Finland supports the rights of women and girls in Myanmar’s conflict areas
Finland will continue its support for the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) Women and Girls First (WGF) Programme in Myanmar. The project promotes the rights of women and girls in conflict areas. Finland’s support for the project in 2020–2022 is EUR 4 million.
UNFPA’s project in Myanmar helps women in the conflict areas to realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and prevents and reduces sexual and gender-based violence (GBV). The aim is to change norms in society so that women and girls would be able to demand and have equal rights, especially in emergency situations.
Finland has supported UNFPA’s project together with Sweden and Australia since 2016. In 2020–2022, the project will be funded together with Finland, Sweden, Germany, the EU, Italy, Switzerland and Australia. The total funding of the project is USD 20 million.
The position of women and girls in Myanmar’s conflict areas is particularly difficult. Rape and other sexual violence have been part of the military operations especially in the Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States.
People in the conflict-affected areas suffer from limited availability of sexual and reproductive health services, and gender-based violence is common and generally accepted in these areas.
“Women are particularly vulnerable to violence in conflict areas. The need for support services, work aiming to reduce violence against women, and sexual and reproductive health services are greatly needed in Myanmar, where civil war has lasted over 70 years.” says Riikka Laatu, Finland’s Ambassador to Myanmar.
The project has been successful
Despite the difficult circumstances and constantly changing security situation, the project has reached good results. In 2016–2019, approximately 340,000 women, most of whom are also victims of violence, were offered sexual and reproductive health services. The project has also supported 62 safe spaces for women and their activities.
One of the beneficiaries and clients of the shelter is a 19-year-old single mother who was pregnant. She tells about the importance of such basic hygiene products as soap, a comb, toothpaste, washing powder, and new underwear.
“I have regained my self-esteem and feel myself appreciated again,” she says.
The project supports also awareness raising of women’s rights and reducing violence against women through sessions targeted separately to women, men and youth. In connection with the project, 3,600 police officers and law enforcement officials have received training.
COVID-19 has brought additional challenges
The spread of the coronavirus pandemic to camps for internally displaced people has further complicated the working environment. In Myanmar there have been only about 600 officially confirmed cases. However, the number of cases has been increasing rapidly especially in Rakhine, and measures to contain the virus and travel restrictions have made working in the area more difficult than before.
The state of emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has also increased violence against women.
The author of this article works as Senior Specialist for Development Policy at the Embassy of Finland in Myanmar.