This year, the theme of International Women’s Day was #PressforProgress. The inclusion of diverse voices in the press is integral to an active and dynamic society. However, according to a recent report published by Myanmar Women’s Journalist Society, only 16% of voices in Myanmar news belong to women. Additionally, women are rarely sourced as ‘experts’ on a topic, and “female representation in Myanmar media is one of the lowest in Asia”.
The media matters because it has the ability to harm a girl’s confidence and self-perception, and to work against her best interests. It matters, too, because strong representation and diverse knowledge creation have the ability to play a positive role in a girl’s life. Media can influence a girl’s aspirations. It can influence her decisions and her behaviors around health, education, sex and work. Media can create opportunities to lift the needs and rights of girls to a higher status in their communities, and even in the public policy sphere.
However, challenges to access and control of media limit the potential benefits to the well-being of girls in Myanmar. Over the past few years, we have been experimenting and learning alongside girls to determine how to address these challenges and create opportunities for positive change.
We’d like to share two Girl Determined media-related initiatives putting girls in control of media analysis and creation.
One of the featured stories in our recent by-girls-for-girls magazine, ‘Pollinator’, came from an interview with female Myanmar journalist, Khin Su Kyi. She spoke about the massive gap in representation of girls and women in media, both on and off screen. While there are a few recognizable women’s faces regularly seen, namely Nobel-Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, most girls and women are portrayed on screen in limited roles such as domestic housewives, mothers, or daughters.
According to Khin Su Kyi’s analysis, women in leadership roles are almost always depicted in the media in a singular, specific way – conservative, donning a well-tailored local sarong-set, in the appearance of an ethnic-majority Bamar, and as a practitioner of Buddhism. This singular depiction does not provide an aspirational role model for girls from different backgrounds, with varying ideas of who they are and who they want to be. This representation tells girls, “if you don’t look like, speak like, and carry yourself this way, you shouldn’t aim to lead.”
The journalist encouraged girls from all walks of life to participate in media as producers, directors, journalists, or artists, which will in time inspire more girls to get involved and take on leadership roles. We love Khin Su Kyi’s analysis and encouragement, and we are working to provide pathways for girls to develop their understanding of media and representation, as well as to create opportunities for girls to engage in media creation.
Girls’ Leadership and Media Advocacy Summer Camp
Fifty girls from across the country recently gathered together near the top of a small mountain to enjoy the cool breeze and discuss media – particularly the representation of girls and how it impacts each of us. They talked about the myriad ways that media enters daily life, even in remote villages and camps for the internally-displaced; and how girls can start to use media channels in their communities to raise their concerns, challenges and perspectives, and to enhance their status.
The ‘Pollinator’ Magazine
The team has now completed two issues of ‘Pollinator,’ with the third in the works. The magazine process puts control into the hands of adolescent girls and legitimizes their voices and perspectives in print. Over several months, the girl media team has worked closely with a local creative agency to develop the step-by-step process for content creation and layout design. Thanks especially to the grounded, thorough and insightful work of Bridge, we now have an amazing game which the girl media team plays to guide them through production, editing, reviewing, layout and the publication of each issue.
The result is an eye-catching, scrapbook-style magazine that represents the perspectives and ideas of the girls and young women involved. Having grown up with periods of intense media censorship and limited media access in general, this is the first time that girls in our programs have had the chance to be media creators. The process really gives girls the tools to succeed, and because it is not technical and almost fully ‘analog’, girls from across the country can participate. There are opportunities to write stories, commentary and poetry, as well as to feed directly into layout and design. It allows girls from across the country to spread their ideas.
Every girl has a voice and she must decide how she wants to use it.
It is up the rest of us to amplify her voice, and to listen.