The Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, Sustainable Development Goals and Women’s Rights in Burma

10 March 2015

2015 is an important year in Aid and International Development. A new development agenda is being put together, to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are due to expire this year, and a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being created. These new SDGS will have advocacy at their heart, and will encompass women’s rights and gender equality as Goal 5 is to, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

In recent years women’s rights have become a staple of development policies around the world. In the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, the Beijing Platform for Action established clearly defined areas of concern for women’s equality and human rights, including unequal access to health services, gender-based violence and the effects of armed conflict upon women. The Beijing Platform for Action also marked the beginning of a new movement in both women’s rights and development; the two had become inextricably intertwined, as Hilary Clinton famously said at the conference “women’s rights are human rights”. Women’s rights are crucial to development, not only because of the moral prerogative of equality but because investing in women’s rights is economically effective; educating women in reproductive health is not only a good economic policy, it is also upholding women’s sexual rights to control their own body.

In 2000, Millennium Development Goal 3 specifically set out to “to promote gender equality and empower women” as well as to improve maternal health and reduce infant mortality (MDGs 5 and 4 respectively). However, many women’s rights groups considered the MDGs to not be explicit enough, and the targets and indicators to be inadequate. In Burma the achievement of MDG 3 is considered to be “much better…than in many developing countries” as MDG 3 does not take into account, for example, sexual violence against women and other significant issues.

The SDGs that are due to emerge in 2015 will hopefully incorporate some of the elements that were critiqued in the MDGs. SDG 5 to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” will feature 9 key points, some of which are particularly relevant and supportive of the work that HART does, namely to “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls” and “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health”. Especially crucial to the SDGs is advocacy, the idea that aid should be directed by the very people it is trying to help, and is something which HART has always implemented.

HART engages with women in all the communities in which it works, but predominantly with the Devadasi in India and the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) in Burma. In Burma women in Kachin and northern Shan state still suffer in the areas of concern highlighted by the Beijing Platform for Action, namely unequal and inadequate access to education and healthcare, gender based discrimination and gender based violence perpetrated by the Burmese military.

HART reported in February 2014 on the human rights’ violations perpetrated by the Burmese Army; “The Women’s League of Burma (WLB) have documented over 100 rapes committed by the Burma Army since the elections of 2010. 47 of these were brutal gang rapes and 28 of the women were killed or died of their injuries… They state that “sexual violence is used as a tool by the Burmese military to demoralize and destroy ethnic communities””. The rape and murder of two teachers on 20th January 2015 in Northern Shan State reported by the WLB has incited little action from the international community, showing the still desperate need for HART’s advocacy in areas that are under reported by the media, and neglected by other major NGOs.

As well as advocacy, HART provides aid support to local groups such as Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) which coordinates reproductive health awareness training, among many other programs it runs. SWAN are empowering women to be able to have better control of their own bodies and reproductive health, which has far reaching effects for maternal and infant health, and also positive economic effects.

Through advocacy and aid which supports local partner networks HART not only supports the local communities but also works towards the broader aims of the women’s rights and development movements in an area that is somewhat neglected by international media attention and larger NGOs. HART’s support of networks that work against sexual violence against women and towards education and empowerment of women is therefore of vital importance not only in terms of human rights, but also in the movement for gender equality.  Honouring women’s fundamental human rights to control of their own bodies and education enables them to contribute to their families and community. With the renewed international media attention given to women’s rights as part of the post-2015 development agenda and SDGs this must mean more support and attention for the vital work that HART does and the people it helps.

If you would like to support the work of HART and it’s partners, please raise awareness of issues presented, or alternatively you can fund raise or donate here.

Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

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