Trócaire Blogs

 

February 01, 2016

Bringing women to the heart of peace in Myanmar

By Alison Heron of Trócaire in Myanmar

“You can’t just add women-and-stir” said May Oo Mutraw speaking about the inadequate efforts to ‘include’ women in the peace process.

Women’s participation in decision-making roles in Myanmar is extremely low, a trend reflected in Myanmar’s national peace process. 

From the beginning, the peace process has failed to engage women and therefore has inadequately considered gender issues. Women were largely excluded from the drafting of the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), while the Union Peace Conference (UPC), the first political dialogue since the NCA was signed last October, took place in January with women accounting for only 7 per cent of attendees. This was despite the UPC proclaiming itself as an “inclusive” political dialogue. 

At the launch of Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP), an inspiring group of women shared their experiences and discussed the barriers faced by women involved in the peace process. 

Inclusions, representation and participation are not the same. Participation involves a deep and meaningful involvement. As AGGIP’s briefing noted “responding to criticism about women’s exclusion from the peace process by slotting in a few women as observers is an inadequate response.” 

Women who attended the Union Peace Conference reported that they faced intimidation when they tried to engage in the discussions. 

Trocaire in Myanmar

(l to r): Women take part in a meeting of a micro-credit scheme supported by Trócaire on Bilugyun island; a mother and her child at a camp for displaced people in northern Myanmar; Agatha Nu Nu of Trócaire in Myanmar with Hong Sar Htaw, one of the young women who receive training on leadership from Trócaire's partners in Myanmar. (Photos: Eoghan Rice) 

 

Other women reported feeling patronised, men would refer to them as “girl” or “little sister” rather than calling them by the correct title and showing them the respect they deserve. Title is important in society in Myanmar, where calling someone by the incorrect title can be seen as a sign of disrespect. 

“Women’s participation in public life should not be a choice between this, that or the other,” said Khin Ma Ma Myo speaking about the personal challenges women face when trying to balance work, political life and family commitments.  Women are excluded from important events when consideration is not given to practical issues like childcare or accommodation and facilities for mothers with children. These are simple but significant barriers preventing women’s attendance.

Many of these barriers exist at every level within society in Myanmar, in which social and cultural practices limit women’s involvement in decision-making and leadership roles. There has been a failure to adequately lower the practical barriers to women’s participation in the peace process thus far. 

The women who did attend the UPC had a strong unified voice. This, however, was not enough. Khin Ma Ma Myo noted that women’s discussion points were omitted from the daily discussion summaries.  

Khin Ma Ma Myo said that on the final day of the conference men were given ample time for speaking but when it was finally her turn to address the audience she was told that the quorum would break for lunch and that she could speak when they returned – when they returned from the lunch break, her time to speak was cut in half.

Women for peace in Myanmar

The Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP) seeks to improve women's representation in the national peace process. (Photo: Alison Herron)

Women’s perspectives and women’s issues are often left out simply because men don’t understand them. In Myanmar this is enhanced by societal and cultural norms and is a major obstacles to women’s participation. Breaking these cultural norms does not happen overnight, it is a long term goal and the process will take time. Engaging men in the process is key. 

At the UPC, male facilitators were not gender sensitive. However, the panellists noted that we cannot blame men for not promoting equality, for not using gender sensitive language and for not highlighting women’s issues, if they do not have the capacity to do so. We need to build up capacity of both men and women involved in the peace process to understand gender sensitivities. Engaging men, changing attitudes, behaviours and building capacity is critical to achieve success for women, peace and security in Myanmar.

With the new government coming into power these women’s alliances are considering how to engage and what to recommend. May Oo Mutraw noted that it took eight years of negotiation and lobbying for some of the ethnic armed organisations to accept women’s involvement. “Now we need to be strategic, we need to know and understand which alliances to make,” she says.

A clear-cut policy for enhancing the role of women particularly in decision-making is needed. A 30% gender quota is being introduced to support women’s involvement in political life, but it is equally important to remove barriers that prevent women from engaging and participating. 

Nang Phyu Phyu Lin captured the feeling in the room when she summarised “the 30% are coming – do not fear us.” 

The time for women’s inclusion is now - change is happening and it is not something to fear.

January 20, 2016

The Widows' Programme, Mbikko, Uganda

By Lisa Byrne, Trócaire Uganda

During a recent trip to the Twezimbe Integrated Development Centre, Mbikko, Uganda, part-funded by Trócaire, I had the opportunity to visit our partner’s projects in the area of literacy, community-based health and education. 

One project that really captured my imagination was ‘The Widows' Programme’, which helps women of all ages who have been shunned by their communities to organise support groups, share their experiences, and to develop new skills and new forms of income to support themselves. 

The women involved have faced a great deal of social stigma after the deaths of their husbands. 

Unfortunately, this is common in parts of Uganda and can leave women vulnerable and isolated, in addition to the burden of raising a family alone with little financial support. Sadly, these widows are shunned by their communities because of a frequently held view that they have done something to cause their husbands’ deaths. 

Widows Programme Uganda

Caption: Women from ‘The Widows’ Programme’ making crafts at the Twezimbe Development Centre, Mbikko, Uganda. Photo: Lisa Byrne.

Bibianna 

After her husband died in 1985, Bibianna (70) was stigmatised in her community and left to grieve by herself. In addition to this, she had the added stress of raising her six children with little help. 

"People did not want to associate with me," she said.

One day, years later, another widow in the community told Bibianna about a Widows' Programme that the Twezimbe Centre was running. Bibianna joined the programme and since then, being a part of the group has transformed her life.

Bibianna explained to me that the skills and knowledge that she has acquired have provided the roots for a better life for her and her family: "I can now sustain myself by being creative". 

Bibianna with her crafts

Caption: Bibianna in front of her craft shop in Mbikko. Photo: Lisa Byrne

Bibianna was taught how to make crafts which she would sell at the Centre and at the church but her crafts were so much in demand that her customers suggested she open a small shop. She set up a display at the entrance of her home. She says she is much happier now and can provide for her children and grandchildren.

"I have made friends and we all share our experiences. I live in the present and look forward to a great future".

Damali 

Damali Kasunsu (57) too was stigmatised in her community following the death of her husband. "They hated me and mistreated me and they thought I was a burden", she explained.

Her in-laws also tried to take the land that she had cultivated with her husband. 

Damali has been part of the Widows' Programme for some time now. She participated in income-generating activities and was given a small loan with which she bought ten pigs and was given training on organic farming. 

Damali Kasunsu and her daughter Brenda

Caption: Damali Kasunsu (57) with her daughter Brenda (18) in their home in Mbikko. Photo: Lisa Byrne

She used the additional income to build her own house which she explained was a huge achievement for her and she was also able to support her daughter’s education. 

"The group helps to bond us together and to have friends. We work together and we support each other. We laugh, dance and sing together and I feel loved. Everything is offered wholeheartedly". 

January 18, 2016

We must speak the truth to achieve justice in Israel and Palestine

By Séan Farrell, Director of Trócaire's International Division

Over the last 20 years I have become used to living in places where human rights are systematically abused. Places where the powerful will do anything to retain power and ensure that communities have no ability to develop.

In the early 90s I lived in Romania, where the former dictator Ceaușescu's secret police held the country in its grip of control and brutality. More recently I spent two years living in Zimbabwe.

In between, I have visited the villages of conflict-scarred southern Philippines, the survivors of the war in Northern Uganda, the coffee plantations of Nicaragua, the Mayan communities of Guatemala and many other communities where Trócaire provides support to vulnerable people. 

Oppression and the denial of rights through brutal and violent force has been a constant companion over the last two decades.

Palestine is a place that has held my interest for years but I only recently had the opportunity to visit for the first time. 

Sean Farrell of Trócaire in the village of Susiya

Trócaire's Séan Farrell in the village of Susiya, where Palestinian families live under the threat of displacement by the Israeli army.

Seeing the situation facing people there - from the ghost town of Hebron, to the rural villages of the South Hebron hills, to the Separation wall cutting off Palestinians from the land in the Cremisan Valley - one thing rings true for me: the denial of basic rights comes in many guises. 

In Palestine, that guise looks very different to the overtly brutal ones of many other countries I have visited. The oppression of the Palestinian population and the targeting of both people and their land comes in the guise of ‘security’ and ‘legal protection’. 

It goes without saying that Israel as a state has the right to safety, security and recognition. But what I saw in the Palestinian territories was not about the security of Israel. 

The building of settlements across Palestinian land, driving farmers from their fields and demolishing homes, needs to be seen for what it is: a land grab. 

When all of the rhetoric is removed about security and legal processes, what is left is an illegal occupation and a systematic campaign of forced displacement, house demolition and land seizures. It is both illegal and immoral. 

The bravery and courage of the people I met, both Israeli and Palestinian, who struggle to challenge this, is amazing. The Israeli people who challenge their own society to come and see that the occupation destroys both the occupied and the occupier were particularly inspiring. Their bravery is a shining light in the midst of a lot of madness. 

Sean Farrell of Trócaire in the West Bank

A Palestinian farmer shows the impact of the separation wall to Séan Farrell and Bishop John McAreavey.

The situation facing people in the West Bank is a clear injustice, but in Gaza people face an entirely different crisis.  

Gaza is like nothing else: 1.8 million people corralled into a tiny strip of land cut off on all sides. It is the largest open prison in the world. 

And from that prison of poverty and isolation comes the frustration, anger and seething resentment that breeds and gives life to violence and despair.

Justice is about recognising the rights and dignity of all. And in too many places in our world, political and economic forces turn a blind eye to abuses and oppression. But working for an organisation like Trócaire is fundamentally about speaking truth to power. 

Over the last two decades I have too often come face to face with the closed fists of oppression and injustice. And I have become too used to seeing the signs and sensing its awful, threatening presence. 

That presence is all over Gaza and the West Bank. 

It is an oppressive injustice, and it is hard to see how any solution can be reached until we articulate it as such.

But, for some reason, the world cannot bring itself to speak about the truth of the problem.  

Until we do, the settlements will continue to grow, land will continue to be seized and frustrations will continue to overspill into violent and horrible acts. We will continue to swallow a daily media diet of security and terrorism. 

Seeing first-hand the seized land, demolished houses, displaced families and segregated streets and roads, it is clear to me that we must speak truth to power and unveil the reality that many seek to hide. 

Then and only then can justice prevail. 

January 14, 2016

Taking control of food production in Zimbabwe: Sarafina's story

By Nelly Maonde, Trócaire Zimbabwe

‘Social protections and agriculture: Breaking the cycle of rural poverty’, read the theme of the 2015 World Food Day.

For many years, rural farmer Sarafina’s experience of the World Food Day celebrations in Zimbabwe was of being bombarded by multinational companies on the radio advertising hybrid seed varieties, chemical fertilizer brands and many other promises to better feed the country. 

Sarafina, a 57-year-old widow, did not benefit much from these promises. 
 
Living in Masvingo province of rural Southern Zimbabwe, her experience with each agricultural season was that there was either inadequate or poorly distributed rainfall for her crops to mature and give her enough to feed her family of five.  

Sarafina harvesting crops, Zimbabwe

Caption: Sarafina and family members harvesting crops on their farm

As she reflected on those harder times during the 2015 World Food Day, she considered how her food security has been transformed. 

Sarafina has been receiving technical and input support from Trócaire’s Pprtner, Caritas Masvingo.  While the 2014-2015 season’s rain-fed crops failed on most farms neighbouring hers, she still managed to produce enough for her family and she mainly attributes this to the new techniques she acquired from the training she has received. 

“The techniques were simple such as - crop rotation, intercropping, making my own manure, ensuring soil cover with mulch and the list is still growing”, she said.

Using ‘Open Pollinated Varieties (OPV)’ of maize and sorghum seeds, Sarafina greatly increased her harvest and will be able to replant using OPV seeds again, meaning she will not have to resort to expensive seeds supplied by multinational seed companies at high prices.

She also harvested pumpkins, cowpeas, ground nuts and water melons - enough to feed her family for the following year.  

Sarafina at home

Caption: Sarafina shows some of her produce at her home in Bikita, Masvingo province

At the 2015 Organic, Traditional Food and Seed Festival held in Harare to coincide with the World Food Day celebrations, Sarafina and other women in communities supported by Trócaire’s partners showcased their food products and seeds.   #

This is an event which started three years ago and is gaining huge popularity as more and more farmers realise the value of their traditional and organic foods and also the need to own the food production systems and remove middle men and multinationals in the chain.  

Just watching Sarafina interacting with visitors to her stall, it was evident that a lot had changed in the life of the woman I first met in a small rural village a few years ago. 

Sarafina at food festival

Caption: Sarafina showcases hers and other women farmers’ produce at the 2015 Food and Seed Festival

The smile on her face and the confidence she now has seem to suggest that she not only feels in control of her food production, but several other aspects of her life too. 

Trócaire, working with six partner organisations in Zimbabwe is contributing to building sustainable livelihoods and resilience for more than 30,000 people in Sarafina’s situation in Southern Zimbabwe.  

Small scale farmers are supported with access to agricultural water, skills to enhance dry land productivity and ultimately to enhance their income. This work is then linked with support for national level policy work such as the climate policy currently being developed.

December 22, 2015

Responding to need and campaigning for change - how you made a difference in 2015

By Éamonn Meehan, Trócaire's Executive Director

2015 will be remembered by many as a year bookended by terror in Paris, but the appalling violence inflicted on the French capital in January and again in November should not blind us to some of the hugely significant and positive developments over the year. 

While international summits don’t generally provide too many water cooler moments, 2015 saw three very important such gatherings which will profoundly impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

These summits - in Ethiopia and New York to set new anti-poverty goals and financial agreements to fund them, and later in Paris where the historic global agreement on climate change was agreed – all offered degrees of hope in a year that was so sadly tragic in many other ways. 

The refugee crisis caught the world’s attention in September when the body of three year old Aylan Kurdi was washed up on a Turkish beach. The awful image sparked a huge outpouring of emotion and sympathy right across Europe, and led to many European states, including Ireland, taking welcome, if long overdue, steps to respond to the refugee crisis that is already in its fifth year. 

Like many others, Trócaire had been trying to highlight this crisis for a long time. The Syrian war will mark its fifth anniversary in March 2016 – sadly, there is no sign of this crisis ending. The world urgently needs to bring peace to Syria to stop the completely unacceptable suffering of the Syrian people.

petul refugee from syria  

Petul (11), a Syrian refugee arrives in Presevo refugee centre, Serbia after a long journey and gets aid from Trócaire partner, Caritas Serbia​. 2015 has seen record numbers of people displaced by violence around the world. 

While conflict displaced millions in Syria, earthquakes forced people in Nepal and Pakistan from their homes. 

The earthquake which struck Nepal in April left much of the country devastated. The outpouring of support in Ireland was immediate as people donated money and organised fundraising events to support our efforts to get shelter, food and water to people affected. 

That support allowed Trócaire to help get aid to 220,000 people affected by the earthquake. Our work in Nepal continues – long after the cameras are gone, your donations are building permanent, earthquake-resistant houses for people there. 

In October, a similar earthquake struck Afghanistan and Pakistan. Again, people in Ireland responded with the urgency that has always characterised their response to humanitarian disaster. We are continuing to work in affected areas in Pakistan to rebuild and restore. 

Trócaire in Nepal

Trócaire's Conor O'Loughlin helping the reflief efforts in Nepal after the devastating earthquake in April. 

The refugee crisis and the two earthquakes in Nepal and Pakistan led to Trócaire issuing three humanitarian appeals in 2015. We are immensely grateful for the continued support of so many people across Ireland who have enabled us to make a difference to people suffering through these awful experiences. 

Trócaire launches humanitarian interventions to respond to sudden and urgent needs but our long-term development work continues throughout the year. Much of this work is funded by our annual Lenten appeal, which this year focused on the impacts of climate change on farming communities in Ethiopia. We brought you the story of Mahlet and her family who, along with tens of millions of others across Africa, are finding it increasingly difficult to grow enough food due to changing weather patterns. 

Trócaire Lenten campaign 2015

Mahlet and her family featured on the 2015 Trócaire Lent campaign which highlighted the impact of climate change on rural families in Ethiopia.

Climate change was our major focus for 2015. We are seeing its impacts first-hand and responding to its impacts on a daily basis. While climate change also affects Ireland its impacts are less visible and so we have tried to raise awareness in Ireland of the devastating impact of droughts and extreme weather in the developing world. 

In June we held a climate conference in Maynooth that featured addresses by Mary Robinson, Bill McKibben and Professor Jean Pascal Van Ypersele amongst others. The conference generated a lot of attention and helped to shine a spotlight on the issue at a particularly crucial time in Ireland given the drafting of our Climate Bill. 

Trócaire has campaigned for several years for climate legislation in Ireland to ensure that we are playing our part in tackling this global crisis. The Climate Bill finally did pass through the Dáil earlier this month, meaning that for the first time Ireland has legislation linked to climate change.

The passing of the Bill coincided with the UN Climate Summit in Paris. The weekend prior to the Summit, over 5,000 people took part in street demonstrations across Ireland organised by Trócaire and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition. 

When you consider that over recent months we have seen domestic legislation passed, an international agreement secured and huge public demonstrations calling for increased climate action, it is clear that this has been a very important year for the climate justice movement. Huge work remains over the years ahead but we now have solid building blocks to start this work. 

Dublin climate march

November saw the largest climate-related street demonstrations ever seen in Ireland as thousands came out to demand strong political action. 

Our supporters and campaigners will have an important role in continuing to push for climate justice. The climate changes being experienced in the developing world are driving hunger and poverty and we have an obligation and a duty to speak out and hold industrialised nations to account for their role in creating this crisis. 

I want to thank all of our supporters for their generosity and commitment over what has been a busy, challenging, but hugely significant, year. 

On behalf of Trócaire, I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year. 

Pages