Challenging Cultural Norms towards a Gender Equal World by Valentina Lwin Bailey
This Sunday 8 March is International Women's Day. This year’s theme - is An Equal World Is An Enabled World?
Do you agree? I do. The #IWD2020 proposes that individually, we're all responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day. We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women's achievements. Do you agree? I do. But what if our national culture suggests that women should be lady-like, be treated like princesses, or to be fair on our physical make up, we should be given lighter work. I hear you… but I also challenge you. I don’t believe that Myanmar culture suggests for women to be treated lightly. I’m no historian, so I will not even attempt at role-modelling any women-figures in Myanmar culture and history. But what I can share is my personal experience of growing up in Rangoon, Burma, for the first 12-years of my life, in a typically Burmese family. I was born into and raised in a family with lots of strong female role models. Almost all of them had careers - not just jobs, but careers. They were equally hard working as their brothers, uncles and husbands. I also saw my uncles and my dad do the laundry, helped out in the kitchen and other household chores. My point is, gender equality in Burmese households and families existed way back then - since when I was young. After returning to Myanmar 3 years ago, I am often told that the Myanmar women want or expect to be treated differently - to be given lighter work. I challenge this - I’m not entirely convinced this is true.
Over a long weekend, I was fortunate to visited some villages outside of Kalaw. There, I noticed Shan women, young and old, taking on equal roles as men. I saw a number of women toiling hard dry earth preparing to sow, chopping trees for firewood, breaking and sawing wood (tree trunks, like in the photo), alongside their male counterparts.
And we see Myanmar women taking on equal work in many other areas. Back in the city, at our company, we see many women engineers, architects, surveyors, construction workers and security guards taking on the same work as men. In fact, we’re really proud of a good gender balance of employees in what is a traditionally male dominant work environment - engineering and construction. So, I don’t think we can, or is fair to, generalise and say Myanmar women want lighter load than men. Some may do. But, clearly, there are also those women who just want a fair and equal work. As individuals, whenever we hear such assumptions or generalisation, we should challenge it. Instead of accepting this supposed cultural norm, we should ask ourselves, is it really true or is it our own biases and stereotypes of what we think Myanmar women want or what Myanmar women should have? Because, individually, WE ARE responsible for our own thoughts and actions - all day, every day, in what we say, and what we don’t say. So how are you challenging yourself and others, towards a gender equal world? International Women’s Day is a good to reminder for this but i encourage you to think and act, all day, everyday, going forward. Let's all be #EachforEqual For more information on #IWD2020 visit https://www.internationalwomensday.com/ #IWD2020 For more information on Yoma Land team visit https://www.yomaland.com/people
About Valentina Lwin Bailey
Ms. Valentina Lwin Bailey is an experienced HR practitioner with a strong focus on organization and leadership development, workforce planning and change management. Much of her 25-year career has been in Australia working in education, training and employment sectors covering a range of roles in HR, L&D, diversity and inclusion, service excellence, research and policy development.
After being away for 30 years, Valentina returned to her place of birth in 2017 to take up a HR leadership role with Ooredoo Myanmar. Valentina is passionate about development of Myanmar people, and contributes whenever possible through education of youth, women empowerment and outreach programs.