Girl Determined is sparking a movement of girls with leadership skills to advocate for their own rights and a future that does not re-create the risks they now face.
Girls at the forefront of change in Burma/Myanmar.
Girl Determined strives for an active network of girls where information, ideas, support, and enthusiasm are abundant. Bringing girls to the forefront will raise the overall status of girls and women in communities in a society where military men, businessmen, and monks currently hold most decision-making power.
Life Challenges of the Women Served
The rights of girls are generally not thought of as a serious issue in the country, despite the fact that sexual exploitation and trafficking of young girls to China for forced marriage, for example, continues to increase, or that the so-called “un-wrapping” of girls (selling young, virgin girls into prostitution) continues to take place on the outskirts of Burma’s most prosperous cities—Rangoon and Mandalay. This apathy, social acceptance, and tolerance of rights violations against girls typifies an underlying gender discrimination: a discrimination which forces more girls to drop out of school so their male siblings can continue, and compels girls to engage in child labour to support their families’ income at the expense of their own futures.
Girl Determined targets girls aged 12-17 living in poor communities in and around larger cities. These girls are vulnerable to extreme poverty, HIV infection, dangerous labor, sexual violence, and trafficking. What we see is a lower number of girls attending and completing school, especially beyond sixth grade, a significant chore burden for girls, and limits on girls’ mobility. The outcome of these realities has been that despite their curiosity and engagement, girls often lack self-confidence, have poor communication skills, lack vision for themselves, have limited relationship skills, and exhibit self-harming behaviors.
Economic and political repression has led to extreme poverty as well as the sidelining of women’s issues in the larger social justice movement. Girls in this age group have few social services available to them, and few female mentors.
In Burma, often when a family can no longer care for their children, they are sent to nunneries and monasteries. Many of these girls have lost one or both parents and tend to come from conflict border zones. They are among the most marginalized girls in the country. Many have no ‘home’ to return to and become victims of exploitation upon departing from their lives as nuns.
Teenage girls need safe spaces, mentors, and social networks for positive personal development. Girl Determined is a leadership project designed to assist vulnerable adolescent girls through educating, connecting, supporting and fostering the development of personal and group voice to derail cycles of abuse, poverty and neglect.
Girl Determined employs a three-pronged strategic approach:
- Individual Transformation – Adolescent girls go through some form of personal transformation leading to changes in their understanding of personal power and rights. Shifts include reduction of shame and fear regarding violence, ability to identify and express situations of discrimination, value of self and of education, motivation, and skills to actively make decisions about one’s future.
- Network Mobilization – Girls develop a sense of connectedness with girls from across the country through their shared experiences and complex differences. By bringing girls together through ‘by-girls, for-girls’ projects, Girls Forums, and a Girls Advisory Board, girls mobilize as defenders and actors. This wide network also creates a structure through which other programs can be realized.
- Research and Advocacy – Evidence-based research assists Girl Determined in bringing increased attention to the plight and power of the girl child in Burma. Research and related advocacy is focused domestically, pushing governmental and non-governmental agencies to recognize the specific needs of girls in their programming.
Colorful Girls Circles is Girl Determined’s core program. It is a nine-month long weekly after-school program addressing Individual Transformation of the strategic approach, and is also the basis for all of the programming. The Girls Leadership Summer Camp addresses Individual Transformation and Network Development of the strategic approach.
The girls served by Girl Determined are represented in leadership through the Girls’ Advisory Board. GAB aims to amplify leadership skills for a select number of Circle participants who demonstrate exceptional promise and desire for personal development, while at the same time creating a mechanism for adolescent girls to contribute directly to the operations and priorities of Colorful Girls as a whole. In 2012, GAB met quarterly, each meeting centered on a specific topic of the program, ensuring that girls can provide input into organizational and program decisions, while ensuring the organization is downwardly accountable.
Additionally, Girl Determined is part of the Women’s Organization Network in Burma. As a member, they collaborate with women’s organizations to identify target communities and share knowledge and skills.
Questions for Discussion
- Try to remember what you were like at age 13. What if you had come home from school one day, and your father told you this is your last day of school. In a few days, you will be married to his 35-year-old second cousin in a distant village. You have never seen this man. You want to be a teacher, but your education is over and you know from now on, you will be carrying water, gathering firewood, washing clothes, cooking and cleaning, and probably working in the fields many hours a day. And you will soon be pregnant. How would you cope?
- Can you imagine what it would be like if you had to ask your husband’s permission to leave the house—and you might be beaten if you didn’t? What effect would that have on you?
- Other than education, what do you think is the best way to go about empowering girls in developing countries?
The Project Budget and How DFW's Donations will be used
Support from Dining for Women will be used to expand Colorful Girls Circles (in two new locations) to 90 Circles in 2013 and 130 Circles in 2014, and to expand the Girls Leadership Summer Camp opportunity.
Colorful Girls Circles
The Colorful Girls Circles, based in council format, are nine-month-long, completely voluntary peer processing groups, limited to 15 girls per Circle. The Circle curriculum is comprised of five fundamental modules developed to strengthen girls’ protective factors. The activities-based curriculum topics have come out of research on adolescent girl development in other contexts and the expressed and observed needs of girls in Burma. The five modules and the broad objectives are as follows:
- ‘Looking In’ – getting the girls comfortable with sharing in the Circle and beginning to understand that there is no ‘right way’ or ‘wrong way’ to be themselves
- Relationships with others – practice in expressing one’s needs and communicating them in productive manner
- Ethnic and Religious Diversity – identifying cultural messages about religion and ethnic identity as a step towards uncovering myths as well as allowing for a more complex understanding of identity
- Paths to the Future – weighing risks and opportunities of job offers through a rights-based lens
- Mind and Body – understanding the fundamentals of puberty and reproduction, including HIV transmission
Girls Leadership Summer Camp
In 2012, Girl Determined implemented their first-ever, Peace Building Summer Camp for Girl Leaders. The camp was held for six days in March at a site near Burma’s seaside. In 2012 the camp accommodated 35 girls. In 2013 the plan is to invite up to 60 girls and in 2014 to accommodate 90 girls. Girls are selected from weekly Circle activities and come from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Each participant will have exhibited leadership strengths and a keen desire to increase their participation in the ‘Girl Movement.’ Leadership Camp addresses two areas of the strategic approach – Individual Transformation and Network Development.
Camp objectives include:
- Building relationships with girls of different backgrounds, learning diversity, and unpacking the cultural myths about different ethnicities and religions
- Increasing each girl’s sense of independence and practicing making decisions about daily routines
- Exploring their own beliefs and self-awareness away from the stresses of daily life (a break for girls that have so much responsibility and no personal space)
- Developing networks through a sense of sisterhood and complex understanding of differences
The Program Budget
Girl Determined will receive $50,000 from Dining for Women, divided over a two-year period.
|Personnel costs (~10%) for Colorful Girls Facilitators (10 full time, 5 part time women) and Special Activity Planners (Summer Camp and Girls Forum)||
|Creative Materials costs (~45%) for 90 Circles in 2013 and 130 Circles in 2014 (paper, pens, coloring supplies)||
|Closing Ceremonies – supplies for recognizing girls’ achievements and for parental involvement||
|Travel – Quarterly Oversight and Preparation trips||
|Transportation for 60 girls to Camp in 2013 and 90 girls in 2014||
|Accommodations, facilities and creative materials for Camp||
|Program Office Rentals for expansion to two new locations (including utilities, communication expense, office supplies)||
Total of Program Budget supported by DFW over 2 years
Please note: Net donations over the grant amount will be reserved to ensure we fund in full all future selected program grant requests, provide Sustained Program Funding to former DFW featured programs, and to offer a $25,000 – $30,000 grant to an organization selected by member voting through the new Member Choice Program.
Why We Love This Project
The economic and political changes in Burma make this an opportune time to prepare girls to truly influence change. What was unimaginable a few years ago is now possible. Girls can speak out, meet with government officials, organize awareness raising events - openly ask for change.
Girl Determined will help make this happen as a transformative leadership project designed to assist vulnerable teenage girls to avoid the pitfalls of trafficking, dangerous labor, and other forms of violence by facilitating the girls’ recognition of their personal and group potential. The girls gain self-confidence through leadership trainings, empowering curricula, and most of all, by coming together in community and discovering their ability to act as effective change agents, impacting generations to come.
Evidence of Success
Because the circles are voluntary, Girl Determined uses attendance as a way to look at girls’ belief in the value of the project. Across the program sites, circles average above 90% attendance overall. We are impressed by the overall rate of attendance, especially considering the pressures on the girls’ time. We see this high attendance rate as evidence that girls enjoy coming to Circle and feel they are benefitting.
Girl Determined reached over 500 girls in 2011 with weekly Colorful Girls Circles programs. In 2012 approximately 1,000 girls participated. Indirect beneficiaries, including families and school teachers, are estimated to be 4,000.
In 2011 Girl Determined tested and modified self-efficacy questionnaires. Making questionnaires effective requires overcoming hurdles that include reading abilities of the girls, local language usages, cultural conceptions, and lack of familiarity with survey formats. In the 2010/2011 Circle cycle, questionnaires showed positive change over the program cycle in areas including increased trust among girls, increased sense of self-worth, increased hopefulness for the future, and stronger school attachment.
A majority of former participants report positive impacts in decision-making, confidence and personal leadership in interviews conducted 6 months after close of project in a study of ‘Most Significant Change.’
“I am getting to know that I can rely on myself and set my own goals. I have the chance to decide my future and my life goals for myself.”
“I have become more aware of how I communicate with others. We should not communicate carelessly.”
“Through my participation in Girl Determined circles and summer camp, I have become firmly grounded in my beliefs. As opposed to in the past, now, I dare to walk and dare to talk!”
“I am proud of being in the circle and I can get courage from the circle.”
“I know that I am not useless and that my life is meaningful and I have value.”
“I have become brave, reduced my shame, and I want to be friends with others. I have more friends than before. I feel very happy at the circle time.”
“Because of participation I have learned to be together with the others without discriminating against them.”
“This circle helps us learn new things, but I am sad to part for the summer and looking forward to next year. I am really curious what the next topics will be and the types of activities. My mind is itching with anticipation. If I were a magician, I would do a spell and make the school year start again so that we can have our circles every week!”
About the Organization
Girl Determined was founded in 2008 by Nant Thazin Min, a Myanmar woman and community activist, with several teenage girls in her neighborhood. While giving the girls free English lessons, she learned about their struggles at home, in school, in their communities and churches – violence, pressure to drop out of school, lack of recognition for their talents, harsh restrictions on their movement and associations. From there Girl Determined evolved as a safe forum for sharing personal experiences, finding support in each other, and coming up with potential solutions to problems.
Thazin discussed her initial circle idea with Brooke Zobrist, former Program Director for Foundation for the People of Burma, and together they decided to look more deeply into the needs of adolescent girls and design a program to create change. In February 2010, Girl Determined was organized more formally with the support of a new, Burma‐based advisory board. In December 2010 the Burma Humanitarian Mission adopted the project and became its fiscal sponsor. Burma Humanitarian Mission is a non-profit organization that seeks to empower people around the world to advocate for a healthy, democratic and vibrant Burma where the human rights of all people are protected. For more information please visit www.BurmaMission.org.
Where They Work
Despite recent shifts in the political situation in Burma, there remain some distinct challenges to working openly in the country. For the time being, the Girl Determined Advisory Board has decided that it is best to leave specific project names, individual names, and geographic information off their website. This is in the best interest of protection for their staff and the girls they serve. The girls are minors and the country lacks systematic child protection.
Girl Determined works primarily in urban outskirts and rural communities. These areas tend to be very poor, industrial zones with large populations on the move.
Since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1948, the country has been in one of the longest-running civil wars among the country’s myriad ethnic groups. From 1962 to 2011, the country was under military rule. The military junta was officially dissolved in 2011 following a general election in 2010 and a nominally civilian government installed, though the military retains enormous influence.
Burma’s recent history is filled with such fascinating and dramatic stories that DFW’s recommendations for fair trade, books, films, and music this month all provide a great overview. Just this month, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Burma and met with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi—known to the world as an icon for democracy and nonviolent dissent in oppressed Burma.
After 50 years of repressive military rule, Burma/Myanmar is undergoing a political and economic transition. At this critical historical juncture, girls can have the opportunity to truly influence change. What was unimaginable a few years ago is now possible. Girls can speak out, meet with government officials, organize awareness raising events – openly ask for change. Girl Determined fosters the skills girls need not only to avoid the incredible risks they face, but to effect long-term change that can impact generations.
Is the country named Burma or is it Myanmar? The answer is complicated. In 1989 the military government officially changed the name of the country to “Myanmar”, but the renaming remains a contested issue. Although the UN adopted the new name, many political and ethnic opposition groups and countries (including the US, the UK, and other western countries) continue to use “Burma” because they do not recognize the legitimacy of the military government or its authority to rename the country.
Brooke Zobrist, Technical Advisor for Girl Determined, offers the following: “Academics, activists, governments, and village folk all have their own ideas. It seems that with the recent shifts in the government and the opening up of the military state, people are demonstrating a tendency to de-politicize the country’s name. Several of the papers I have seen come out recently use ‘Burma/Myanmar.’ I am partial to that usage. It is less potentially divisive than choosing one or the other and also, practically, everyone can understand which place we are talking about. I imagine there will be many linguistic and political science papers about this going forward!”
Girl Determined website – www.GirlDetermined.org
Documents and images provided by Girl Determined to Dining for Women
Political & Economic History – www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/burma.htm
- On the DFW December Program webpage for the Girl Determined you will also find links to:
- Food for Thought – an in-depth look at
- Program Presentation – PowerPoint file provided by Girl Determined
- Program Video – link and downloadable file
- Recipes, Customs, and Cuisine
- Fair Trade, Books, Films, and Music recommendations
- The U.N. 2015 Millennium Development Goals: http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/