After another bumpy ride on the oxcart, Emma Thompson joins Joanna Kerr to hear sobering stories of domestic violence and inequality and how the women of Myanmar are squaring up to the issues - and sometimes the men - themselves...
Lunch is rice with chickpeas and vegetables, and some beautiful beef. I eat as much as I can. Then the oxcarts turn up and I immediately regret eating anything at all.
We joggle violently about around the environs, learning about what the village has done to improve its quality of life. $700 was all that went into the development fund. They used it to build a pond and start a credit and loans scheme. Normally borrowed money here pays 20% interest per month. With the scheme you pay 2%.
We join Jo (Joanna Kerr, ActionAid CEO), who has been talking to a Women’s Conference – they’ve been discussing domestic violence, which is rife. Collectively, the women march to whatever couple needs help and they prevent the man from thumping his family.
“It’s quite easy to stop them because they’re nearly always drunk”, says May Thet Htwe who is 50 and looks 70.
The thing that Jo and I have noticed, even in the ActionAid staff, is that no one really talks about themselves, their feelings or their problems and especially not the women.
A graph like a spider’s web illustrates the imbalances: men, apparently, deal only with income. Women do absolutely everything else, so much more that their health suffers. They must always be the followers. Only men are allowed a social life. In this village, things are discussed, but any important decisions must be made by the husbands. All the signatures, legal and otherwise, must be male.
After this, Jo goes to visit a family and watches as a family event incarnates the nature of patriarchy here.
“It was all so dramatic” she tells us. “I was sitting talking to this Mum, Dad and younger daughter when the eldest sibling came in – just back from her orange-picking tour and looking very happy. I noticed she had nail-varnish on and her hair was cut nicely – and I thought, that’s a girl who has managed to earn enough to keep her family and have a few small treats for herself. That’s why she looked so happy. So I said to the Dad, aren’t you proud of her? Your daughter’s achieved so much! And all hell broke loose. He just turned on her – said she wasn’t allowed to go back, she’s not contributing to the household and she’ll only go off and come back married. The girl was crying, the sister was really upset. She begged to be allowed to work. But the Dad was adamantly opposed.”