Standing up for equal pay
Empowering women through our disaster resilience work
After being forced to drop out of school at only 14, Zin Zin had to start working in the fields to support her parents, her two younger brothers and her elder sister in southern Rakhine State, in Myanmar.
Situated along the Bay of Bengal on the East coast of Myanmar, Rakhine State is not only prone to floods, cyclones, heavy rains and heat waves, but also to conflict. Like most places in Myanmar, her village receives an average of 95 per cent of their annual rainfall during the South West Monsoon period between May and September. However, the recent unpredictability of this usually welcomed rainfall, in combination with high tides and warmer and drier hot seasons, is destroying livelihoods and presenting communities with serious life and death problems. Many farmers are being forced to migrate to urban areas, losing their livelihoods and far too often, their homes. This is a great worry for labourers like Zin Zin.
Now 19, Zin Zin has to wake up every morning at 5:30 to start working in the fields at 6am. She works until 11am and then again from 2 to 6pm, mainly planting peanuts or working in the sugar canes under the burning sun. For that work, she receives 2,000 Kyat (1 GBP) while her male counterparts earn 5,000 Kyat (3 GBP), for exactly the same work.
The BRACED Myanmar Alliance, led by Plan International and working with Action Aid, World Vision, Myanmar Environment Institute, BBC Media Action and UN Habitat, is implementing a three-year programme funded by UK Aid. Its goal is to build the resilience of Zin Zin and more than 350,000 vulnerable people across the country to climate shocks and stresses, such as those affecting Zin Zin's village.
But building resilience to cyclones and drought is not only about preparing vulnerable communities for these hazards through capacity building, early warning systems, and better climate information, it is also about promoting and encouraging gender equality. The project is building the capacity of at-risk women to identify and prioritise resilience-building interventions, as well as increasing women’s access to sustainable livelihoods and income generation. It also gives them access to financial services to tackle the gendered division of labour and women’s economic dependence.
Key to these is building women empowerment: providing women with the knowledge and skills to fight for their rights and demand equality. For Zin Zin this started with equal pay.
The women empowerment training developed under the framework of BRACED, has been rolled out to all 155 project communities. It consists of passing on knowledge and taking part in different games and exercises, enabling both men and women to learn about gender equality and human rights. The training has helped women to develop confidence and skills to speak up for themselves, to participate in decision-making and to challenge traditional gender roles in their communities.
But what made Zin Zin act was unequal pay.
Zin Zin was articulate and confident when talking to her boss about providing equal pay for both male and female labourers. She spoke up for herself and the women working with her, successfully persuading her boss that they deserved the same wages as men. It created a legacy on the farm and inspired other women to do the same.