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Myanmar's women face routine pregnancy tests and sexual harassment in sweatshops

Myanmar garment worker Ohn Mar Khaing doesn't bat an eyelid as she shares her standard work routine — six days a week, 8.00am to 9.00pm.

But she's suddenly nervous talking about the journey to and from the factory.

"If I am working overtime, there is no bus, so I have to walk or take a motorbike taxi," the 19-year-old says.

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Revealed: Facebook hate speech exploded in Myanmar during Rohingya crisis

Hate speech exploded on Facebook at the start of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar last year, analysis has revealed, with experts blaming the social network for creating “chaos” in the country.

Evidence of the spike emerged after the platform was accused of playing a key role in the spread of hate speech in Myanmar at a time when 650,000 Rohingya refugees were forced to flee to Bangladesh following persecution.


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NPR:With Cupcakes And Courage, Myanmar Stages 'Vagina Monologues

Last weekend The Vagina Monologues was performed for the first time in Myanmar. Audiences loved it. Each performance was filled to capacity.

But right up to the opening curtain of the free event, organizers worried that the country might not be ready for a politicized play about female genitalia and empowerment. After all, when they called a sweet shop in Yangon, the country's largest city, and asked for a culinary tie-in — vagina-shaped lollipops — the proprietor hung up.


Mrauk U: tensions, protests and its bid for UNESCO

Should tourists still visit the historical site, previous capital of the Arakan Kingdom Mrauk U? 

To add to the Rohingya violence in the norther Rakhine State, on 16 January police opened fire on a protest as locals in Mrauk-U gathered to protest against the arrest of a local Arakanese writer and the authorities’ decision to ban a commemoration marking the Arakan dynasty.

Seven people were reported dead and 12 protesters were severely wounded by police gunfire.

Can tourism help to rebuild peace?

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The Punk Rockers and Activists Defying Anti-Rohingya Hate in Myanmar

hen filmmaker Kyal Yi Lin hopped into a taxi in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, in early September she had an unexpected conversation.

“This beard here, it doesn’t mean I am Muslim,” the driver said, gesturing to his graying goatee,“ I just like the beard.” Kyal Yi Lin nodded and went back to scrolling through her phone, but she couldn’t help asking him what he meant.

“People are not taking my taxi because they think I am Muslim,” he said.

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Life or death: Giving birth in Burma

Every year 2,800 women die during pregnancy or during childbirth in Burma.

Why is the number so high?

 


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Chin State, marked by change, looks to hold on to its roots

“At the age of 10, I got my tattoos,” says Ma Lha Sen.

Tracing with her finger the spiderweb-like design covering her face, she retells the two-day, painful process. “It started here,” says the 70-year-old, gesturing at her forehead.

When I ask about the origins of the tattoo tradition she shrugs. “My parents made me get the tattoos. Everyone in the Laytu tribe had to get it.”

Although history books written by Westerners tell tales. . .


The slow climate burn in Chin State

“We need to let people know that this is extremely serious but without going into the doom and despair, because that isn’t really helpful,” Chief Technical Advisor from Myanmar Climate Change Alliance (MCCA), Pascuale Capizzi.

Myanmar is ranked second out of 183 countries most affected by extreme weather events between 1995 and 2014 in the Global Climate Risk Index, and things don’t seem to be slowing down.

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Karen Refugees Wary of Return to Myanmar as Despair Rises in Camps

On the Thai-Myanmar border, refugees who fled one of the world’s longest civil wars live in limbo, with alarmingly high suicide rates. As their options for resettlement narrow, some are beginning to return to Myanmar and the challenges of reintegration. 

 28 refugees have died by suicide and a further 66 have attempted it in the past two years according to a study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).


Myanmar's Media in Chains

What is shocking is that now, under the current democratically elected government, journalists are still facing intimidation, threats, and restrictions from reporting in certain areas in the country, creating black spots of information.

“Myanmar is fast approaching the bottom of the press-freedom barrel,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of Fortify Rights. “The authorities are cracking down on those who expose the truth. It’s crass, ugly, and right out of the authoritarian toolkit.”

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Myanmar's textile workers pay the price for Australia's fast fashion addiction

Garment workers in Myanmar are struggling to cover everyday living costs while factory owners enjoy the surge in demand from the global fashion brands expanding into Australia.

Ma Thae Thae Mar works at a textiles factory outside of Mandalay and earns the minimum wage of 3,600 kyat ($3.40) for an eight-hour working day. The daily rate just covers the cost of food for herself and her child. 


Too young to toil: Burma's child labour epidemic

The government has taken the first step to address the rampant problem of child labour throughout the country by drafting a five-year National Action Plan to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

There are some 1.3 million child labourers in Burma, according to the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, but the real number is estimated to be much higher.


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In Burma, garment industry booms — and labour unions pay the price

Discrimination against workers standing up for their rights in Burma’s garment industry was highlighted this month after a union leader was fired and employees’ overtime pay went neglected for more than a year at a factory supplying global fashion brand H&M.

At Hangzhou Hundred-Tex Garment Company, a factory on the outskirts of Rangoon, workers first staged a demonstration calling for their overtime work to be paid in December last year. The workers hadn’t been paid overtime for 15 months.

 


Can agriculture, small loans lead Chin State to a fertile future?

Challenges abound, but so too does hope that the right set of policies can spur development in this remote part of Burma?

It’s mid-morning in Falam and the cotton-candy clouds are hanging low around each mountain peak during a recent DVB visit to this township in Chin State. The region is known for being one of the most isolated, underdeveloped regions in Burma. Others might characterise it in even less flattering terms.

“It’s the so-called wasteland of Burma,” says Ye Min Aung, vice president of the Myanmar Rice Federation, speaking nearly 500 miles to the southeast in the commercial capital Rangoon about challenges for agriculture in Chin State.

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Lifting the lid on child rape

The story of a three-year-old in Sagaing Division sheds light on a long-hushed issue in Burma: child rape, reports of which have risen 40 percent this year.

A child was raped in May. She was only three years old.

“We were at work when it happened,” explains mother Lhing Boi. The child was too young to walk to the toilet by herself in the rain, so a family friend offered to take her. Then, that family says, he raped her.


Domestic violence: Customary law discourages divorce

“When I saw my children’s faces it was very difficult. I decided that getting beaten up every night is just one thing [compared to leaving my children].”

“I just felt like I wanted to die. I didn’t want to live in the world anymore,”40-year-old Neng Kho Lhing said, describing how she felt after five years of marriage, facing daily beatings from her husband. She said that during the first two years they were happy together, but after she gave birth to a second daughter, he started to hit her.

For Neng Kho Lhing, an ethnic Kuki, divorce was never an option.

 

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Contraceptives: The final taboo

In a country where the subject of sex is still shrouded in shame, teaching young people how to prevent unwanted pregnancies remains a challenge. 

“Can I get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat?” asks one concerned young girl to a hotline counsellor in Rangoon. “A man used the public toilet before me and there was urine on the seat and I sat on it…”

Women in Burma are so worried about getting pregnant out of wedlock that 22-year-old youth counsellor Khin Su Yi receives many such phone calls every day.

Burma’s broken system silent on violence against women

Recent revelations about sever abuses inflicted on two young housemaids have highlighted the need for better protection of the rights of girls and women.

Last week photos emerged of two girls who were tortured in a tailor shop. One girl was burnt, stabbed and had her fingers broken. The girls were aged 11 and 12 when they were sent to work in the shop. Their working conditions deteriorated rapidly and they were held like slaves for five years.

It wasn’t until a local journalist who happened to work near the tailor shop decided to investigate that the girls’ suffering finally came to light.

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Mae La Oon refugee camp: Living in limbo

Life in a refugee camp is never easy, but for many who have lived in Mae La Oon for much of their life, the thought of leaving brings anxieties of its own. 

When Saw Eh Doh Moo fled to Thailand during an outbreak of fighting in his village, he wasn’t scared — but he was exhausted and hungry.

“I was used to hearing bombs since I was very young,” he says, recalling that he was frightened the first time he heard the sound of gunfire, but soon became accustomed to it. “I heard it again and again, so we just took it as normal.”


Testing the new era of artistic freedom

Burma's artists explore the possibilities of creative life in the post-censorship age

"Have you been to the national library?" asks San Mon Aung. The author and local publisher at WE publishing house and NDSP Books sits opposite me, on the edge of his stool, leaning his elbows on the table supporting his animated hands he talks. It's only 10 minutes into the interview and already the tables have turned and he's the one asking the questions

 


Kickstarting the economy from the classroom

Education Education reform in Burma is underway — and not a moment too soon. 

Preparing for an exam is stressful in any country, but in Burma, students really have to know their stuff — right down to the last word.

“There’s this example in the exam where you have to fill in the gaps with the correct word,” explains Chris Spohr, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) social sector specialist in Burma. “Only, you can’t use synonyms — you have to regurgitate the exact words from the textbook.”


The road to rural healthcare reform

Mismanagement and a chronic lack of funding during 50 years of military rule are the main culprits for the poor state of healthcare in Burma today.

When Mon was born he had a lump at the back of his head. The midwife advised his family to go to Rangoon to see a surgeon; but first, she said, he needed treatment for his jaundice. By the time that was completed, they had spent 50,000 kyat (US$39) — more than a month’s income — and the lump was bigger that Mon’s head. Desperate, his mother borrowed as much money as she could for the nine-hour trip to...

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Building bridges – with hair

Women across Burma are choosing to cut off their hair and donate it to a monastery that is building new bridges across the country.

“I’ve been growing my hair for nine years,” says 25-year-old Myo Myo Aung as she swings a lock of hair over her shoulder and calmly rests her hands on her bulging pregnant belly. “I decided to sell my hair originally because I was having a baby, but then a lady at work said, ‘Instead of just cutting it and selling it, why don’t you donate it and do good deeds?’”


Living on 10 baht a day

Expectations are high that this week’s visit to Thailand by Aung San Suu Kyi will help raise awareness of issues affecting the millions of Burmese migrant workers in the country.

Kaew Cho knows what it’s like to have his freedom taken away from him.

After moving between casual jobs on soybean, garlic and rice plantations, he went to work in a factory in Bangkok, hoping he would get paid at least the minimum wage.

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Eliminating sexual violence in conflict areas

As war continues in Burma’s border areas, calls grow to end attacks on women.

“Do you have an emergency basket at your door?”

This is a question that Ph.D. candidate Jenny Hedström soon learned to ask whenever she interviewed Kachin women about their support for and involvement with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for her research on gender, peace and security issues in Burma.