Diakonia - People change the world
In my community people always used to say that women can't be leaders. Now I know they are wrong, says Saw Neldar.

"We need to change the mindset of people"

When Saw Neldar first heard of a training course on gender roles and gender-based violence, he wasn’t at all interested; however, a friend convinced him to attend. Now, he is working as a volunteer, promoting gender justice and trying to change men’s behaviour in Myanmar.

“There are very many cases of gender-based violence in Myanmar, including child rape. Therefore, it’s important to raise awareness of the consequences and to try to reduce its occurrence.”

Gender-based violence is closely linked to culture and tradition in Myanmar and is widespread. Therefore, Diakonia’s partner organization, the Women’s Organizations Network (WON), is focusing on raising community awareness of the concept of gender and the nature of gender-based violence and its effects on people’s lives. WON also informs people about the laws and conventions that protect women.

Has volunteered as a peer educator

“Now, I understand that gender-based violence has a huge impact on the lives of women and children, and I think that we all have a responsibility to end it,” says Saw Neldar.

Saw Neldar has volunteered as a peer educator in a project that aims to end gender-based violence in his community. His awareness of the problem and his dedication to doing something about it are the results of his attending one of WON’s training courses.

Has already seen changes

Saw Neldar has started talking to almost everyone he meets about the issues. He has asked his close friends to respect women and to stop teasing them in the street. He has even talked to his parents and relatives about the different types of gender-based violence. As a result of his discussions with them, his parents realised that they were both physically and verbally violent towards each other. 

“After our discussion, I noticed that they started to change their behaviour.” says Saw Neldar.

Talks about myths around menstruation

Saw Neldar has also gained knowledge about women’s reproductive health, a theme surrounded by myths in his society. He remembers his own mother telling his younger sister to take traditional medicine (kay-thi-pan) in order to clean her blood. The women in his family also used to avoid washing their hair during their periods, as they believed it might stop the menstruation and leave dirty blood in the uterus, which could cause cancer.

“Now, I know that menstruation involves nothing but clean blood from the body and I have told my mother, sister, and cousins to stop this practice.

Is gaining more respect in the community

For a man, raising gender issues and topics related to women’s rights is not always easy. Sometimes Saw Neldar has to put up with teasing and jokes about being gay.

“But I try not to listen and stick to the facts, and I’m gaining more respect in the community now.”

Story told to Nang San Kham, programme officer at Diakonia in Myanmar.