Myanmar

Empowered women empower women

Thazyne

Yangon, Myanmar

“In Myanmar, many women don’t have jobs, however, they can weave and have beautiful fabric so I like to work with them and give them an opportunity to have a stable source of income”

My name is Thazyne. I am 35 years old. I am not married. I have been working at Scott Market in Yangon for ten years. I sell Longyi and jean fabric.

I was born in Yangon and I am living near the airport so it is quite far from here. It takes me one hour to come to work. I like to work here, I like to sell fabric because I want to help local weavers. All the fabric I sell is from villages in Chin state in the North West of Myanmar. In Myanmar, many women don’t have jobs, however, they can weave and have beautiful fabric so I like to work with them and give them an opportunity to have a stable source of income. I take their beautiful weavings and sell them here in Yangon. In the state of Chin, women are the best weavers of Myanmar, in my opinion. That is the reason why I work with women from this state.

Back in the days, when I was around 20 years old, after I graduated from high school I couldn’t go to university. Because of the political instability, all universities in Myanmar were closed for quite a while. A friend of mine had a clothing shop and I started to work with her. One day, a person from the USA came and was looking for fabrics to buy. He needed someone to help him around to find the fabrics he wanted. He and I went to the Chin state to meet with the female weavers there. I was thrilled to go to those villages where I knew women were very talented. We went to those villages and looked for the best weavers and best fabrics. I learnt a lot about the business of textile. I also learnt a lot about the weavers and their living situations. I took notes and interviewed a few of them. After a few years, my friend who had the shop left for Germany and I decided to run my own business. I like my job and I like helping the weavers. In the villages, women have many children and need money to take care of them.

“At the time of my grand-mother’s and mother’s generations, only men could work. Women were homebound (…). Nowadays, things are different.”

There are more women working in this market than men but the situation is changing. At the time of my grand-mother’s and mother’s generations, only men could work. Women were homebound. The whole family could live off of one salary. The living costs were lower. Nowadays, things are different. Life is more expensive, even getting an education is expensive. Having only one person in the household working is not enough anymore, women have to work too. Young girls and women nowadays understand the situation of the country, I would say that they understand it better than men.

I work alone here. All my friends who gave me a hand at the shop left for foreign countries. The situation is difficult here, it is hard to run a business and live from it. My friends thought they’d make more money in foreign countries. I stayed here, I like living in Myanmar. When I started running my business, I only had one shop now I have a few. I am really happy.

I invest a lot of my money in the weavers. I never buy myself expensive things, like gold, I don’t even have a bank account. I don’t save money, if I have money I just invest it to help the weavers. I feel that my situation is better than them so if I can help the women from these remote and underprivileged villages I do it. When people ask me I say that I don’t have money, I only have textiles. But I am happy like this.

“I think me owning my own business and supporting other women to be financially independent is inspiring other women and young girls to become entrepreneur”

No one in my family works in the business. They all have jobs in the government administration. I am the first. When I told my family that I wanted to sell clothes, they were afraid that I would either lose money or not make enough to support my living costs. Now that they see me succeeding, they are happy and encourage me. I live with my family.

I think me owning my own business and supporting other women to be financially independent is inspiring other women and young girls to become entrepreneur. Women need to be strong because if they depend too much on men it is not good. When you live in a family like mine where men are nice, encouraging and respectful it is not a problem to be a woman, but if it is not the case then it is not good too depend too much on the men of your family. In Myanmar, men have a lot of issues with alcohol and don’t want to work hard. This happens mostly in lower classes of society. In this situation, women have to take the lead and work to support their family because their husband or father, the head of the family, is not fulfilling his traditional role in the family as an income earner. In many families, the role between men and women shifted. Men stay home and drink alcohol while women are outside working. In those households affected by alcoholism, women are at high risk of being abused. For instance, if they don’t bring enough money for their husband to buy their booze, they get beat up. I don’t know the situation for higher social class in the society, but for the middle and lower classes this problem exists a lot.

 “The lower classes suffer from a lot of social and economic issues. Responsibilities thus fall onto the children. They are prevented from going to school and forced to work from a very young age”

In Myanmar, there is a lot of problems and the younger generation suffers from the consequences of the isolation and political instability. In this market, a lot of young children work, just like Pyep Pyep. Those children don’t have a father or their father is an alcoholic and doesn’t work. The children don’t go to school and they have to come here at the market and work. It is easy to get money in this market, it is a very famous market and tourists just flow money in here. The smart kids who are good at selling, like Pyep Pyep, can make around 20 000 Kyats (about 20 US$) a day which is much more than what they could get from another job somewhere else.

The parents just rely on their children. Children have to work because either the household is too poor or the parents are alcoholics and don’t work so the children have to. They give all the money they earn to their parents who may use it to buy food or booze or to gamble. None of them go to school, this is sad.

The lower classes suffer from a lot of social and economic issues. Responsibilities thus fall onto the children. They are prevented from going to school and forced to work from a very young age. When I ask the young girls working here what they wish for their future, they often answer that they wish to marry a man from a wealthy foreign country, like Japan, and have a better life. In their minds, this is the only way out of poverty. They are deprived of an education, they can’t see another way to improve their life. They know things are hard, they are already working and struggling like adults, we can’t blame them for hoping for better lives. In the case of Pyep Pyep, for instance, her mother talks to her as if she was the same age as her, and as if she was not her daughter. It is very bad for their personal development. They are children, not adults. Her mother doesn’t have friends, her friend is her daughter. Pyep Pyep is her mother’s support, financially and psychologically. It is not right. She knows of adults problems that a children should not have to worry about. Often, I let her play at my booth because she is a child, but still, even if she has the life of an adult, she never listens for very long! She is smart. Adults should never treat children like adults, they are ruining their childhood.

“Women and girls have to make a lot of sacrifices for their family, no matter from which social class they are from. They do not own their lives. They have limitations.”

Women and girls have to make a lot of sacrifices for their family, no matter from which social class they are from. They do not own their lives. They have limitations. And domestic violence is a big problem in Myanmar as well. The situation is changing though. Now in Myanmar, women are more empowered. A lot of women now don’t want to get married and focus on their career, but not all of them yet.

Among my friends, we are all single and that makes us question ourselves on why we are not married. Life didn’t give us the opportunity to meet people like us, who share the same interests, and then with time we got to like living alone. Also, having a family and raising children is not necessarily the only thing women want nowadays. They want a career too. I believe in Myanmar women are stronger than men.

Some women marry later, when they are about 40. One of my friend just called me to say that she was going to Japan to get married. I asked her what was the rush and she said that she needed to make a baby quickly because she is not getting any younger. We laughed and I told her to hurry up! She found him on the internet. He is Burmese but works in Myanmar. This is what some women do when they see that they are getting older and are still unmarried. They rush things, find someone on the internet and start a family before it is too late. They still suffer from pressure from society, even those you think are above that. I have seen a lot of my friends going abroad to get married. There are “passers”, that find women in Myanmar to get married abroad. Bride and groom never meet. All the good men left to work abroad, it is the general belief here, and so many women use those services to find husbands. I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to use those marriage agencies because my only ambition is not to be a wife and a mother.

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