Foreign direct investment (FDI) is coming to Burma at an unprecedented rate. Since April 2013, the start of the fiscal year, to the end of August, $1.8 billion dollars worth of FDI projects has been approved. In comparison, FDI for the entire 2012 fiscal year was $1.4 billion. As garment factories, car manufacturers, hotels, and various industries come to Burma, it is crucial that women are equal partners in the country’s economic growth.
At the Myanmar Women’s Forum 2013 held from December 6-7, leading businesswomen voiced out that traditional gender roles hinder female entrepreneurs. Burmese women, like millions of women all over the world, feel the strain of balancing their careers with their family. In addition, women in Burma are underrepresented in politics, in the police force, and in the military. They are also vulnerable to systemic rape, and face barriers to employment and health care.
Last October, the government released The National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women. The Plan identified the following priority areas: livelihoods and poverty reduction; education and training; health; violence against women; emergencies; economy; decision making; institutional mechanisms; human rights; media; environment; and the girl child.
There are various initiatives sponsored by local, international, and regional organizations to promote the empowerment of Burmese women. Local initiatives can be found at http://www.mikrogranty.cz/burma/all-projects.html. Projects promote protection against domestic violence, women’s rights, and prenatal care pregnant women, among many others.
In 1922, George Orwell, then known as Eric Blair, went to Burma and served as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force. He was stationed in Katha, Sagaing Division, about 240 kilometers north of Mandalay. His life in Burma was the inspiration for Burmese Days, his first novel.
Orwell’s home, made of wood and brick, still stands in Katha. Campaigners are seeking to protect his home from developers, by turning it into a museum. The campaign started in February, when the house was supposed to be torn down for a skate park. In the words of author and historian Thant Myint-U, “we are trying collectively to maintain and restore everything related to George Orwell, Burmese Days and Katha town as we regard it as a precious legacy”.
As more and more tourists are drawn to Katha for a glimpse of the author’s home, a recent article casts doubts that Orwell was the original occupant. It is claimed that Orwell’s home was ravaged in a 1986 earthquake, and this particular house actually belonged to a district superintendent. Doubts notwithstanding, this building is only one of many colonial structures in Burma at risk of being demolished to make way for new developments. There is currently a strong campaign to preserve Burma’s unique religious and colonial architectural heritage. (See previous post: Rapid Urbanization)
Many travelers are inspired to see Burma through Orwell’s eyes. The New York Times article, In Myanmar, Retracing George Orwell’s Steps by Lawrence Osborne and the book Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larking are worth the read.
Southeast Asian Games
The 27th SEA Games opening ceremony took place on December 11th, in the newly-built Wunna Theikdi Stadium in Naypyidaw. The date is considered auspicious by astrologists, and is expected to bring luck to Burma during the games. Photos from the event show that no expense was spared for Burma’s ‘coming-out party’.
In a bid to show the world that Burma is well on its way to democracy, 44 political prisoners were released on the eve of the opening ceremonies, and President Thein Sein has pledged to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year.
See previous post: 27th Southeast Asian Games
Hosting the SEA Games is just one way Burma is strengthening its ties with other ASEAN nations. In addition to visa exemption agreements with Laos and Vietnam, the country also signed a 14-day visa-free agreement with the Philippines. The agreement was announced during President Thein Sein’s three-day state visit.
Construction of the Myanmar-Laos Friendship Bridge is also underway, and is expected to be completed by 2015. The bridge will be 691.6 meters long and 8.5 meters wide. The president of Laos visited Burma this week to discuss tourism, border trade, direct flights, and technical exchange for education, forest, agriculture and livestock breeding and fishery.
In a clear sign that Burma is geared to expand its regional role, the country is assuming the role of ASEAN chair in 2014.
‘Tis the Season
There’s still time to make a donation in someone’s name to support one of Burma Center Prague’s microgrant projects. All donations are tax-deductable in the Czech Republic.