In the regions that ring the Bay of Bengal, men and especially women have little choice but to work as landless, low-wage laborers. More than 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and like most places in the world, women are paid even less than men.
Some of these women manage to forge their own path. Women in Myanmar’s coastal Ayeyarwaddy region increasingly choose entrepreneurial ventures away from farms, such as tailoring or market stalls. But their efforts often are hampered by a lack of business support and limited advocacy opportunities. In addition, citizens and women in particular are only beginning to develop civic skills after 60 years of military rule and geographical isolation.
To combat these obstacles, RI has partnered with the local Thirimay Women’s Development Cooperative Society and the Italian aid organization Comitato Internazionale Per Lo Sviluppo Dei Popli (CISP) to offer these entrepreneurs organizational and financial support. The four-year program, funded by the European Union and launched in 2013:
- Introduced the concept of cooperatives in order to pool resources, expertise and increase profit margins
- Supported business training for cooperatives including how to create a business plan, analyze market demands and price, avoid middlemen and access markets in geographically isolated areas.
- Connected local women’s cooperatives with local level government, ensuring that women’s voices and needs were heard.