Curves sponsort We women student Nang Si Htong (Dutch)

Curves sponsort We women student Nang Si Htong 

Opleiding: Master of Business Administration (Specialisatie: Human Resource Management)

Universiteit: Zhejiang Normal University, China

Nang Si Htong groeide op in een klein stadje in Shan State in Oost-Myanmar, waar veel gewapend conflict voorkwam. Door problemen in haar gezin werd ze op 10-jarige leeftijd uit huis geplaatst en groeide ze op in een huishouden zonder liefde en affectie. Toen Nang Si Htong 16 werd, besloot ze om naar Thailand te gaan waar ze in contact kwam- en begon te werken bij verschillende maatschappelijke organisaties waar ze met vluchtelingen uit Myanmar werkte. Ze werkte tegen kost en inwoning 3 jaar hard en studeerde tegelijkertijd. Ze begon te dromen van een toekomst, waarin er gelijke rechten voor alle mensen in Myanmar zouden zijn en wilde daar zelf een rol spelen in die verandering. Dankzij de We women foundation was het mogelijk voor haar om een bachelor met Honours te volgen in Filosofie, Politiek en Economie. In haar laatste jaar was het studeren zwaar, maar ze zette door en op persoonlijk en academisch gebied bleef ze groeien. Aan de hand van haar opgedane vaardigheden, was zij in staat om na haar afstuderen een baan te vinden. Ze werkte als een auditor bij een bedrijf die Thaise bedrijven controleert op de veiligheid en werkomstandigheden van werknemers. Hier kwam ze achter de enorm kwetsbare positie van migrantenwerkers in Thailand. Ze zette zich in om de situatie van migrantenwerkers in Thailand te verbeteren en leerde meer over hun leefomstandigheden. Ze kwam tot de conclusie dat de medewerker nauwelijks een stem hebben, maar dat het hebben van een sterk netwerk met mensen uit het bedrijfsleven nodig is om gehoord te worden. Om deze reden wilde ze graag meer leren over bijvoorbeeld bedrijfspsychologie. Ook wist ze na al haar jaren ervaring in Thailand door haar werk en studie dat er in Myanmar pas echt verandering kan komen, als er een sterke sociale economie wordt opgebouwd en ze voelde de drang om zich hier specifiek voor in te gaan zetten.

In 2016 begon Nang Si Thong aan een MBA (master in Business Administration) in Zhejiang Normal University China, waar ze van de universiteit een gedeeltelijke studiebeurs voor ontving. Ze wil haar educatie gebruiken om een goede baan te vinden en om een netwerk te creëren om zo anderen te overtuigen iets goed terug te doen voor haar gemeenschap. Ook wil ze graag Chinees leren, omdat er veel Chinese bedrijven zijn die momenteel investeren in Myanmar. In de toekomst ziet ze zichzelf haar eigen bedrijf openen, zodat ze ook kansen kan creëren voor anderen.

Zie hieronder een persoonlijk bedankbericht van Nang Si Htong;

“I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude and deepest appreciation for your profound contribution in providing financial assistance for me to help me continue my education. Your assistance was gratifying for me and my family who have a heavy economic burden in our house. No words of gratitude can possibly express how grateful I am to you for all the help that you have given me. Not in my wildest dream thought I would come this far. This dream would never happen without the support and trust of my donor thus, I would like to reiterate that I will always uphold your esteemed organizations reputation. Currently, I am studying in China, the world largest populated country, filled with fascinating history and culture. What really interests me is that how a communist country became world’s second largest economy and a capitalist country? I believe, I would benefit and gain substantial insights to contribute to my country economically.

In my first semester, I registered for eleven subjects, thus I was under tremendous pressure, but tried my best to overcome the pressure. But, sadly result is not what I expected. I believe learning is crucial, since ones’ success cannot be measured in terms of grade but rather understand and gain as much as you can.

The experience here is pleasing and delightful. The majority of the students are from Africa, Arab countries, and very few from Asia. It gave me a lot first-hand experiences to explore new culture, ideas and beliefs. Though we can learn all these through books and online, but it will never provide us with that real life experience like getting in touch and experience with the real people, talk to them, and exchange the idea and culture. Therefore, I would like to say that your generosity is not just about the money, it’s about the emotional kindness and the strength you have given by believing in me. There are no words describe my feelings when We women told me about your incredible assistance.’

We women is trots dat Nang Si Htong zo ver is gekomen. De donatie bijdrage van €2000 heeft haar eerste jaar studie voor een groot deel bekostigd. Dankzij donoren als Curves kan We women foundation hun werk voortzetten zodat sterke vrouwen zoals Nang Si Thong hun dromen kunnen verwezenlijken en invloedrijke leiders in hun gemeenschappen kunnen worden.

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The resilience and resourcefulness that aided autodidactism and academics

It has been a very long time since Myanmar was known for its education. In the 1940’s when the country was losing its grip on its colonial status, people from elsewhere in Southeast Asia would flock to then-Burma for the quality of its academic programmes. Decades of dictatorship changed this, leaving most to never realize their dreams of attaining an education, whilst the fortunate few managed to obtain diplomas abroad. 

Since the 1940s, Myanmar’s education, politics and economics was in a downwards spiral, the vast majority of its population encountered poverty, political oppression and limited access to schooling. However, it was exactly these three phenomena that led to the resilience and resourcefulness of Myanmar’s youngsters whose autodidactism allowed them to pursue education abroad, often in Thailand. For former student Pao Hom, who benefited from support provided by the We women foundation, this was no different. 

Pao Hom’s experience of attending school in Myanmar in the 1980s and 1990s was disappointing. “At an early age, [she] was bored with [her] studies, believing the Burmese educational system did not challenge [her]”. She remembers “spending long hours memorising paragraphs from text books only to be rehearsed in front of [her] teacher the next day.” Here experiences of studying in Myanmar where no exception to the rule, and this dissatisfaction and disappointment with the country’s educational and political system is what spurred other students to dream of - and realize their dreams – of attending school elsewhere. For Pao Hom this meant leaving Myanmar as soon as she saw the opportunity. During her bachelors, she had worked at her aunt’s shop, trying to save up for her masters. Her fervour and determination to get a masters in Educational Management I in Thailand were noticed by members of the We women foundation, who consecutively provided her with the remainder of the financial resources needed to realize her goal. While enrolled in the program, Pao Hom volunteered with the internally displaced and migrant populations in Thailand. 

Pao Hom

After her studies, Pao Hom initially trained hundreds of teachers, believing that “through a more creative curriculum, we can encourage children to think for themselves, share their opinions, and learn to follow their aspirations.”  By doing this, she has made an attempt of countering the constraints students felt as a result of Myanmar’s educational system, that she witnessed when she was younger.

After graduating she worked so hard that she is currently participating in the actual peace dialogue that is held between the political parties, and ethnic armed groups. She has also pressed for women participation and gender equality as an agenda point. She is now working with UN Women and Euro Burma Office to organise round the table discussions with women who can participate in the process. Although she is not working on education per se, she is able to contribute to change by working for various stakeholders to build a more sustainable and equitable peace process in her country.

The initial limitations people like Pao Hom felt as a result of Myanmar’s policy, contributed to their determination to realize their goals and see improvements in their home countries. This had lead to Pao Hom’s resilience and resourcefulness, which not only impacted her personally but also helped to spur on the autodidact and academic careers of Myanmar’s younger generation – showing that We women help women lead. 

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Women leadership and the path to meaningful education

“A young community worker from Lashio, a town in Eastern Myanmar, tells me about her sister who will be going to the US soon to study a Master in Education Management. Four times before she applied for a scholarship, and finally the fifth time paid off. It are only those from Yangon and Mandalay - Myanmar’s main cities - who get scholarships complains the second. I am sitting in the office of a local CBO for a group interview with community workers. I have heard before during my travels around the country, how people from ethnic areas feel selection committees are largely biased in favour of students from central Myanmar, while they argue, they should get the opportunity to study abroad, because their involvement in their communities means they will be more likely to come back to Myanmar and serve their community. A few days later I sit in an interview with a lady who turns out to be the sister that finally got a scholarship to study in the US. She tells me how although she was not the only ethnic woman to get a scholarship from the American Embassy, she was the only person who had currently been living and working in an ethnic area. I learn how years of following different courses aimed at learning academic- and English skills, working for projects, joining clubs and networks mostly in Yangon finally got her to where she is now.”

These focus groups were part of a research that aimed to find out what barriers women from ethnic areas face to be able to access higher education abroad. With the help of Marjan Rens Stichting I conducted fieldwork for We women foundation. We women helps prepare aspiring women leaders from ethnic areas in Myanmar to study abroad. The outcomes of this study will help We women redesign their university preparation program in Myanmar after they moved from assisting women migrants from Myanmar to assisting women in Myanmar.

For people in Myanmar going abroad to study is not just about gaining international experience. It is essential for those who want to enjoy quality education. Myanmar’s higher education system has suffered decades of disinvestment, and the governments strategy to prevent its citizens from becoming critical citizens has led to an education system that is centered around memorizing facts in order to pass exams, instead of a teaching-style that encourages students to apply, analyze and think about what they have learned. This is especially the case for women who aspire to become leaders. In a country were women are largely held back by traditional gender prescribed roles, and women have little voice in decisions-making process, women need a foreign degree not just to gain meaningful skills and knowledge, but also to be taken seriously. In addition women from ethnic areas face double challenges because of the marginalized position people from ethnic areas hold in Myanmar society.

I travelled across the country as part of a 2,5 months fieldwork period, and spoke to a wide range of actors in Yangon and in Myanmar’s major ethnic area cities. I spoke to many women ranging from young university students whose dream of once being able to study abroad seemed no more than a dream, to women who were preparing for their IELTS or TOEFL exam or those busy applying for scholarships and whose dream to study abroad seemed somewhat more reachable, to those who had already studied abroad.

The second group of interviewees were organizations who offer university preparation training, or general training that teaches students skills they would need if they would apply for a foreign university. I was also able to speak to a number of women’s organization who could shed light on the situation of women from Myanmar’s ethnic areas.

As I found out very soon doing practice based research is not just about speaking to people and organizations to obtain data for this project. It was also about the chance to increase We women’s network. As such I also found myself giving presentations to English language students about We women’s activities and giving them tips on how to apply for scholarships. I was also able to establish many meaningful contacts with organization and individuals who could possibly partner with We women in the future.

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Exciting opportunity for a volunteer social media specialist!

Are you someone who is:

  • Creative and able to get your head around issues relating to gender equality and education for women in Burma, but translate them to consumer friendly language primarily for Facebook with a secondary emphasis on Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Interested in strategy – eg. should more time be invested into Twitter vs Facebook / should we be writing blog posts instead etc..
  • Self directed – able to set their own targets and work toward them and be able to advise the team on messaging/good ways to get information across
  • Handy with creating visually appealing posts and reading relevant gender related topics and news stories
  • Keen to continue to build the community – and look at ways social media could drive fundraising efforts
  • Happy to keep an eye on news in Myanmar and share relevant content with the community on behalf of We women foundation

If so, we’d love to hear from you!


  • You can be based anywhere in the world as this can be entirely remote
  • Alternatively, we welcome applicants who are based in Yangon who would like to work from the We women headquarters there


  • The ideal is someone that could spend up to 3 hours a week creating posts/re-packaging content for We women for use on Facebook/Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Help write a newsletter every quarter and get that issued to supporters and followers
  • Once a year, assist to ideate and create campaign materials to support the campaign manager in our big fundraising drive [usually this is October or December] – this will increase your time commitment for a month or so – for example this year I wrote the script, did the campaign plan, wrote articles etc…
  • Attend a team meeting approximately every 1.5 months via skype/google hang outs

If this sounds like you, please send a brief outline of why you would like to do the role, your recent experience particularly in relation to managing social media/creating content and a short CV to and

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Development in Myanmar: Where are the (ethnic) women in decision-making positions

We women foundation with media platform OneWorld Love and anthropological feminist network LOVA will organise a panel discussion on female leadership in the development sector in Amsterdam as part of this year's International Women’s Day. The panelists will critically engage with the questions: What barriers do women from the ‘Global South’ face in terms of gaining access to leadership positions within the development sector? And how we can change power structures that prevent women from the ‘Global South’ from gaining access to positions of influence? In preparation for this event we asked a number of women we work with to give their opinion on the development sector in Myanmar and share their experiences working with INGOs, and to explore the barriers these women within these organisations in terms of access to leadership positions.

Universal gender issues
Gender inequality is seen as an important global phenomenon; women are on a global scale less likely to be in leadership positions. The struggle for women's leadership can be seen across the world. Yet critical feminist theory and activists claim that feminist agendas are often based on ideas and experiences of Western middle class women and do not take women of colour and women from the ‘Global South’ into account, or often even excludes them for that matter. In terms of leadership, NGOs disproportionately have Western male leaders in high-ranking positions. This can contribute to a discourse that generalises women in the Global South and does not include their voices.

International organisations; bringers of opportunities and networks
Women were asked their opinion about International NGOs in Myanmar. They replied on how INGOs may bring new perspectives and skills which women in Myanmar and local organisations may learn from and apply to their local context, in addition to their own knowledge and expertise. INGOs also tend to have large networks that local organisations can draw from, and offer valuable opportunities like scholarships, training, and give local employees the opportunity to learn new skills.

Western supremacy
However, the women we spoke to also raised some concerning issues especially in terms of how they are perceived by employees from INGOs. In their experience, INGOs mostly push for their own agendas, and they also feel that INGOs see themselves to be more knowledgeable and skilled compared to local staff so these INGO staff workers hold on to notions of superiority based on negatively held stereotypes of local women. One woman expressed how she felt held back by stereotypes of Asian women who are portrayed as “based on her feminine gender and stereotypical notions of being sexually constrained, ignorant, poor, traditional, domestic, uneducated and victimised.” Whereas the Western woman is represented as “educated, modern, controlling of their own bodies/sexualities and freedom of choice.” These ideas are especially problematic as she notes later on because most of the decision-making positions are taken by employees from ‘Western’ countries, and are based on these ideas that knowledge and expertise must come from ‘the West’.

Lack of inclusiveness
The lack of inclusiveness within these decision-making positions also means that working methods of INGOs do not always properly benefit people in Myanmar. Projects may often be based on ideas of international staff members themselves, and conclusions are often drawn from previously done, limited research. If local people would be more included in decision-making process, projects might be much more effective. In addition they felt local women were taken advantage of by international organisations, who they feel, exploit local populations for cheap labour. A big issue is the unequal pay that exists as some INGOs set different pay rates between local and international staff and experts. Which of course seems ironic as these organisations who claim to seek social justice are in fact sustaining structures against these very ideas.

Barriers to leadership
The women we spoke to expressed how within INGOs there is a clear distinction between jobs for local people, and jobs for international staff. Local women feel they mostly are employed in low level jobs and responsible for implementation rather than being included in the decision-making process which are reserved for international employees. This was true despite the fact that local women are far more knowledgeable about the local context. Examples of tasks that local women were often asked to do include translation work and training local people, as well as being used for their local network enabling INGOs to work together with grassroots organisations who are asked to implement projects devised by the INGOs.

The lack of access to leadership positions according to the women we spoke to can be explained by a number of factors:
1. As mentioned before they are linked to ideas that people from ‘Western’ countries hold knowledge and expertise. One of the women felt: “INGOs perspective/view on local people especially women as ‘second class’ compared to Western people as ‘first class’, and they do not want to share their leadership positions.”
2. Women face barriers in term of language and technical skills. One of the women gave an example of how she applied for a job for Project Coordinator, a position she would have been qualified for seen her experiences and skills. Instead she was offered a position as Project Officer as she was told her English language skills did not meet the high standards the organisation required in order to communicate with donors.
4. Due to the low quality of the education system in Myanmar women lack language- and certain types of technical skills and knowledge that are posted as requirements for decision-making positions with INGOs, making it extremely difficult for them to fulfil these positions.
5. Women lack confidence; although they might possess the right skills and knowledge through prior working experiences with local organisations they may feel discouraged and women may not apply for certain positions because of the long list of qualifications.
6. Myanmar specific social-cultural and religious norms related to gender division was mentioned as a barrier for women. Women have few opportunities to start building up relevant skills and experience which is related to existing stereotypes held in Myanmar society. In Myanmar, women are often considered less capable for leadership positions. Also the ethnic division in society is reflected within INGOs; the majority Burman people having more access to these organisations compared to ethnic minorities.

Based on the experiences of the women we spoke to, there are some concerning issues. International development organisations may pride themselves on their efforts of working together with locals and grassroots organisations, but they are still often unwilling to share power, and are still based on the idea that “we know best how to help you.” The grassroot community members in these contexts are used to implement policies that are still decided upon by development organisations from ‘Western’ countries, and little space is created for local women to be part of these processes.

The women we spoke to also gave some recommendations to INGOs based on their experiences as women in Myanmar so that their voice can be heard and they can gain better access to leadership positions.

Equal pay: As previously mentioned there exists unequal pay for international- and local staff and experts, this needs to change so women in Myanmar receive pay according to their skills and experiences.

Learn the local context: Organisations should have a better knowledge of the local context (political, social, cultural) to get a better understanding of issues women face in order to work together more effectively. Working methods should be designed around the needs of the community that are being implemented in. This requires doing in-depth assessments and talking with the community when planning a program. Each community faces different obstacles, and designing programs around these unique needs makes programs more effective and efficient.

Inclusion: Experience and knowledge should be shared on more equal terms. The idea that INGOs hold the key to knowledge should be broken down and it should be acknowledged that different types of knowledge and skills exist and that women in Myanmar hold valuable skills and knowledge needed to make a difference. As one woman said: “They shouldn’t exclude women in Myanmar from decision making positions reasoning or looking down on them that they are stupid or they don’t know like us, they don’t have enough capacity. It is their responsibility to transfer the knowledge and empower the women.” Most importantly, this means giving women access not just to implementation roles but to decision-making positions within organisations so women get the opportunity to grow within organisations and gives them the chance to develop their leadership capacity, which in the end will lead to a far more sustainable way of operating.

In terms of taking direct action, organisations should be more transparent of their policies, and instead of excluding women they should work on capacity building and be transparent about their strategies to get women into leadership positions. A special emphasis should be on women from ethnic minority areas. They often have even less access to leadership positions within (international) organisations, as INGOs currently barely reach these areas. Also in their policies a certain percentage of high-ranking positions should be reserved for local women. By doing this local women will be able to participate in decision-making processes in which their voices and experiences are taken into account.

Join our debate: “Wanted Global Voices on Female Leadership” on International Women’s Day, March 8th from 1600-1800, Oudemanhuis Poort 4-6, Room F0.01, Amsterdam.

Moderator: Kiza Magendane, Writer and Founder African Students United

- Amma Asante, Political Scientist and Advisor Civil Society Organisations
- Fatumo Farah, Director HIRDA
- Ama Van Dantzig, Co-Founder Dr. Monk

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Winds of change? Education and participation of women in Myanmar

The wind of change is blowing in Myanmar. The country is slowly opening up and recently ‘more’ democratic elections were held. Many Myanmar women have expressed their desire to be educated to be part of pivotal times in Myanmar history. According to them, without education they are pushed back into traditional roles, without skills, knowledge and confidence to become influential stakeholders. And what the women argue for seems logical; studies have shown how education is a powerful tool to change women’s position in society. It seems a straightforward solution to problems marginalised women from Myanmar are faced with, but due to a complex web of economic, social, cultural and political factors, fierce educational reforms are needed before education can function as a vehicle of empowerment for women.

In general, Myanmar women are hardly seen and heard in shaping the present and near future. Women’s participation on the labour market is only 48.4%, compared to the 81.9% for men, they are overrepresented in low skilled work and get paid less than men. Also, in politics; only 6% of the parliamentary seats are taken by women, they are poorly represented at all Myanmar’s subnational governments and they have little knowledge of the discussions taking place in their name at political level. Due to the lack of women in influential positions, contextual issues behind gender relations and women’s marginalisation are not addressed in substantial ways.

For Nong Hom -one of the students We women foundation has supported, several qualitative educational experiences helped her transcend the rigid traditional gender role division. With relevant skills and knowledge she was able to improve her own socio-economic position, but also the lives of many others. Now Nong Hom works on the social, economic and political issues of marginalised communities and in the future she aspires to give a voice to Burmese war victims who are often unheard in political processes. Nong Hom illustrates beautifully how qualitative education can empower women to become change-makers for themselves and the wider community.

When looking at the current state of education in Myanmar we can see how it is far from empowering. Statistics show gender parity in education and many argue Myanmar has met the MDG target of eliminating gender disparity in primary, secondary and tertiary education. But when we problematise these numbers, it shows much work is still to be done. School enrolment is high, but school is more accessible for the wealthier, ethnic majority. Besides the Bamar, who make up for roughly two thirds of the population, Myanmar is home to 135 other ethnic groups. Many ethnic minority groups live in the border areas, are internally displaced, fled to neighbouring countries and some groups, like Rohinya, are not recognised by the government and therefore excluded from provisions. For many ethnic groups access to education is difficult or impossible, but this is not reflected in statistics.

Furthermore, these numbers leave out one very important aspect; quality of education. In many cases the curriculum is a direct extension of government politics and therefore described by Nong Hom as ‘spoon-fed education’. According to her it creates ‘obedient citizens, while it should be about creating critical citizens’. Education that is about how well students can note, memorise and reproduce, without truly understanding, analysing and applying what has been taught in real life, will not break down social, political and economic structures which is crucial to work towards a democratic and inclusive society. For example, without questioning and redefining traditional gender roles in school settings existing rigid role models are perpetuated.

Besides a shift from students ‘as empty vessels that need to be filled’ to students as ‘co-creators of knowledge’, education needs to take into account gender specific needs. To overcome the gender gap several studies have pointed out that women from Myanmar need education not only for knowledge, but also for soft skills, like discussion and public participation, they do not acquire naturally in the course of their lives. Nong Hom, who studied in Myanmar and International Relations abroad at the Webster University, said: ‘International Relations is a challenging subject, but I don’t see it as something to overcome. If I don’t know how to do things, I learn how to do things and then I know how to do it. If you can adapt to a challenge, it is no longer a challenge.’ After graduating Nong Hom was able to bring back life skills like perseverance, reflexive attitude and improvisational skills, but maybe most importantly confidence, back to Myanmar. Now Nong Hom is making social change happen.

In the winds of change, the debates on education have flared up afresh also. The Parliament has been implementing educational reforms to ‘develop an education system that promotes a learning society capable of facing the challenges of the Knowledge Age that helps to build a modern developed nation’. In turn, student movements in Myanmar have demanded more drastic reforms for transparent, inclusive and grassroots education. In these dynamic and pressing times we should not forget women. How can education break down rigid role models and provide gender sensitive support to close the gap between men and women? Only when these questions are addressed education can be tool for achieving equality.

Author: Rianne Rietveld has a bachelor in Pedagogy and a Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology and is active in the fields of childhood, mental health and education. By giving a voice to vulnerable groups and analysing macro dynamics, Rianne tries to build bridges between local realities and the wider context.

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