in business training, basic budgeting, English fundamentals and nutrition safety.

Only focusing on just one part of the population is also how the media misrepresents Myanmar. For example, another population misrepresented or underrepresented by media in Myanmar is the youth within the community. Resiliency training and practice is a priority focus for youth in the education system.

The Myanmar Red Cross Society has more than 44,000 volunteers, 1,300 of whom are active youth members. They assist with planning and participation in programming initiatives which promote safe learning facilities, proper healthcare, water and sanitation intervention, disaster management, school safety plans and exercises, risk reduction and resilience education. By doing this, Myanmar youth are encouraging engagement in the community and empowering future leadership within the country.

The Media Represents Myanmar by Not Reporting on Its Largest City

Focusing on the southern portions of the country, where most of the Rohingya crisis is located, is also how the media misrepresents Myanmar. While that crisis is highly relevant and impacting more than just the southern region, Yangon, which is highly populated and located in the northern part of the country, is currently thriving compared to years past, with a low percentage of poverty (16 percent) and positive record of births, sanitation and adequate nutrition.

Between 2018 and 2022, Myanmar is focusing on citizen’s health and nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, education, child protection, social policy and the monitoring of child rights. This focus will allow for proper access to healthcare, improved quality of life, the promotion of a safe, inclusive, and non-violent community, poverty reduction, recovery from violence and exploitation and establish welfare.

While in the midst of transition throughout the country, resilient Myanmar residents are seeking and finding opportunities that are empowering. Resiliency partnered with wisdom and discernment in their use of technology will light their path and empower their strength.

– Ashley Cooper
Photo: Flickr

U.S. Benefits From Foreign Aid to Myanmar
Myanmar (formerly Burma) was once considered an outcast from the international community due to the oppressive, military junta that held power from 1962 until the 21st Century. It was not until 2011 that the nation embarked on their multi-year journey towards political and economic reform. Slowly but surely, Myanmar has begun implementing reforms that work to dismantle its previous, exclusive regimes that were in power for nearly 50 years.

USAID

A big part of Myanmar’s quest for an inclusive, parliamentary democracy and creating a market-oriented economy has been dependent on United States aid. Not only does the U.S. have a commitment to helping Myanmar achieve its gradual liberalization, but there are also a variety of U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Myanmar. Myanmar has immense economic potential, given that they are resource-rich with access to large, growing markets. However, due to decades of systematic corruption, the vast majority of the population have not been receivers of economic prosperity.

One of USAID’s main focuses within its quest to provide foreign aid to Myanmar is the empowerment of small-scale farmers. With agriculture taking up 70 percent of employment, USAID has invested in both agriculture and food security to reduce hunger and poverty.

USAID hopes that these investments in broad-based agricultural growth will not only help Myanmar’s small-scale farmers improve their connection to end markets, but it will also help keep an agricultural epidemic at bay; an occurrence which in turn, helps keep the U.S. economy stable.

Myanmar and Agriculture

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Myanmar through this process, as when Myanmar’s agricultural production is healthy and efficient, the U.S. economy has the potential to thrive off purchases of agricultural equipment from U.S. manufacturers.

Currently, Myanmar’s agricultural industry depends on traditional manual labor, and it lack advanced technologies that can add value to their goods. This is why developing Myanmar’s agricultural business is important for the U.S., as when Myanmar is able to produce products like rice, which accounts for 60 percent of their production value, at much quicker speeds, the price has the potential to decrease for U.S buyers.

Rohingya Muslim Refugees

In addition to supporting Myanmar’s agricultural industry, the U.S also contributes nearly $32 million in humanitarian aid to the Rohingya Muslim refugees.

The Rohingya Muslim refugees are a marginalized group forced to seek refuge in camps after the 2012 Rakhine State riots. Their involuntary removable from the predominantly Buddhist nation was a necessary measure to escape the systematic violence and persecution in their home country of Myanmar.

This crisis has greatly jeopardized the U.S.-funded progress Myanmar made in its move away from harsh, military rule to its now democratic state.

U.S. and Internationalism

However, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Myanmar in this situation because it help calms international waters. Additionally, the distributed humanitarian aid funds are going a long way in helping these refugees, as it’s supplying food and medicalcare along with sanitation and shelter to a group in desperate need of support.

U.S.-funded aid to Myanmar is a huge factor in helping this developing nation regain full control of its political, economic and social states. Myanmar has already begun to see beneficial provisions that have shifted its connotation as an isolated economy to an invested focal point.

Road of Improvement

There has also been a rise in freedom of speech — in 2015, the country held its first free general elections since 1990. While there is still a continued military influence and weak points in parliamentary politics, the political trajectory of Myanmar is not one set in stone.

Patience is a key factor in allowing Myanmar to carefully and effectively regain control of its politics; it has been a strenuous past sixty years, and peace is not going to come overnight. With the continued help of the United States, both nations are on a likely road of positive improvements.

– Alexandra Dennis

Photo: Flickr

combating statelessness for Rohingya refugeesThe Muslim Rohingya minority found in Myanmar have been systematically stripped of citizenship in bureaucratic ways, which has led to combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees.

In 1982, the ruling military junta put in place discriminatory citizenship laws in Myanmar. The law favors the country’s “national races” and excludes the Muslim Rohingya and several other ethnic minorities, automatically granting full citizenship to these “national races.” The national races include groups that were present in Myanmar before the British conquest in 1824.

Removing Rohingya Rights

Throughout past years in Myanmar, each form of ID was declared invalid and then taken from the Rohingya, replaced with a card that indicated fewer rights. The “white cards,” created in 1982, were temporary documents that left the Rohingya in legal limbo.

Currently, the authorities urge the Rohingya to apply for a “national verification card.” The new identification card is highly criticized because of the multistep citizenship process associated with the cards. Many Rohingya, in addition, don’t feel confident that they would have “full” citizenship or basic rights with the new cards.

Nurul Hoque and his family are Rohingya refugees that are fearful of these new cards. He holds on to his grandfather’s old and frail identity card from Myanmar from before the implementation of the discriminatory citizenship laws. This old document is a reminder of a life that he and his family had left behind in Myanmar.

Nick Cheesman, a political scientist at Australian International University, describes to DW that the deprivation of citizenship among Rohingya was not a result of the 1982 law but more an inaccurate implementation of the law.

United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees and Combating Statelessness

In combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) has declared a worldwide effort to end statelessness by 2024. Around 10 million people in the world are denied citizenship, which causes many obstacles in obtaining basic rights.

To overcome statelessness, the UNHCR works with many other organizations to assemble and endorse more compelling solutions. It collaborates with other international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society groups, national human rights institutions and academic and legal associations. The United Nations General Assembly granted, through a series of resolutions in 1995, the UNHCR the formal approval to combat statelessness through identification, prevention, reduction and protection of stateless individuals.

The UNHCR believes that citizenship, or some structure of documented status within a state, is required for basic rights to be achieved. This statelessness determination status, though, is to give individuals an interim way to attain basic rights. The final goal is to end statelessness altogether.

United States Assistance to Myanmar

The United States humanitarian policy in Myanmar has been guided by the importance of protection of basic rights for refugees and asylum seekers. On September 20, 2017, the State Department allocated $28 million in humanitarian aid for displaced people in Bangladesh.

The overall objective for United States policy in Myanmar is to establish a democratically elected civilian government that recognizes human rights and civil liberties of all Myanmar citizens and residents, revealing another effort in combating statelessness for Rohingya refugees.

– Andrea Quade

Photo: Flickr

Aid to the RohingyaAt the border of Myanmar and Bangladesh, almost 700,000 people are living in makeshift refugee camps in a location called Cox’s Bazar. These people are Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar in late August due to targeted violence and persecution. Faced with such challenges, various agencies are providing aid to the Rohingya refugees.

The Rohingya are a Muslim population formerly located on the western coast of Myanmar. Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country and the Rohingya are among a small number of people who practice Islam. The minority group has endured prosecution for centuries, but a new wave of violence escalated in the summer of 2017 to levels never before witnessed in the country.

Primarily an issue of land rights, the tension between the Rohingya and the majority of Myanmar’s population has caused thousands of people to flee and cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh. After a treacherous journey across the river, refugees find themselves in a country without persecution but with no place to go.

The refugee camps are not a sustainable solution. Makeshift homes have been created out of primarily plastic and bamboo. Inadequate water and sanitation conditions persist as more and more people flee across the border. The refugees are stuck in limbo as Bangladesh does not have room for an additional 700,000 people and the prospect of going back to Myanmar is off the table for many of the refugees.

In the midst of all of this uncertainty and desperation, many international organizations are working to provide aid to the Rohingya.

Doctors Without Borders

One of the larger organizations providing aid to the Rohingya is Doctors Without Borders. The organization has been present in the camps since the beginning of the crisis in late August. At first, Doctors Without Borders focused on water, sanitation and emergency health care assistance. As the crisis continues to unfold, the organization has been adapting to the needs of the refugee community.

Mental health services have recently been offered as the trauma of the violence continues to haunt many of the Rohingya victims. Additionally, Doctors Without Borders is working with both other aid organizations and the Bengali government to address the crisis and how to proceed.

UNICEF

UNICEF is another organization working to improve camp conditions and provide aid to the Rohingya. The group is looking to move toward a more permanent solution for the refugee population. Mostly focused on proper shelter, adequate food and clean water, UNICEF also has plans to install water pumps in the future.

Another major project for UNICEF is providing vaccinations. In September, the organization set a goal to vaccinate at least 150,00 children against diseases like rubella, polio and measles.

Bracing for Rain

As spring approaches, the Rohingya refugees must brace for a new crisis. Monsoon season in Bangladesh brings the threat of floods and landslides. Cyclones are also a major threat to the area, with their primary season spanning March to June.

The U.N. is fervently working on prepping for the potential crisis. In February, U.N. agencies sent out engineering crews to clear blocked sewage canals that had the potential of overflowing during the monsoon season. Rice husks have also been distributed to refugees as an alternative to firewood.

U.N. agencies are working on relocating 100,000 refugees from the major camp at Cox’s Bazar. As monsoon season quickly approaches, all of the organizations working will need the support of the broader international community to lift up efforts to provide aid to the Rohingya.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr

MyanmarIn 2011, Myanmar, the Southeast Asian country formerly known as Burma, began to transition to a democratic form of government after previously being under military rule for decades. This transition to a civilian-led government encouraged leaders of Myanmar’s economy to open their borders to foreign investment and reintegrate the country into the global economy.

Myanmar’s Isolated Past

Despite the country’s best efforts to catch up economically, Myanmar remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. Roughly 26 percent of the population’s 55 million people lives below the poverty line. This is a result of the isolationist policies that existed for years prior to the country opening its borders to the rest of the world. As a result, Myanmar suffers from poor infrastructure, underdeveloped human resources and deeply embedded government corruption.

As the country moves to a democratic form of rule, women have been finding ways to participate in a political system that was historically headed by men. A recent push for women in government in Myanmar’s last two elections in 2010 and 2015 shows the potential for more women representation and equality for women across the country.

Women in Government

On paper, Myanmar appears to be one of the most progressive countries in Asia when it comes to women in government. In 1935, women were given equal political participation rights in the constitution. Additionally, in 1995, Myanmar endorsed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. This aimed to remove obstacles for women in both the public and private spheres of life.

However, women’s ability to participate in Myanmar’s government has been relatively limited. Sixty years of military rule kept women from participating in any capacity in the decision-making process. Even today, though Myanmar appears to be progressive when it comes to gender equality, the reality is that there are relatively few women in government compared to men. In the 2010 elections, only 6 percent of national parliamentarians were women.

It is essential to include women in the government decision-making process as Myanmar attempts to address issues of poverty within their borders. Female representatives can bring new perspectives as the country continues to develop. Many groups exist to promote the inclusion of women in politics of Myanmar. One of the many active groups is Women Can Do It.

Women Can Do It

Women Can Do It (WCDI) is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and building self-confidence in women. Across the country, women influenced by this organization are encouraged to run for office and become change-makers for their communities.

Created in 2001, well before the country’s transition to democracy, WCDI is working to create a just, peaceful and gender-equitable society in Myanmar. One of its key goals is to get women involved in the government decision-making process on issues of peace and development nationwide. This includes some of the aforementioned issues like addressing poor infrastructure, inadequate human resources, and fighting corruption.

WCDI works in five primary sectors:

  • Capacity Building
  • Research and Advocacy
  • Campaign
  • Media and Publication
  • Sisterhood Bonding

By focusing on these five sectors, WCDI educates women and pushes for more women in government across the country. The organization uses these five areas to give women a springboard from which to advance and become more involved in their communities. These efforts have great potential to improve the quality of life not only for its women, but for all of Myanmar’s citizens.

– Sonja Flancher

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in MyanmarIn 2015, the FAO recognized Myanmar as one of 72 countries that cut its population of people suffering from hunger in half, one of the Millennium Development Goals set by the U.N. The agriculture industry in Myanmar accounts for a majority of the country’s income and is its largest source of employment, so it makes sense that there are dozens of opportunities for growth in sustainable agriculture in Myanmar.

The potential for Myanmar’s agriculture to improve is strong. Though the country has one of the lowest yields in Southeast Asia, Myanmar also has some of the lowest labor costs. In order to capitalize on the opportunities provided by the current economic climate, Myanmar’s government has created a set of agricultural policies to “establish a peaceful, modern and developed country.” The 12 policies focus on furthering development, protecting and educating farmers and reducing poverty through the agriculture industry.

Sustainable agriculture in Myanmar is pioneered by a large population of small-scale rural farmers. Approximately 70 percent of the country’s population depends on agriculture for food and income, and the government is making an effort to support this population through The Law of Protection of the Farmer Rights and Enhancement of their Benefits. The law was enacted in 2013 and a Leading Body was appointed to assist Burmese farmers and enforce the regulations under the law. The Leading Body is in charge of giving loans, ensuring that farmers get reasonable payment for their products and importing technology, fertilizers, seeds, pesticides and other necessary provisions.

At this time, Myanmar’s biggest agricultural export is rice. According to the Ministry of Commerce, demand for rice produced in Myanmar is the highest it has been in 50 years. However, other major rice exporters in Southeast Asia—such as Thailand and Cambodia—are taking advantage of the rising demand for high-quality rice. Myanmar has previously capitalized on exporting to low-quality markets and thus has a history of outputting low-quality product. Going forward, sustainable agriculture in Myanmar will only continue to improve if the quality of the industry’s products improves. As the industry evolves, new strains of higher-quality rice and other cereals are slowly being introduced to Burmese farms.

Many opportunities are arising to continue the development of sustainable agriculture in Myanmar. As working conditions improve and the industry grows, Myanmar’s residents are looking at an improvement of the country’s overall economic wellness.

– Anna Sheps

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in MyanmarThere is a great need to expand Myanmar’s financial sector. Seventy percent of the country’s adults have no formal access to credit, insurance or other financial services. This leaves many of Myanmar’s citizens reliant on unregulated providers with higher costs or family and friends. However, efforts are being made to improve credit access in Myanmar.

Myanmar had credit cards more up until the country’s banking crisis in 2003. As one of the 21 banks that are Myanmar Payment Union members, Kanbawza Bank announced in May 2015 that it will be Myanmar’s first domestic bank to offer credit cards once again. “We have to manage the services within limits, and that will probably not meet the customers’ wants in the initial stage,” says U Mya Than, Myanmar Payment Union’s chairman.

Another concern is that only a few Myanmar shop owners know how to use point-of-sale machines and will often reject credit cards as a method of payment. Many Myanmar shops accept cash only, a mindset that U Mya Than believes needs to change. “People need to get used to not carrying cash and instead putting money onto their cards. Their habits may change if they can get credit,” he says.

Co-operative Bank Ltd. (CB Bank) plans to issue only secure credit cards in its first stage of helping to improve Myanmar’s credit access. CB Bank also proposed policies and procedures for its credit card program to the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM). The policies require the bank customer to have the same amount of money on their credit card as they do in their deposit account. CB Bank managing director U Pe Myint says the program will begin once the CBM approves it.

In October 2015, Myanmar’s government announced a goal for 40 percent of the country’s people to have financial services access by 2020 and for 15 percent to use more than one financial services product. The government believes that mobile phones coupled with agent cash-in and cash-out services can accelerate Myanmar’s development toward this goal. Myanmar was also reported to be the third fastest-growing mobile market in the world after India and China. Myanmar’s government is working to ensure that the right business models are put in place to allow mobile operators and subsidiaries to provide financial services.

In December 2016, the World Bank’s board of executive directors approved a $100 million credit to support Myanmar in improving access to financial services for families and small and medium-sized businesses. Myanmar’s Financial Sector Development Project aims to promote the development of a stable financial sector, including reforms to increase the provision of banking services, improved credit access in Myanmar and other financial products across the country.

“Improved access to credit will mean higher incomes and more jobs,” says Ulrich Zachau, the World Bank country director for Southeast Asia. The credit will come from the International Development Association, including credit terms for a maturity of 38 years, a six-year grace period and a 0 percent interest rate. Myanmar’s farmers, small businesses and low-income households will also benefit.

In May 2017, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) successfully supported the CBM in developing a regulation for credit reporting. The CBM also issued a regulation that provides the basis for credit reporting companies’ operations and establishment. This served as a key step toward improving credit access in Myanmar, along with helping the country’s small and medium enterprises.

“With an effective enabling environment that the enactment of this regulation brings, we hope to see the very first credit bureau come online soon,” says DawKhin Saw Oo, the CBM’s deputy governor. The IFC plans to continue supporting the CBM in strengthening its supervisory capability over credit reporting services providers. The IFC will also help the CBM educate Myanmar’s people on credit information sharing and financial consumer protection.

These efforts and others will continue to work toward making credit access in Myanmar possible. Improving the country’s financial services will play a key role in providing Myanmar’s citizens with credit access and other financial benefits. Myanmar’s growing mobile market can also help strengthen the country’s financial stability, helping more Myanmar residents have access to financial services as well.

– Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

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