Community Partners International (CPI) supported and participated in community gatherings in Myanmar and Bangladesh to mark International Women’s Day 2019 and emphasize the importance of building a gender-balanced world. In the communities where CPI works, women and girls are under-represented and continue to strive for equal rights and equitable access to opportunities and services. Violence against women and girls remains a significant problem, though often hidden by stigma and cultural norms. These gatherings were held to raise awareness of the continuing challenges faced by women and girls in these communities, to celebrate progress where it has been achieved, and to re-affirm the commitment to building gender equality.
In Myanmar, CPI helped fund and organize two events in Kayin State through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Women and Girls First Initiative. Kayin State lies in the southeast of Myanmar, a region that has only recently, and tentatively, emerged from more than six decades of civil war during which violence against women and girls was widely documented.
In Hpa-An, CPI participated in the state-level International Women’s Day event that gathered together 700 participants from local communities, women’s groups, government departments, the United Nations, international non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, universities and institutes. The event was organized by the Kayin State Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Coordination Working Group, of which CPI is an active member. Opening remarks were given by the Chief Minister of Kayin State Daw Nang Khin Htwe Myint, and followed by a series of talks exploring women’s participation in social, economic and political spheres of Myanmar society, including the ongoing peace process. Well-known local singers provided entertainment and women-led social enterprise groups displayed and sold handcrafted products.
In Lay Kaw Kaw, a new town established in 2015 in Myawaddy Township to house people displaced by conflict, CPI helped to organize a second International Women’s Day event in partnership with the Karen Department of Health and Welfare (KDHW) and the Women Organization Network (WON) Kayin. Attended by more than 100 community members, the event was held with the cooperation and participation of the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Myanmar Department of Social Welfare. Presentations made during the event focused on the current situation of women in Myanmar and explored international efforts to promote gender equality, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Representatives from CPI delivered messages on sexual and gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health. They shared information about medical, legal, and psychosocial support services available in Myawaddy Township. CPI also distributed baskets, handwoven by women from the community as part of a social enterprise initiative, containing pamphlets with this information for those attending to take away with them. The event included live musical performances, with songs honoring women, and quiz sessions to engage participants with key messages around International Women’s Day. Many of those attending commented that it was the first time that they had attended an International Women’s Day event and that they were inspired to help build gender equality in their communities.
In Bangladesh, CPI partnered with a local foundation to organize an International Women’s Day event in refugee Camp 1W of the Kutupalong Balukhali Expansion Site in Cox’s Bazar. site is home to more than 630,000 Rohingya refugees who fled ongoing violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar. In Cox’s Bazar, CPI is supporting initiatives in primary health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, sexual and gender-based violence prevention, and energy. Our flagship project focuses on training and equipping a network of more than 80 Rohingya Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) who provide the first line of care and support to their fellow refugees.
CPI’s event in Camp 1W was attended by 65 CHVs and gender-based violence prevention volunteers who wore purple bracelets to express their support for gender equality. The event program provided an overview of International Women’s Day and the importance of gender equality. Two senior community members spoke about the valuable contribution of women to the camp community and the need for greater female representation. They also emphasized the need for improved safety and security for women in the refugee camps. Participants then watched a film about women’s empowerment.
The event provided a valuable opportunity for camp-based volunteers working with CPI to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of gender equality, equal rights and equitable access to opportunities and services. They can take these messages and inspiration back to their communities in their work to provide health care, prevent violence against women and girls, and ensure access to other essential services for refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar.
CPI will continue to strive for gender equality as a core component of our work with communities in Myanmar and Bangladesh.