Underrepresented community members in Myanmar mobilising to defend their natural resources and promote women’s leadership and political participation.
Kate Watson and Tom Elkins
PhotoVoice worked in partnership with Trócaire as part of an ongoing programme to mobilise minority communities to defend their rights in support of the development of an inclusive and democratic Myanmar, with a focus on access and control over natural resources and women’s leadership and political participation.
As part of the monitoring and evaluation of this 5-year programme, PhotoVoice delivered workshops in Kachin state, training 18 Local Community Monitors from Trócaire’s women’s empowerment and resource rights projects to explore community issues, needs and priorities for change. Over the coming years, these Local Monitors will use their new use photography and evaluation skills to feedback on their experiences, priorities and opinions about the programme and the issues it seeks to address, ensuring local voices play a key role in informing the programme’s development.
Following the 2015 national elections and the introduction of a new constitution in 2008, Myanmar continues to undergo a period of transition towards democracy after decades of military rule and ethnic conflict.
Since 2011, Kachin State has seen the most serious of all the armed confrontations affecting the country, and pending a lasting settlement of the decades-old conflict, and the escalation of foreign business investment, increased tensions over the use of natural resources in the region have developed.
As the state pursues an ambitious plan to convert vast amounts of land to industrial agricultural production, local community members are increasingly disempowered by land grabs and a lack of institutional protections and rights around natural resources. As with much of community planning and resource management, women are disproportionately affected by the impact of these shifts, and remain marginalised from local decision-making and policy debate around land issues.
The international development organisation, Trócaire works with civil society to mobilise communities in Myanmar to recognise their rights, promote leadership and defend their natural resources. In Kachin State, Trócaire’s forthcoming land rights programme seeks to support the empowerment of communities to advocate for their right to land and demand accountability and good governance on issues related to land ownership and land usage.
Trócaire is facilitating the use of participatory monitoring tools to explore the changes and benefits experienced by communities on project activities, thereby building a ‘story of change’. In order to record the progress of the project, PhotoVoice provided selected community members with cameras and training as Local Monitors to capture the benefits, challenges and successes experienced as the programme is implemented.
In February 2017, PhotoVoice began by training staff from local partner organisations in participatory photography theory and practice, providing skills, which will be utilised by the organisations in their ongoing engagement work. Community members from a range of villages across Kachin State then travelled to Myitikyna City to take part in participatory photography training workshops where they were supported to voice their opinions and identify the most important resource rights and gender issues affecting their community and determine the evaluation areas based on their personal experiences, expectations, fears and aspirations regarding these issues.
Over the course of programme, these Local Monitors will document their experiences of change within their communities and lives as a result of Trócaire project, promoting participant and partner learning and providing insight which can inform Trócaire programming.
Individual case studies were developed with a selection of participants from each group following 1:1 in-depth interviews and reviews of their work. These interviews provided participants with the opportunity to expand upon the issues reflected in their photographic work. the case studies produced offer an in-depth understanding and unique perspective of the impact of these issues on their personal lives and communities.
Group sharings and peer-reviews played a crucial role in developing the critical analysis skills of participants and supporting development of other transferable skills, such as public speaking. By establishing a critical and creative dialogue, the project contributes to ensuring the self-sustainability of participatory activities within the Local Monitors’ communities.
Feature Image: “We can invite related organizations and educate people on how we can regain and protect the cultivable land that we lost. We can learn how we can prevent deforestation. I believe that we can solve these problems by cooperating with these organizations, participation and welcoming educators to share their knowledge with the local people.”
© Moezet 2017 | PhotoVoice | MRJ | Trócaire | ‘Picturing Rights – Community Voices in Kachin State’ | Myanmar