Friday, December 20, 2013

Girls & Women

A friend of mine was concerned about the girls of Burma and wanted to learn how they were faring. Here is what I have seen or found out.



Girls are welcome in Burma's schools. I saw many in the traditional green and white uniforms with bright yellow hair ribbons. Girls can go through the mandatory primary school years and move on to middle school and high school and then join a university at 16 or 17. However, the education situation in the villages isn't all that good for anybody and about 2/3 -3/4 of all children in areas of ethnic conflict drop out of school before fifth grade. More on that in a future post.


The seminary we visited started as a women's Bible school and still has more female than male students and many go onto the Myanmar Institute of Theology to earn an M.Div. I am not aware of the student bodies of other schools, but my sense was that women were involved. 


Throughout our stay, we saw women in a variety of roles -- immigration workers, airport guards, gas station attendants, waitresses, cashiers, tourist
Exhibition guide who was
intrigued by Jordan
guides, travel agents, store owners, Bhuddist nuns, seamstresses, photographers, nurses, university lecturers and pastors. Women serve in the government and have the ability to interact with government. In fact, the person from the P.K. Baptist Conference who speaks to government officials when injustices arise is a woman and she is both respected and effective.  Generally, we saw girls and women moving around without fear. A government publication noted that women are safe in Myanmar and indeed we never felt threatened on the streets.


Unfortunately, it is not all good news. We also saw women begging, often with small children in their laps. I have read that when families can’t afford school fees for all of their children that girls are more likely to lose out on education than boys. That’s true in many parts of the world.


The most troubling news regards sexual exploitation. The pamphlet entitled “Do’s and Don’ts for Tourists” is published by the government and urges visitors to practice safe sex. It shows a cartoon sex worker and a potential client wondering if she has HIV. It notes that prostitution is illegal in Myanmar.


While we were there, our host noted that recently the P.K. Baptist Conference had rescued 17 girls of one village from human trafficking. Their families had been tricked into believing they would be given good, safe jobs. The woman who works on justice issues spoke to government officials and they were able to locate the girls and return them to their families. Many girls are not so fortunate – thousands from the villages are sold into sextourism. That, fortunately, has not yet taken hold in Myanmar. Most of the girls are taken to neighboring Thailand. Some go voluntarily, believing that it sex work is the best option for supporting their families. Sadly, they will be exploited and most likely end up with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They are far more likely than not to die young.


Still, it is hopeful that Myanmar’s government seems to be taking steps to nip sextourism in the bud. Also, they do seem to try to protect village girls when they are made aware of situations.


Many girls and women in Burma are doing well. Others are in a precarious or even dangerous position. So prayer list for girls and women in Myanmar:
That education will be consistently available
That sextourism will be kept out of Burma
That girls will be safe from safe from human trafficking
That justice will prevail
Thank you!!



Besides my own observations and conversations, I gathered information from the following sources:

Can Burma Avoid the Curse of Sex Tourism?

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