Myanmar’s youth call out ‘shadow pandemic’ of violence
Youth leaders in Myanmar are working together to stop community violence, focusing on gender-based violence, intimate partner violence, forced early marriage and bullying in schools, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic isolation.
Recorded incidents of gender-based violence in Myanmar during the first quarter of 2020 increased by approximately 32 percent from the previous quarter. Many of these violent incidents (77 per cent) were committed by a victim’s partners.
“The situation for youth, especially girls in Myanmar is different from many other countries in the world. Girls are often oppressed, as they have been told what to do and how to behave by their families from a young age. This can inhibit girls from reaching their potential,” observes youth leader and mentor Chye Ju Naw, 21, from Myitkyina in Kachin State.
Chye Ju Naw understands the pressures that can occur between couples that enter into relationships at a young age.
“Boys hear from their friends that if they are in a relationship, they should be having sex. This can often lead to forced early marriage if the couple’s community becomes aware of the intimate relationship. According to local social and cultural beliefs, marrying will protect the girl’s dignity,” explains Chye Ju Naw.
Research in Kachin State and Myanmar more broadly shows that intimate partner violence is frequent in adolescent relationships. The specific drivers of physical violence can include stress from lack of job opportunities and disobeying a partner’s controlling behaviour, which is especially apparent among couples that marry at a young age . Both girls and boys display controlling behaviours however it is mostly girls who are on the receiving end of violent repercussions.
At times of social isolation, such as during the pandemic, girls and young women become more vulnerable to different forms of violence. Youth and children living in areas of economic disadvantage and conflict, such as camps for internally displaced people are at a heightened risk of violence, neglect, exploitation and abuse.
In Myanmar and globally, incidents of gender-based violence and violence against children have increased with the spread of COVID-19 in what is now being called the ‘shadow pandemic’. In response, UNICEF, with the funding support from the Government of Canada, and together with Plan International and Karuna Mission Social Solidarity (Myitkyina) are collaborating to empower youth across Myanmar, particularly those living in remote areas, areas of economic disadvantage and in communities affected by conflict. They are supporting the training of 125 youth leaders across Myanmar, who in turn are working in small groups of seven of their peers from their communities, to share the key messages of these pressing issues. The campaign is a call to action, to inspire youth to stand up and call out acts of oppression and violence against their peers. The group sessions offer a safe, online space for youth, particularly girls, to confide in and support one another. A total of 1,000 youth are engaging actively with the discussions.
Chye Ju Naw believes that discussing and uncovering difficult social issues such as gender-based violence is essential, for everyone to feel safe and free.
“The girls begin to understand, they realise what is happening. This campaign motivates them to speak up,” says the keen leader. “I think there is an important role for men and boys to play in changing attitudes toward gender-based violence. More boys need to join the sessions to get educated on this challenging topic and become involved in peer support.”
Chye Ju Naw says, “I really enjoy enabling others and the active peer discussions we have, everyone sharing our points of view together. These sessions give me strength and determination”.
In Myanmar alone the campaign has reached over 1.2 million people who together, join the fight against the shadow pandemic that it is spreading across the world.
“We hope others will be inspired by UNICEF’s commitment and journey, as we join forces to accelerate gender equality, support and protect women and girls. No matter who they are, no matter where they are,” says UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore.