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Supporting Rohingya Women and Girls in Myanmar

 

Through our Conflict Response Fund, we are reaching women and girls in Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. 

More than 1 million Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar were chased from their homes by the army and allied militias in 2017 and in more recent crackdowns. The Rohingya refugees’ accounts of rape, murder, and mutilation continue to shock the world.

As of March 22, 2022 the U.S. formally determined that the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people by Myanmar military forces are acts of genocide.   

The 600,000 stateless Rohingya remaining in Myanmar face discrimination and overwhelming human rights abuses. Women and girls are especially at risk.

Through our partnership with the Center for Social Integrity (CSI), a locally registered NGO, we are supporting Rohingya women and adolescent girls to improve their basic literacy, numeracy, and skills, and to build their capacity to become more meaningfully engaged within their communities. 

Empowering Rohingya Communities Through the Teaching of Women and Girls 

To date, we have trained and mentored 6 local teachers and provided 30 women and 75 girls a free education they would otherwise not receive.  

Attendance in these programs alone is a revolutionary declaration to families and communities that Rohingya women and girls have the right to leave their homes.

Rohingya women in Myanmar meet at a community learning center for Foundational Life Skills
Rohingya women in Myanmar meet at a CSI community learning center for literacy and numeracy training.

The Rohingya population remaining in Myanmar either live in government-controlled detention camps, or in outlying villages under severe restrictions.  

Conservative cultural and traditional norms within the Rohingya community also prevent access to education for most adolescent girls and women, and they are often secluded within their homes. At CSI’s community learning centers, women and girls have the opportunity to gather together, sometimes for the first time in their lives. They also learn and develop skills, which empowers them to play a more active role in their families and communities.   

"The role of women is defined as a homemaker and a mother in our community. Mostly, girls don’t get a chance to study after puberty which makes them vulnerable in every aspect of their lives," writes Maria, a Rohingya medical doctor.  

Through CSI’s project in Northern Rakhine State, advocacy meetings are held with parents and religious leaders to explain the importance of education for women and girls and rebuilding their communities. Changing traditional perceptions around the role of women is a difficult process, and lengthy conversations to address community concerns are a necessary part of the program.

Training Teachers Leads to Wider Community Acceptance 

The program hired and trained local community teachers able to speak both the Rakhine and Rohingya languages in September and October 2021. Mentoring continued during the educational sessions that followed at CSI’s community learning centers in Min Ga Lar Gyi, Shwe Zar, and Pan Taw Pyin.  

The teachers were enthusiastic and constantly strived to improve their implementation of lessons and deepen their community connections. Their devotion to the students and their parents not only increased student engagement but also acceptance of the women’s and girls’ education program by the community. 

Myat, a 23-year-old teacher, credits her Women for Women International-funded training for not only improving her skills and giving her more confidence to teach in remote areas but also how to teach social problem-solving. 

“When I learned about social cohesion, I realized that we need to have good relationships with people from a different community, and respect each other in order to create a peaceful society. When I compare myself before I joined the CSI program and after, I have changed and now I am good at tolerance and communication. I am now a good teacher for my students,” Myat said.  

In February 2022 local teacher training resumed with further emphasis on social cohesion, gender awareness and inclusion, women’s empowerment, gender inclusion, women's health and hygiene, and gender-based violence. 

Weaving Change for Rohingya Women and Girls 

Classes to enhance literacy, numeracy and life skills for both women and girls began in November 2021. All students received books, pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, rulers, T-shirts and umbrellas.  

The foundational skills classes for 30 Rohingya women met 2-3 hours per day 5 afternoons per week to cover basic numeracy and literacy. While 41% improved their reading and writing skills and 27% improved their numeracy skills, the classes made important contributions to breaking down social restrictions.

Rohingya girls in Myanmar gather to learn life skills from local teachers.
Rohingya girls in Myanmar gather to learn life skills from local teachers.

Life skills classes for adolescent girls met 3 hours per day, 5 mornings per week. The classes covered: 

  • Social cohesion 
  • Civic and environmental education 
  • Sustainable livelihoods 
  • Health 
  • Family management 
  • Women’s empowerment 

Habiba, a 13-year-old student in the program who had to drop out of school after third grade due to the 2017 conflict, dreams of being as educated as her teacher. She also reported learning how to communicate better with people. 

“If different societies live together peacefully and have good relationships, we will be able to solve every problem with better solutions and we can learn from each other’s culture and language,” Habiba said.   

Along with our partner, Women for Women International will continue to encourage Rohingya women and girls to further their education, and to challenge existing social norms that prevent them from doing so. 
 

Woman has arms wrapped around child in her lap

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