“I’ve lived on my own in Yangon since I was 16 so I’m very independent”
My name is Thereza, I am 24 years old. My father was a simple farmer, he passed away when I was 11. My mom is a housewife and after my father died, she remarried. We also lived with my grandma. I am the oldest of 4 siblings.
I am originally from Bagal, my whole family is still there. I came here to work because my family is not rich so they couldn’t support me, which is why I have to work. I’ve lived on my own in Yangon since I was 16, so I’m very independent. Since I was 16 I’ve worked in a company where everyone around me was very educated, so they encouraged me to pursue my studies. They told me I could have a bright future so I decided to get an education. I’ve always worked, which is why I’m still not finished with my studies. I am studying to get a business management degree and I also study German. I want to learn, not just to educate myself for a job but also learn about other cultures, new countries and expand my knowledge of the wider world.
It wasn’t really easy for me to leave my home and come here to work, because in Myanmar culture, parents always want the kids, and especially the girls, to live at home and do the housework. But now I’m different from when I was younger, I tell my parents that I can’t live with them all my life, I want to go abroad maybe, work in other countries, that kind of things. My grandma , she is very understanding, she says: “if you think that you can take care of yourself then it’s ok”, she understands me. She encourages me. I talk with my mom about once a month but we’re not very close, I’m closer with my grandma.
“They say women are too emotional to make decisions”
Of course in my life I have faced discrimination for being a woman. In every way, in the workplace, in school, everywhere, even in the temples there are places where women cannot go. In the classroom, boys always come first, girls have to sit in the back of the classroom. In the workplace, they don’t really want women for the higher positions. They say women are too emotional to make decisions. In the families they don’t want women to go to school, they prefer to educate boys and not girls.
I think that things are changing in Yangon. Here, there are a lot of changes, women and men are more equal but in other cities or in the villages where it’s less developed, there is no change, it is still very traditional.
The hardest thing for women in the villages is access to education and marriage choices. Marriage is very important in a woman’s life, they want to marry whoever they like, but in some places the marriages are arranged and the girls don’t even see the guy before they get married and they’re supposed to spend their life with them. My parents never tried to arrange a marriage for me because I didn’t live with them. I’m not married. People say that 24-25 is the age when you’re supposed to get married, but I want to graduate first. My family doesn’t really understand that. My friends and colleagues don’t comment on it. Especially in this company, people are very educated, some were even educated abroad. But people who are less open-minded they often make that kind of comment.
For me now I’m still not finished with my degree but once I graduate, I feel like it will be hard to access those management positions. What women usually do is they graduate, then work 4 or 5 years here and then they go to work abroad. After a few years it will be easier to come back and work as a manager here. I want to do that as well, in Germany. I am working for a German company and I am studying German so I hope I can go to work there at some point.
“If I can’t go abroad, it means I can’t climb the social ladder”
Our country was very isolated for like 50 years. No one was going abroad so people who go abroad are seen as very smart, they have seen more and it’s like they know everything, but it’s not actually true. Some people who live here and grew up here of course they are very smart. So to get further in life, and have more credibility, you have to go abroad because people still have this perception.
Here, if we want to change the next generations we have to go abroad and learn about those things, then we can bring change. If I live and study here and never go abroad, I will not be taken seriously. People will not understand why I’m doing this. People will say, “if you didn’t go abroad you can’t have this kind of knowledge”. This makes me feel really sad, because now I can’t do anything for the people. It’s really bad. If I can’t go abroad, it means I can’t climb the social ladder.
“People in the village think that if I’m successful it might be because I’m doing something bad”
My family says that I’m working for a good company, that I might go abroad to study, etc., but people say that I did something wrong, they look at me in a very negative way, that’s why I want to turn it into something positive, when you have a positive energy you can do anything. People in the village think that if I’m successful it might be because I’m doing something morally wrong. They don’t accept the fact that I can be this successful so they try to find something wrong in my behavior. It’s hard. That’s why someday I want to go back to my village and teach kids that women can be successful. My sister, she’s really smart, she is in grade 8 now, I told her that she has to create her own image, do good things for her life, and after that, do good things for the people around her. I told her: “after you finish high school, come to Yangon and I will support you”. She is a really good student so she could get a scholarship. She wants to do it, she doesn’t care what people might say. She is very strong. I want young women to become like that, then they can do good things and create their own image. Otherwise when they lack confidence or feel very low or feel shame, then they feel that all they can do is get married, even to someone they don’t like and be only housewives, even if that wasn’t what they wanted.
More women can become independent now, and for the next generation it will be even more. Women from the whole world should come together, for all women from everywhere it should be the same values, it doesn’t matter that we have different cultures.
“Women still don’t really share those kind of things”
I think that as a young ambitious woman in Myanmar I am changing the image of women here. Actually, I have a little dream, I can say dream because nothing has happened yet! I want to study and be well educated. I want to go abroad for as long as I can and then I will bring back knowledge and experience from outside, see how women abroad are living, and then come back and share as much as I can.
For things to change for women we have to change the education first, so I have to support schools, even small schools and go there and make presentations about women and talk about the challenges that we have to face in our lives because if they are really young they don’t have that kind of experience yet.
I already talk about these challenges in my village because they need this knowledge but here in this working environment they already know these things. Now I only talk to my sister and my cousin, so they listen to me but they don’t know what they are going to do yet, maybe someday they will want to do the same things I am doing. I can’t talk to many people now because I’m nothing yet, people won’t listen to me. I don’t really have any women around me right now with whom I can discuss those things. They don’t really have time and they have their own issues. Women still don’t really share those kinds of things. Even in the media I don’t really hear that much about it, even on social media. I think one of the reasons is that men say really mean things in comments, so even though women want to talk, they are afraid of what men will say. First of all, women need confidence, and to gain confidence you also have to have knowledge. It’s not only about education it’s also about experience. That’s also why I am here, I wanted to meet with you because I wanted to have that kind of experience, it gives me confidence.
“We don’t even have human rights so we definitely don’t have women’s rights”
At the political level it’s not addressed, we don’t even have human rights so we definitely don’t have women’s rights! It still seems far away! In some other countries, when people get married there is equality, it’s 50-50 to take care of the kids, but here we don’t have that. Here it’s mostly the woman who takes care of the children, even in the city. That scares me. That’s why I told my family that I won’t have children until I know I can support them on my own.
My grandmother is the one who supports me the most, because she is very strong. She got married young, had four kids and then divorced her husband when she was only 24, and she took all of her 4 kids and went away and took care of them on her own. When my mother lost her husband, my grandma took care of the four of us, all of that while selling clothes and vegetables, she also worked on a farm. She wasn’t very educated. Now she doesn’t have to work anymore because I support her. It’s also for her that I’m trying to be successful, I want her to be proud of me. I want her to see that I’m working really hard to help my family. She couldn’t teach me really with education but she taught me with other ways. She made me strong.