The Swedish Burma Committee’s Democracy Programme in Myanmar aims to strengthen the change agents’ capacity within the country’s civil society, by partnering with local associations and grassroots organizations that provide human rights training and assistance to the local population, as well as monitor and demand accountability from those in the seat of power.
The work of these associations and organizations is paramount in the process towards democracy and peace in Myanmar where until recently, freedom of expression and the right to assert one’s views as a citizen and on issues that concern one’s life are forbidden.
The Committee’s partners from these associations and organizations consist of former political prisoners, activists, youth, monks and farmers working for political change. They are located in eight of Myanmar’s 14 states.
Below are a few ‘voices’ from some of the groups The Committee supports:
Target group: Youth
The Kachin Youth Network in Myitkyina, in the Kachin state capital, wants to curb the drug abuse problem among its peers and to encourage young people to take an active part in society. “We want to create change simply because we must. Drugs have had devastating consequences for the Kachin people.”
Target group: Farmers
The Human Rights Defenders Network provides legal assistance to villagers who are in dispute with local authorities. “We have helped farmers receive compensation for seized lands by speaking with and writing letters to the authorities, hold press conferences and if necessary organize public demonstrations.”
Target group: Women
”People here do not believe that the low political participation of women is a problem, but it is! Women’s experiences and perspectives must be given attention,” says Pa Pa, program director for an association that works for gender equality.
Target group: Those affected by ethnic conflicts
The Hsengs and Sais organization crisscrosses the Shan State despite neglected roads and armed conflict, working to strengthen the grass roots organizations there. “The victims of conflict have not been listened to by the government or rebel groups, but has suffered in silence.”
The programme aims to strengthen local groups’ ability to contribute to social change.
Local activists receive training in areas such human rights, non-discrimination and advocacy while local organizations are provided long-term support to: strengthen internal democratic structures, increase efficiency in their activities, engage people and build alliances in Myanmar’s civil society. The programme is designed in close cooperation with existing activist networks in the country’s democracy movement, and consists of twenty smaller, long-term projects.
Knowledge of one’s fundamental rights is an important step to enable the people to stand up against injustice and make demands on politicians.
The Myanmarese dictatorship has long subjected the population to severe human rights violations by the state. The country’s current ongoing reform process thus provides a considerably greater space for the people to express and organize themselves, and creates an opportunity in which future violations can be prevented and the dialogue between the people and the rulers can be improved. In order for human rights to be respected, homegrown groups need to be supported in their efforts to channel their voices and views up to those in power.
In 2014, a major external evaluation to assess project performance was carried out.
The evaluation found that The Committee’s projects are highly relevant and provided important contributions to strengthened civil society and democratization in Myanmar. This was accomplished by reaching out to grassroots actors who otherwise would not have had opportunities for cooperation, and also by supporting the organization and participation of the people in local democracy activities. These activities are essential in giving regular citizens more clout to influence issues concerning their everyday life in society.
The Democracy Program was started in 2010 and is funded by Sida.