Strengthening Women’s Co-operatives in Myanmar (SWIM)

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Myanmar is in the midst of an unprecedented political opening.  Its first civilian government in nearly 60 years took power in 2010, and has since begun liberalizing parts of the economy and political system at a rapid pace.  Political prisoners have been freed, a peace agreement with one faction of ethnic rebels has been signed, and some industries are being freed of military control.  Many hope that this liberalisation will lead to an increase in human development and civil society empowerment for this nation of approximately 60 million, which has not followed many of its Asian neighbours down the path of development. 

The Ayeyarwaddy region – where the Action will be based – has one of the higher rates of poverty in Myanmar at 32%, and is one of only four states/regions where poverty incidence has increased since 2005 (Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey in Myanmar: MDG Data Report, 2011).  However, MDG indicators used to demonstrate the share of women in wage employment in the non agricultural sector show that in the Ayeyarwaddy region, this has increased from 44 to 51% in five years since 2005 (ibid, 2011), a change which can be accelerated with the right support and access to services.  

Dedaye Township has a population of approximately 220,000 in the heart of the Ayeyarwaddy Delta area.  It is mostly rural, but also relatively densely populated at approximately 533 people/sq mile (Township Health Profile 2012, courtesy of the Township Medical Officer).  People in 387 villages eke out a living on small pieces of land, and while relatively densely populated for a rural area, many parts of the township are remote and difficult to reach because of the delta geography.   Civil society groups are not formally organised and there is little or no access to formal microfinance or savings services for those in business.   

The Action addresses the following problems, particularly affecting the women:

1) Lack of capacity of NSAs.  Lead partner Thirimay Women’s Development Cooperative Society, while having an instrumental role to play in supporting small enterprises and women’s cooperatives, are also lacking in operational and management capacity that would enable more efficient and accountable implementation.  As with many NSAs in Myanmar, a lack of contact and exchange with global civil society groups has meant that Myanmar NGOs have developed in isolation and without the means of support afforded to civil society in other parts of the region. 

2) Lack of capacity for civic participation:  Civic participation in all categories is low after nearly 60 years of military dictatorship.  Understanding of democracy and civil engagement is low, and even university-educated Myanmar people say that they need a better understanding of democratic participation.  Women’s capacity to organize and advocate for their rights – including their economic rights – is low.  For instance, there are far fewer women’s cooperatives in Myanmar than in neighbouring India, and cooperatives that do exist have limited capacity.  A nascent group of cooperative civil society actors is forming, but women’s cooperatives are largely absent from this group because of a lack of capacity.  Furthermore, an important new cooperatives law is in the drafting stage, but women’s cooperatives have not been strong enough to have a voice and advocate for the legislation to protect and nurture women’s cooperatives.  Furthermore, there is no clear way for concerns from individual women entrepreneurs to reach decision-makers.

3) Landlessness and an associated reliance on casual labour: This is common throughout the country.  Thirty three per cent of people in Ayeyarwaddy Division are landless, and generally they rely on casual labour for their income (Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey in Myanmar (IHLCS II), 2009-2010, p. Xiii).  The employment rate is high, but wages are extremely low, and are a major cause of poverty in the country (ibid, p51).  Women in Myanmar are allowed to move freely, and participate openly in the economy.  However, the female labour participation rate is much lower (49 per cent in Ayeyarwaddy) than the male rate (85 percent in Ayeyarwaddy) (ibid, p52), and women routinely get paid less for the same job.

4) Lack of assets and access to business support:  One of the many ways in which Myanmar has lagged behind is through a lack of access to financial services for its citizens.  As at September 2009, institutional microfinance services were available in 46 out of Myanmar’s 330 townships (Microfinance Industry Report, Myanmar – 2010, ACTED, p. 9).  UNDP estimated the demand for microfinance in Myanmar to be approximately $400 million to $600 million (Ibid, p 19).   Although additional microfinance capacity has come online in Myanmar in the past three years, the supply is still far from meeting the demand.  Corresponding business and livelihoods skills are also lacking at the local level where there is limited use of business planning and market analysis to increase the profits and productivity of small scale enterprises. 

Goal and Specific Objectives

Goal: To strengthen the capacity of national and community-level women’s cooperatives in Myanmar

Specific Objectives:

To strengthen the work of women’s NSA Thirimay Women’s Development Cooperative Society;
To strengthen the ability of women’s cooperatives to advocate and network at the local, regional, and national levels;
To build capacity for sustainable livelihoods for women in rural Myanmar

Main Activities

- Reinforce the managerial and operational capacity of Thirimay Women’s Development Cooperative Society    

- Provide training in project cycle management and proposal writing, on financial management training and on governance training of trainers and provide technical training on IT

-  Set-up and training of a Women's Advocacy Group-WAG, and Organise workshops to analyse and advocate for women’s representation in cooperative law for more effective representation.

The main  agenda’s objective will include:

Building understanding of the current Cooperative Law in operation in Myanmar and the context in which it was drafted;
Learning of the seven international principles of cooperatives, and international guidance on the role and scope of cooperatives;
Analysis of recently proposed amendments to Myanmar Cooperative Law;
Analysis of Cooperative Law and relevance to women-oriented trades;


Examination of other national Cooperative Laws for useful comparisons;

The WAG will draw up recommendations on Myanmar Cooperative Law to use as a starting point for discussion. 

Findings from the workshop will be agreed, published  and presented as a formal report on the Role of Cooperatives in Civil Society Advocacy. 

Beneficiary directly and indirectly reached by the project: 50 persons have been trained (PCM, Administrative and Financial management, basic IT skills and maintenance, Training of the Trainers). 20 women are the actual members of the 2 women advocacy groups (WAG) created and about 1 thousand of persons were reached, consulted and actively involved in the awareness and mobilization campaign.

Main Results achieved up to September 2015

Thirimay Women’s Development Cooperative Society  members drafted a strategy paper and action plan. It will be submitted and discussed for final and official approval during the annual Thirimay WDC General Assembly.

Two  WAG groups constituted by 10 women members, have been established, one in Hlaingtharyar and one in Dedaye Townships. The two WAG are already carrying out the following main activities:  advocating for women’s more active participation at all levels, within the primary cooperatives;  advocating for sustainable and positive change in the status  of women, within cooperatives and communities;  promoting e the discussion about policies aimed at improving the role of women  in the present cooperative law;  networking  with other organizations and groups to learn, exchange information,   and increase WAG’s members participation

Technical training  gave opportunities to 6 women to  find  a job in garment factories

3 cooperatives signed production contracts with garments factories.

Awareness raising and mobilization campaign to advocate for women’s more effective representation in cooperative society were carried out in 4 Townships Dedaye, Kawhmu, Hlaingtharyar and Padeban.


Project funded by

Otto Per Mille Opere della Chiesa Valdese

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