During one of my visits to a Women and Girls Centre in Myitkyina, a displaced Kachin woman told me a very personal story of how she and her husband transformed their relationship.
The woman had become more aware about gender inequality and how she was experiencing this when she began attending the Women and Girls Centre that had opened close to her camp. The way she chose to share her new insights with her husband was at a most intimate time of day: at bedtime. She would tell stories that challenged gender roles, and these turned into conversations. One day she found her husband doing the washing up after dinner, and as time went on they started sharing more and more household chores. The intimate bedtime dialogue connected them. And that connection made them more attuned to each other and the needs of the other. Most of all, it gave a new meaning to reaching her full potential and it opened up space for her to consider new possibilities and have the ambition to pursue these.
I’ve thought of her story often, because it shows that the desire for and realization of personal transformation can stem from the empathy that intimacy and emotional connection brings. Women’s path to gender equality and empowerment may often begin like this story - through experiences, relationships and negotiations in the home and in the community.
However, for these to flourish, there needs to be clear and strong policy and political backing at every step.
As Myanmar transforms as a country, so do the perceptions and views of its people. This year’s annual report provides many facets of the journey to gender equality. It tells a story of widening horizons for women, of women being capable in their own right. It is also a story of women fulfilling their reproductive rights, and of couples having access to family planning choices. Modern contraception brings hope that women no longer need to die in silence when giving life.
Family planning is inextricably connected to gender equality. Women’s empowerment can start in the home but must not be confined to there. The awakening must be political as well as personal, and both women and men need to experience the full force of political will and progressive policies.
Census data shows that Myanmar can harness a demographic dividend if it invests in young people. Myanmar can also generate a gender dividend by paving the way for more women to enter the workforce. When given equal rights to education, jobs, credit and land, women can benefit from as well as to contribute to Myanmar’s prosperity. With women playing a crucial role in economic growth, Myanmar can harness a double dividend – both youth and gender.
UNFPA Representative for Myanmar