Bold with Confidence
Ma Kyi Pyar speaking in the parliament/ Photo source: Ma Kyi Pyar's Facebook account
“I have self-confidence. I have done several jobs. As I believe I need education in order to be smart with courage, I attended several training courses. I am confident that I can do anything”. Ma Kyi Pyar is a Member of Parliament, one of a totals of 18 women MPs in the Yangon region.
Ma Kyi Pyar is well known for her discussions in parliament on the Yangon region's financial matters and urban development issues, as well as for her work in her constituency - Kyauktada Township. "Since I was a child, I have never felt frightened, just because of being a female. My life experience and being trusted by my parents played a vital role in me becoming who I am today. In our culture, parents prohibit daughters a lot, which in turn makes them lack confidence. Whether it is girl or boy, they are the same. I believe they all should have the same opportunities to go through their life journey.”
Growing up, Ma Kyi Par was a top student and her childhood dream was to be an engineer. However, due to Myanmar education policy that differentiates admission marks of females and males, she had to give up on realizing this goal. Although her matriculation mark was higher than the admission for males, it was two marks lower than female’s admission requirement to the engineering college. However, she was not discouraged, it was a push instead. “As I can’t be an engineer, I decided that I must achieve at least 7 degrees”.
Ma Kyi Pyar's childhood was not just about studying at school. As her parents were civil servants, they were not well-off. She started her first job after her matriculation exam, while she was pursuing her first degree from the University of Distance Education. “I used my own income for my education. Since the age of 16 until I was 23, I worked at restaurants and companies. As I love teaching, I taught children in my free time whilst I was attending trainings. When I joined the Master of English class in 2006, I left the regular paid jobs. I taught classes to earn money whilst studying for my M.A.” As Ma Kyi Pyar had set her mind to, she has obtained 7 degrees, including B.A. English, Diplomas, M.A. English, Master of Business Administration (MBA), and Master of Public Administration (MPA).
"I love reading, especially history books. I became interested in politics in part because of my educational journey. When I read international books in the curriculum, there were references to other countries, including Thailand. But Myanmar was not referenced. I realized our country is not well-known and felt sorry for it. I also applied for a job in Singapore after I got my M.A, but I did not get it because my M.A from Myanmar was not fully recognized. I felt I should be involved in politics, to change the country’s system that put our county in such a situation”. She explained the beginning of her political journey: “My father is a politician and he used to tell me about history and revolutions. I myself also participated in the Saffron Revolution. I witnessed gun-shots; people were fleeing, and I had to flee too.” Her participation in political movements started in 2007, and she got involved with party politics in 2010. In 2012, she was elected as the secretary of the NLD party's Tamwe Township, then she threw herself fully into party politics.
“I went to 3 townships in the countryside for the election campaign in 2012. Since then, I wanted to become an MP. There are a lot of needs in villages in Tha Nat Pin and Myung Mya Townships. During the campaign, I realized that many people have a lack of knowledge or interest in politics. Some didn’t have an education. I felt I wanted to be an MP; I wanted to raise awareness; I wanted to work for improving the lives of the people.” Wanting to push for further change, she decided to run as an MP in the 2015 general election. Her initial plan was to be a Pyithu Hluttaw representative, but her plan changed as her party assigned her to run for the regional parliament, representing Kyauktada Township.
Since she was competing in a different constituency, there were challenges at the beginning. But with her confidence and bold speeches, she broke through all the obstacles. Finally, she was elected as a regional MP representing the area no.1 of Kyauktada Township.
“At the beginning, people from my constituency seemed to have some doubts about me, as a youth and a woman, whether I would be able to do the job well. I could solve problems because I was a teacher and I know how to speak properly. I realized that they have doubts toward women being in politics. There were only few women involved during the party’s reform. People have deeply rooted perspectives that women should be in the supporting role, and men should be taking charge at the front.”
In Myanmar, people often believe that women don’t belong in politics, because of deeply rooted social and traditional norms, barriers, and patriarchal systems. For any person to be able to participate meaningfully in politics, they are required to have the capacity and confidence, and their families' support and an enabling environment play vital roles. Such supports are much more important for women, as they face greater challenges and barriers than men, because of social norms, and Ma Kyi Pyar has proven that those supports can help shape good leaders.
“My father encouraged me to be a politician. My brothers and colleagues from Tamwe township encouraged me. My environment was an advantage. My husband takes responsibility for household chores and the family business. His support plays a vital role in my political journey. And, I worked with self-confidence”.
Women face continuous challenges even after reaching leadership roles, as society observes and judges them, asking: “will a woman be able to do, is that possible”. Such questions are one of the challenges women continue to face, thus needing to strive and overcome a lot in their leadership journey. “According to records, female MPs work so hard; even harder than male MPs. I think the reason they work so hard is to evade underestimation and thoughts that women can’t do their job well.”
Ma Kyi Pyar worked actively for the Yangon region as an MP and achieved good outcomes. “I read audit reports carefully. The previous government made contracts with very low amount for rental fees. As the government could negotiate with businesses now, the region's income has increased. Because we were able to ask questions in parliament, the public can access information that they should know. We asked questions in parliament to generate revenues. The government also worked to their best. Thus, the budget has increased. For example, I was able to ask question the parliament about the tender price for highway bus stations which was 2,000 million kyats before, and now it is 18,000 million kyats and the public got to know about it. I feel satisfied with what I have done: I was also able to discuss budgets and legislation; and continue my work for the people in the constituency”.
Ma Kyi Pyar wants more women in politics and for those women to play leadership roles. “Parents and family should not control girls and women, but rather pave the way for them. Extra support is required for women. Women need more support as often they haven’t had the opportunity to participate in politics. Within political parties, women should have opportunities to lead and manage, instead of being in reception roles. Women might have some limitations, as they have been discriminated against for a long time. So, everyone should support women. Women also must be confident. If you want to be a leader in any field, you should think whether you really want to. In an MPs’ life, having a hair-knot and wearing a shawl is not enough. You need to prepare yourself to be acknowledged by people. You must prepare, and work-hard. What I want to say to women is to trust in yourself.”
Disclaimer: All photos used in this story are taken from Ma Kyi Pyar's Facebook account with her permission.
Written by: Yee Mon Oo, Advocacy and Campaigns Coordinator, Oxfam in Myanmar
This story is produced under the project "Strengthening Women's Political Participation and Leadership project" Oxfam in Myanmar and Phan Tee Eain, with support from SIDA and Oxfam Novib.