We were a small group of mostly women, sitting in the afternoon heat of western Burma. Khin* had travelled for two days over mountainous dirt roads to share her story with us. In an unwavering voice, she told us of the abuse she’d experienced at home, and her fear of speaking about it. She told us of the moment she discovered other women in her village living with the same fear. Khin explained how this began a slow, careful process of mobilizing and creating safe spaces where Indigenous women could support each other.
Despite living in isolated patriarchal villages, Khin and her colleagues have achieved stunning results. They surveyed over 3,000 people on domestic violence, and spoke with their communities about related customary laws. The women then successfully advocated for changes to laws, including the right for daughters to inherit property.
On the opposite side of Burma, another Indigenous women’s organization that Inter Pares supports works to improve local laws, similarly informed by their crisis support work. In 2019, as a result of their interventions, their Indigenous governance body approved sweeping changes to its criminal laws, improving legal respect for women’s rights. Changes include stronger sanctions for physical abuse and sexual violence.
These efforts to provide safe space, crisis support and legal advocacy are part of Inter Pares’collaboration with many local organizations throughout Burma that promote sexual and reproductive health and rights. Indigenous health organizations also play a central role: training traditional birth attendants and midwives, and providing family planning services. They recently began developing sex education curriculum with local teachers. In a context of legitimate fears of ethnic cleansing, all work on reproductive rights must be locally initiated and carefully conducted.
At Inter Pares, we recognize that the interconnected issues impacting sexual and reproductive health and rights require a wide range of action. Our partners in Burma are trusted local organizations that use a comprehensive approach to help thousands of women, men and children lead safer and healthier lives. We are honoured to accompany activists, social workers and healthcare providers as they work toward culture and system change – a transformative vision for gender justice that we share.
*Due to risks activists and civil society face in Burma, names have been changed or withheld to protect their identity .
Our partners in Burma are trusted local organizations that use a comprehensive approach to help thousands of women, men and children lead safer and healthier lives.