Monday, September 25, 2017

Counsellors combat gender-based violence in Kachin IDP camps

“My husband forced me to have sex when I was pregnant. He threatened to beat me if I refused. He put me through hell,” said the woman.

A gender-based violence case manager speaks with a woman at a Kachin IDP camp. Phoot: UNFPA / Yenny GammingA gender-based violence case manager speaks with a woman at a Kachin IDP camp. Phoot: UNFPA / Yenny Gamming

Daw Lu Bu, a case manager at the Metta Foundation, an organisation combating gender-based violence (GBV), was able to help the woman. “She suffered so much, she didn’t have the strength to continue her marriage. We asked the village elders to help her get a divorce. Now she’s living with her two children in a safe place. The community supported her efforts to escape from her abusive husband.”

Sexual violence can occur even in a marriage, says Daw Lum Nai. She was speaking at a recent gender-based violence awareness event at the Mainar IDP camp in Waingmaw township, Kachin State.

Gender-based violence can include physical, mental or social abuse, attempted or threatened with some type of force – including coercion, manipulation, deception, cultural expectations, weapons or economic circumstances, she told the assembled crowd.

In conflict-affected Kachin State, the Metta Foundation is fighting gender-based violence with support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). They have established eight centres where IDP girls and women can access GBV experts for advice in government- and non-government zones of Waingmaw township.

“Domestic violence and trafficking are the worst forms of GBV in our area. We raise awareness by training, running an empowerment program for girls and women to show that GBV is preventable. We provide support services for the survivors,” said coordinator Daw Hkawng Nan.

Gender-based violence happens behind closed doors. Shame and social pressures keep women from speaking out. But the seeds of change are being sown.

In the Nantsanyam camp, the IDPs express their feelings through dance and song.

Ko Thaung Lay, 39, who attended the September 14 training program, told The Myanmar Times, “This is the first time I’ve come. They told me that partners in a marriage should respect each other. A wife is not her husband’s property, and her consent is essential.”

He added, “The training helps to build peace within the household and the family. I’ve learned that sharing household duties is also essential to build a happy marriage, even though the traditional view is that carrying water or washing clothes is a woman’s job. Men are ashamed to do it.”

The foundation started its GBV awareness programs here in 2014, with four staff and two male volunteers in each centre at 11 IDP camps in Waingmaw township.

“Most of the funding for UNFPA’s GBV activities comes from donor countries that take a special interest in the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Myanmar. The main donors are Australia, Finland, Italy, Sweden and the UK,” said Yenny Gamming, a media and communication specialist with UNFPA Myanmar.

Initially, the program was for females only. But later the women said men’s awareness should be raised too. Now men also participate in the courses, and male volunteers join the fight against gender-based violence.

Ko Zau Seng Naw, 21, who lives at the Myoma IDP camp, said, “I’ve been working as a volunteer for about four months. We discuss GBV in our society. We listened to the men’s opinions about gender equality and engaged with the problem of violence in the community. I’m so happy when my job enables me to make a difference.”

Daw Aye Than, who has lived in the Waingmaw camp for five years, said, “It’s about opening people’s minds. Many people who were willing to go to the training say they’ve found ways to solve their problems. The women know men don’t have the right to beat their wives when they’re drunk.”

The program explains what gender-based violence is, and how to prevent and survive it, said coordinator Daw Hkawng Nan. “We encouraged the women to come to us for solutions, and to speak to us in confidence. I don’t discuss their cases even with the centre manager.”

Now the community wants the trainers to work not just with the IDPs but also with the larger community. “Local residents and village heads want training in women’s empowerment,” said U Aung Htwe, a male volunteer at Nantsamyam IDP camp.

There are few laws to support efforts to fight gender-based violence, however.

Daw Seng Hkham, the GBV coordinator of Metta Foundation, said, “There’s no special law against gender-based violence. We need prevention policies and programs that include protection, services and justice support for survivors of violence.”

A police officer attached to the GBV training said the police needed more female officers and more trained officers to handle these cases. “Response services should be put in place to ensure that women have access to justice,” she said.

This article as been updated to correct the spelling of Metta Foundation. The Myanmar Times regrets the error.