"The meaningful and full participation of women is vital. True insight into the cause and effect of human rights violations — and thus what is required for them to come to an end — can only come from those directly impacted." – Khin Ohmar, Partners Asia advisory council
When several women were raped, and two murdered, in the midst of a battle between the government army and ethnic armies in Burma’s northern Shan State in 2015, local groups quickly jumped into action. They hired lawyers, launched a campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence, and held a press conference calling for prosecution of the perpetrators. Out of these actions, a national network was formed to assess community needs and raise awareness about gender-based violence in the conflict-ridden area.
Trying to eliminate gender-based violence in a remote area roiled by military conflict is extraordinarily difficult work. Only activists and organizations with strong relationships to the community can effectively do it. They know what’s happening on the ground, who is involved, how to respond, and how to best support the women affected by violence while they work to eliminate it. What they don’t always have is access to the financial resources they need — and that’s where Partners Asia comes in.
Partners Asia links local communities in Burma with global resources. Most of the organizations it supports are otherwise unable to access philanthropic resources from outside the region. For example, there are language barriers, challenges born of geographic remoteness, and unfamiliarity with or lack of administrative capacity to handle American and European funders’ arduous application and reporting processes.
When it was approached by the two organizations that spearheaded the anti-violence work in Shan State in 2015, Partners Asia provided them grants within a week. This is just one of many examples of how it ensures financial support makes its way into the hands of those best-equipped to advance the human rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI people in Burma.
Securing access to justice for women and girl survivors through legal aid and raising awareness about gender-based violence are core elements of Partners Asia’s work. The organization also promotes LGBTQI rights, encourages girls’ right to education, improves women’s financial security, advances the rights of sex workers, and increases access to healthcare for marginalized women who are HIV-positive.
From their field office in Yangon, Partners Asia has built a strong, national activist network across issues and ethnic groups — a significant accomplishment in a nation with deep ethnic divisions and where even many funders have narrow requirements along ethnic or issue lines.
In the aftermath of the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in 2015, Partners Asia field staff have been assessing the post-election state of local organizations, identifying challenges and opportunities. The growth of its Yangon office in the last few years has enabled Partners Asia to better support local leadership and strengthen the infrastructure of national, intersectional movements advancing the human rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI people in Burma. This expansion has allowed staff to travel across Burma to build relationships with emerging organizations and deepen relationships with longtime partners. Partners Asia is now strongly positioned to leverage resources in support of those movements in a time of great political turmoil and possibility.
Local ownership of social change initiatives has always been a core tenet of Partners Asia’s work, and in 2017 its Yangon office will register as a locally led, independent grantmaking organization: the Tharthi Myay Foundation (Peaceful Land). The creation of Tharthi Myay as a key implementing partner in Burma further instills a grantmaking approach that emphasizes accountability to, collaboration with, and support for partners that engage in grassroots advocacy. It also provides Partners Asia with the opportunity to expand its grantmaking, research, and mentoring throughout the region.
ADVANCING OUR MISSION
The 2015 election was a watershed moment that ended a half-century of military rule in Burma. This post-election moment is ripe with opportunity for visionary human rights work, and Partners Asia is in a unique position to support and strengthen movements that center the needs of women, girls, and LGBTQI people. Since 2011, we have provided Partners Asia with general operating, emergency, and travel support that has contributed to its increased capacity to be a leader in national and regional movement building. This flexible funding augments Partners Asia’s ability to rapidly respond to requests from local activists and provide critical resources across issues and ethnic groups in ways that are often precluded by narrow guidelines and project support.
In alignment with our South and Southeast Asia strategy, Partners Asia has a unique perspective on national and regional movement infrastructure and deep connections with communities that can guide our resources to where they can be most strategically used to advance the human rights of women, girls, and LGBTQI people — even those living in remote, hard-to-reach areas. Collaboration with intermediaries like Partners Asia is one way we remain field-led, even when supporting organizations based far from our office in New York City.