The Pa’O Women’s Group Finds Their Voice

In Naung Boat, Shanta has been challenged by a perceived lack of village interest in the partnership, specifically by women. We’ve struggled getting the minimum number of women on the Village Development Team (VDT), and struggled harder still to get them to attend meetings. Last year, Shanta held both a Village Health Educator (VHE) workshop and a dental clinic for children, but villagers from Naung Boat didn’t participate in either.

So, after long conversations with the staff, we decided to hold both VDT and village-wide meetings to ask exactly this: do you want to continue the partnership?

First, we held the VDT meeting. No women came, which we learned was in part because men hadn’t informed them, but even when they had, women wouldn’t come, so questions about their interest and involvement lingered.

VDT members took responsibility for not having told the village about the dental clinic with enough advance notice. They acknowledged the fault and apologized, saying they were sad themselves that their children didn’t have the opportunity to attend. We left the VDT meeting feeling like members took accountability and were eager to resolve the issues and improve their communication and commitment.

Then, during the all-village meeting, we learned that women don’t want to be on the VDT or attend the women’s health workshops for one, heart-breaking reason: they’re embarrassed. None of the women in the village have an education, and they fear they won’t be able to contribute or that they’ll be looked down on by women from other villagers (who attend the VHE training with them).

Shanta’s regional leader, Zaw Moe Naung, assured the women that wasn’t the case; that they didn’t need an education to know and care about their village, just a voice. And he asked them how we could make them feel safe.

After some whispering amongst themselves, women presented an idea: they wanted to form a group, solely of women, that isn’t on the VDT but serves as representatives to it. They want to call it the Naung Boat Pa’O Women’s Group.

Nine women between the ages of 18-50 joined the group, and they stood at the front of the village and made a commitment to the village: a commitment to use their voice.

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