Diakonia - People change the world
Sandi Soe Oo and daughter Sandi Soe Oo together with her daughter.

Gender equality and peace go hand in hand

“I’m convinced that gender equality and peace go together. If there is equality in the family, the peaceful atmosphere will spread out into the world.” These are the words of Sandi Soe Oo, from Myanmar, who after having been imprisoned for her political involvement, started to work against gender-based violence and for women’s rights.

Sandi Soe Oo knows that peace is something that must be fought for, in the home and in the wider world. Twice she has been imprisoned for her peaceful protests under Myanmar’s military rule. The last time was during the Saffron Revolution, which took place over a few months in autumn 2007. And it was her time in prison that made her get involved politically.

Formed a group working against violence

Sandi Soe Oo wanted to support other women who had been in prison and started to educate herself on gender equality, gender-based violence and women’s legal rights. She also helped to form a group to work against gender-based violence. It is supported by Diakonia’s partner organization, Thingaha Gender Organization.

That was three years ago. Now the group – which includes both women and men – is working on training in neighbouring municipalities.

“Usually women in Myanmar don’t think they can do the same things as men, but once they have attended our training, they believe they can. That is the best thing about our training, that we change people’s attitudes,” says Sandi Soe Oo.

The headteacher changed his mind

Then she talks about the woman who thought about ending her daughter’s schooling because her daughter would be getting married anyway. The woman changed her mind after attending a course. And she talks about the headteacher who didn’t think that girls should climb trees or wear trousers. The headteacher changed his mind after gaining more information.

Besides the training courses, Sandi Soe Oo supports female victims of violence by offering them advice and legal aid.

“Many women who are the victims of violence don’t even understand that this is violence. My friend was abused by her husband but she thought it was his right to hit her.”

Sandi Soe Oo was 18 when she married and her husband was often unfaithful and treated her badly. They lived apart for many years and eventually divorced.

“I was very sad when I thought my children would grow up without their father. I didn’t talk to anyone and stayed at home for almost two months.”

A fantastic role model

Sandi Soe Oo’s daughter, who is studying at university, says that she saw her mother’s bruises and knows that her father abused her mother before they divorced.

“We need equality, everyone needs equality. My mother is a fantastic role model. She has given me more than two parents could.”

Sandi Soe Oo says that she wants women and girls to realize that they are just as capable as men.

“I want to educate them on gender issues and on the rights that they have. And I will continue to help women and girls to be free from violence in the ways I can.”