Burma: Bringing Grassroots Experience to Canadian Policy

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Women from Burma
Four colleagues from Burma on the front steps of Parliament after providing their testimony: Pippa Curwen, Wahkushee Tenner, Jessica Nhkum, Inter Pares staff Rebecca Wolsak, and Htwe Htwe.Credit: Kevin Malseed

We much appreciate your coming by and providing us with testimony. You’ve given us a lot of insight.” With these words, Member of Parliament Scott Reid, Chair of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, closed the meeting. He was thanking four colleagues from Inter Pares’ Burma program and two staff who had just testified on the current situation in Burma.

In March of 2015, Inter Pares hosted this delegation of four women to meet with Canadians originally from Burma, other members of the public, First Nations organizations, and activists from Colombia, Sudan, and Canada. Each meeting was a chance to hear about people facing similar struggles, and to share camaraderie and strategies.

Each discussion was an opportunity to provide insight into what is happening in the daily lives of people in Burma’s ethnic states, and to contrast these stories to the headlines that occasionally reach Canada. And in each meeting with Members of Parliament, Senators, and civil servants, the women took the opportunity to offer policy recommendations.

During her testimony to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights, Wahkushee Tenner from the Women’s League of Burma spoke of the continued impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. She asked Canada to call for an international investigation into human rights violations in Burma, particularly related to military sexual violence, and to provide support to local civil society.

Upon returning to their communities, the women reflected on their time in Canada and noted the value of interacting directly with Canadian policy makers. Htwe Htwe from the Karenni Safe House had never travelled internationally before. She felt it had been important for her to share her experiences of providing legal and counselling support to survivors of violence. She summarized the trip’s impact on her, saying “now I feel more powerful.”

Exposure trips such as these are integral to Inter Pares’ approach. Better-informed policy makers in Canada and empowered community workers in Burma are both key drivers for social change.

Our impact

Each discussion was an opportunity to provide insight into what is happening in the daily lives of people in Burma’s ethnic states

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