This week, we discuss the issues surrounding Kayan women who fall prey to human traffickers. We also examine the low impact of reforms on small businesses and the introduction of two new routes to Burma.
Kayan Women trafficked as tourist attraction
As this article rightly puts it, “visiting one of the long-neck Karen villages along the Thai border with Myanmar is one of those “examine your conscience” trips, like deciding whether to go to Myanmar 10 years ago, or whether to pay to hug a tiger in the growing number of tiger-hugging places in northern Thailand”.
The article denounces both the degrading living conditions of the Kayan women who are considered as real tourist bargains and are used for the benefit of exploiters. “Dark hands, it is said, were at work behind the political scene – people who were making a fat profit from creating “traditional Kayan villages” and charging tourists to go in and gawk […] All of this has been described as a sort of human zoo. Which on one level it is.”
However, while tourists – consciously or otherwise – take advantage of this form of trafficking in human beings, nothing is that simple. The Kayan women were forced out of Burma by a civil war raging in the border areas until recently. Their options were to stay in the war zone, end up in a tourist village or go to a refugee camp where they would be fully dependent on hand-outs of humanitarian organizations and without any legal protection since Thailand is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The article observes: “As one Kayan woman explained (probably for the millionth time), it was better [to be in the tourist village] than being beaten, used as a human mine-detector, raped or killed, or all of the above – all real concerns in Myanmar until very recently, perhaps even now.”
Surely, dependency on human traffickers should not be their only alternative.
As it is denounced by Myanmar Tourism Watch, this form of women trafficking does not stop at the doors of these “traditional villages”. This report states further that women from the Padaung tribe were usually ‘exhibited next to the Shwesandaw paya (sunset pagoda) as a form of tourist attraction, hundreds of kilometres away from their home in Bagan.
We encourage you to discover Kayan Beauties, the first movie about the Kayan minority with Kayan women in the principal roles. This engaging movie has just won the special jury award at the Asean Film Festival in Malaysia. ‘Kayan Beauties’ is about three Kayan women who, far from their home, desperately search for a Kayan girl kidnapped by human traffickers.
Low impact of reforms on small businesses
Since 2011 when Burmese doors opened to the outside world, there have been many articles exploring the growth of tourism and the increased interest of foreign investors to do business in the country.
The author of this article who visited Pyay reveals the nuance of these economic transformations. Unlike in Yangon which is the most important commercial centre of the country, “there was none of this evidence of growth. The city’s most prominently placed businesses were utilitarian; those who could afford luxuries took the six hour bus ride to Yangon to find it”. Given a few examples, he argues that “the Burmese economy has a while to go before entrepreneurs can really make strides in the retail sector […] It seems still more reforms are needed before the entrepreneurs of Myanmar can really thrive”.
New routes to Burma
Following a recent agreement between Thailand and Burma, “Thai budget carrier Nok Air plans to open two new routes from the border town of Mae Sot to Rangoon and Moulmein in Burma“.
The launch is part of the preparations for “the establishment of a special economic zone in Mae Sot and the start of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015”. The aim of the ASEAN Economic Community would be to promote more regional cooperation, making it more economically competitive and fully integrated into the global economy. Tourism potential would also be at the core of the development of the ASEAN Economic Community.
Have a good week everyone.