Livelihoods: Supporting Women and Peace

Ja Bawk & Ja Ring Aung, making traditional hats
Written by Dustin Barter and Nhkum Naw Mai/ Oxfam in Myanmar

Displaced people in Kachin lost not only all their belongings, they left behind their most important economic asset – their land. Displaced people are predominantly from agricultural backgrounds. They now live in urban camps, and with no land and no capital, earning income is a constant struggle. While men often travel for work, women are left to care for children, facing challenges alone.

Supporting tens of thousands of displaced people, Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) uses an integrated approach to these challenges, as part of the Durable Peace Programme. As part of this support, economic planning and skills training is delivered. Groups are formed (usually a majority of or solely women), business plans developed, capital provided, and businesses launched. Every step is an opportunity for more than earning incomes. Groups are building solidarity. Inter-ethnic groups build relations. Women are prioritised to address their specific needs. A hat-making group in Myitkyina elaborates how this plays out in practice:

“We chose hats because we are all mothers and have to look after our children. Hat making is easy to do at home. We also have good skills and can make hats while doing other things around the house, such as looking after children.

The main problem we had was a lack of capital. We leave hats with retailers, but then need to make more. We needed extra capital, so that we could leave enough hats with different retailers, while continuing to make more for sale. The business is going very well – we are getting many orders. We struggle to provide the full amounts that are being requested.

We spent the grant money on tools, like scissors, and the materials. We initially made 300 hats and sent them out to different retailers. The retailers pay half now and half when the hats are sold… We have each made profit, while putting about 80,000 Kyat back into the group fund.

The group is all women. This is better because we all want to work from home, whereas if the group had men, we might have to travel. There is good solidarity in the group with different ethnic groups (Jinghpaw and Lisu). We also make different tribes’ hats to promote different ethnic groups. People appreciate all the different styles, which is why we are getting many different orders.”

Earning an income may be the priority, but KBC’s integrated approach demonstrates the potential for livelihoods to also be a conduit for supporting gender equality and inter-ethnic harmony. This is only the beginning as the group explains:

“We want to expand further and maybe start a company. Then we can create jobs for more women. We will need more capital and to build relationships with more shops.”

The 3.5 year Durable Peace Programme is funded through a seven million Euro EU grant and implemented by a consortium of KBC, KMSS, Metta, Nyein, Oxfam, SwissAid and Trócaire.