It is something of a cliché that most professionals working on gender in development are women; this includes the majority of our Gender and Social Equity Focal Persons. Whilst there are many sound reasons for women to be particularly interested in the topic, it is always good to have male colleagues engaged too; indeed in some countries the Focal Person role is shared between a man and a woman. In Myanmar, our GSE Focal Person, Myo San Aung, shares the role with no-one else. He is proud, he says, to promote gender equality in his work – sharing with me a picture of his baby daughter and his hopes for her future as a personal motivation. He also noted that the team in Myanmar is particularly diverse in terms of ethnicity as well as gender – something that has been deliberately promoted in the selection procedure.
Last week Myo San Aung was briefly in our Head Office after a training in Switzerland. His programme included a lunchtime talk about the project on which he works, Skills for Rural Livelihood Development (S4RLD), which was one of the first interventions by HELVETAS in Myanmar. The project focuses on equipping disadvantaged, generally landless individuals in the Dry Zone (Magwe Region), many of whom practice seasonal labour migration to the coastal areas during the off season, when there is little agricultural or other work available. Skills training is offered to young men and women to assist them in gaining jobs or self-employment close to home, as well as better preparing them for work in the coastal belt, should they choose to migrate. Internal seasonal migration, incidentally, is a strategy of landless and other disadvantaged individuals in many of the countries in which we work – posing particular development challenges (part of the community absent over significant periods of the year) and opportunities (different geographical intervention points; potential earnings for investment in the place of origin). A study on this phenomenon in Myanmar, conducted in 2013, helped to orientate the country programme and was also widely appreciated by other development organisations.
The skills training supported by the S4RLD project covers occupations such as weaving, dress-making, hairdressing, production of organic fertilizers, mechanics, and simple electronics. The focus is on practical skills matched to an analysis of the job market and employer expectations. According to Myo San Aung, there is some local distrust in technical training offered by private institutions that has provided certificates but no jobs. Thus it has been important to gain community understanding and support. The project works through so-called Village Development Committees (VDCs), comprising three to five trained men and women (always a mix). They provide advice and awareness-raising, including life skills for would-be migrants. Topics covered include health, sanitation and hygiene; avoiding the risk of human trafficking; and local governance issues (knowing ones rights and how to exercise them). The project also supports thematic peer groups of young men and women for joint learning; theatrical performances such as the one shown in the photograph are one means used to put across information in an accessible manner. Within such groups it has also been found important to create particular “women only” spaces for women to discuss issues important to them, without the interruption or indeed presence of men.
Although the S4RLD is a relatively small project, it has the great potential of being able to link with a larger coastal development project that HELVETAS recently started to implement on behalf of SDC, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. This project, the Community Led Coastal Management in the Gulf of Mottama Project, CLCMGoMP, is situated in the zone to which many internal migrants head when seeking jobs. Thus it is hoped to work with the migrants both at their point of departure and their point of arrival, supporting them through the full migration cycle.