Stepping up: The story of one Myanmar woman farmer leading the way

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are cross-cutting issues that lie at the heart of human development. On International Women’s Day, UNDP celebrates women’s achievements and the leading role women play in realising the 2030 Agenda. In 2018 we recognise #Champions4Equality — champions like Daw Maa Dee of Du Win village.

Text by Karma Rapten, Climate Change Adaptation Specialist, UNDP Myanmar

Daw Maa Dee, 57, with the thresher provided to her village. That she has become chairman of her village’s thresher user group is not an insignificant achievement given women’s representation in local level positions is less than one percent and nine out of ten agricultural households is headed by a male. Photo credit: Ye Win Tun / UNDP Myanmar

Meet Daw Maa Dee of Du Win village. Daw Maa Dee is not your average mother of four. She is one of a kind. She is the only female chairperson of 127 ‘thresher user groups’ established in the Dry Zone of Myanmar.

As Chairperson of Du Win’s Thresher Users Group, Daw Maa Dee has an important role. She is charged with full responsibility for managing the village’s new thresher machine, provided to the community last year under a project addressing the impacts of climate change on water and food security in the region.

Daw Maa Dee explaining her role as chairperson of the thresher user group. Women play a critical role in Myanmar’s agricultural sector, though lack of access, control, and ownership are major constraints for many female farmers. Photo credit: Ye Win Tun, UNDP Myanmar

The thresher, which is capable of threshing pigeon pea, chick pea, green gram and soya bean, is a welcome addition to the village.

Being a farmer in Du Win and surrounding villages is not easy. Erratic rainfall, lack of proper storage facilities, in-efficient harvesting methods and damage by pests (insects, rodents, birds), mean villages record very high post-harvest losses — some as high as 40% — causing additional stress to already struggling families. The new thresher will significantly reduce the losses.

Daw Maa Dee is proud of being elected, despite having received only a grade 2-level education, and has been busy planning how the village can best collectively utilize the new machinery. Along with other members of the group, she has already received training on operations and maintenance — inspecting and cleaning, ensuring diesel oil is in stock and solving minor technical glitches — as well as book-keeping and maintaining financial statements.

She is excited about the benefits the thresher will bring to Du Win, not just the reduction in post-harvest losses but saved time as well. While threshing crops in a one-acre plot by traditional means costs at least MMK 60,000 (US$45) and takes two days, with the use of the thresher the cost is only MMK 30,000 (US$23) and takes just one hour, freeing up time to fetch water or go to the market to sell produce.

Asked why Daw Maa Dee was elected, U Tin Maung Swe, head of 100 village households says, “Daw Maa Dee has good management skills and already owns a crop thresher of her own. So she knows the tricks of the trade and enjoys the confidence of the villagers.”

Rice stalks stacked after threshing, used as animal fodder during the dry period. Climate change is expected to change monsoonal patterns and increase the risk of acute droughts.

Daw Maa Dee is proactive in finding ways to improve her community. Most recently, Daw Maa Dee successfully mobilized MMK 15,000,000 (US$ 11,364) in donations from over 40 businesses based in Mandalay and Hpa An. The money she mobilized is being used to buy a transformer to electrify her village.

She also intends to run for the post of village tract administrator in the near future. “I will happily run for elections if my community nominates me,” says Daw Maa Dee.

Water is very scare in the Dry Zone of Myanmar and the quality of ground water a major issue. Communities, especially women and children, travel long distances to fetch water. Photo credit: Ye Win Tun, UNDP Myanmar

In Myanmar a large proportion of households depend on agricultural production for their livelihood. Women play a vital role, often carrying out most tasks related to crop cultivation from planting and weeding to harvesting and marketing. All in addition to bearing the main responsibility for domestic and care work.

While the country has made impressive progress on gender equality and women’s rights — including an increase in the number of girls enrolling in primary and secondary school, improved participation of women in the labour force, better maternal health outcomes and more social protection measures for women — national data reflects continuing inequalities, including women in positions of decision-making.

Daw Maa Dee’s story is one worth celebrating.

Share her story this #InternationalWomensDay — tweet #Champions4Equality

Daw Maa Dee with UNDP Myanmar Deputy Country Director and other village elders.

Daw Maa Dee is one among several beneficiaries of the four-year project ‘Addressing Climate Change Risks on Water Resources and Food Security in the Dry Zone of Myanmar’, led by the Myanmar Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation with technical support from UNDP and financing by the Adaptation Fund. The project seeks to reduce the vulnerability of farmers in Dry Zone to increasing drought and rainfall variability, as well as enhance their capacity to plan for and respond to future climate change impacts on food security.

UNDP in Asia and the Pacific

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