When Women Become Leaders
Author: Yee Mon Oo, Communications and Media Coordinator, Oxfam in Myanmar
Myint Myint Kyi is fifty years old and lives in a small village called Kyone Kan along a creek of the Delta river, in Pyapon Township.Ayeyawaddy region. She is known to her friends as Ma Ma.
The Delta is a wide river running through Myanmar’s Ayeyawaddy region fisher folks and others who live along Myanmar’s Delta are severely affected by seasonal flooding, cyclones and risks to safe water sources and sanitation as a result. Oxfam and partners work with communities in the Delta to build their capacity to respond to risks of disasters. Ensuring women are empowered to participate is key to preventing and reducing the risk of flooding and cyclones in the Delta region. Oxfam in Myanmar’s ECHO funded DipECHO consortium project works with communities on to promote women’s participation and leadership in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and to ensure that the voices of women and children are better reflected in disaster preparedness plans in the Delta and Rakhine.
As part of this project, Ma Ma took part in women’s leadership and capacity building on DRR training. “Women, who thought village development was not their concern, became proactive initiators in reconstructing the village pond fence and repairing village roads after the training” says Ma Ma. “Those women used to stay in the house and did not have the confidence to speak out about their opinions and difficulties. The training helped them to practice public speaking and built their confidence because they had to discuss their opinions and thoughts during the training.”
In Ma Ma’s view, the really significant change from the DipECHO project was how women from the village who had benefitted from the training began to engage in community work and challenge the conventional view that their only role must be in the home, caring for their families.
“Before, when I went around the village and asked other women to work on social activities with me, they would run away. The reason was that their mother or father didn’t want them to be involved in those kinds of activities – because of the social norms on how women should behave” She said. “After they attended the trainings, many of them proactively participate in village development work, and lead discussions” Ma Ma recounted her own experience of becoming empowered to engage in community activities: “My husband dismissed me from the home because he thought my social activities affected my family responsibilities. So I moved to live in a relative’s house in this village to continue my social work.” she smiles and laughs. “Now my husband supports me for my social activities because he saw the
work I have done and the successes I achieved and understood that I made the change” She said. Ma Ma is now leading several village committees aimed at protecting the village against the risk of seasonal flooding and cyclones. Becoming a woman leader in a village as a woman where social norms are accepted without question is not a painless path reflects Ma Ma. She has had to fight against the mainstream social norms and faced many struggles in her family and within the community in her journey to be recognized as a legitimate woman village leader. Currently, she is leading almost all committees in the village and also ten household lead of her village.
“If women are being left behind, nothing will be achieved. Men and women working together can produce better results. Women should not be made to do housework only, they should also be able to lead for their communities. I became a leader not because I want to be a leader but because I want to work for others. Please come and lead, don’t just stay home and take care of children and husbands” Ma Ma urges other women.