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Kay Thi Win was forced to drop out of high school when her father died in order to help support her mother and siblings.
“I told my mother that I got a job in a factory on the Thai-Burmese border and I was going to work there,” she said. “I ended up working as a sex worker.”
Today Kay Thi Win is the founder of AIDS Myanmar Association, an organisation run by sex workers which offers health education, HIV prevention and referral services, and STI counseling and treatment. She is also chairperson of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers.
Kay Thi Win is one of seven women to be featured in a new campaign by the development foundation, We Women. Entitled the “Emerging Women of Burma”, the campaign highlights work currently being undertaken by newly prominent female leaders in the country.
A documentary, due to be released in March, will focus on the seven women who have overcome significant challenges in their lives to go on to pioneer work on social issues within their communities.
San, project coordinator for We Women, said the campaign aimed to highlight women whose work has not been widely recognised in Burma or internationally.
“In Burma, most of the publicity goes to the Nobel Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” said San, “But there are other women leaders whose work has had a hugely positive impact upon their communities.”
San said she hoped the campaign would inspire young girls to become successful.
“The younger girls or teenage girls – they are still women – and they can make a change. And [they see] women are powerful so we want to inspire them.”
The women in the film come from various ethnicities and backgrounds; many have gone through unimaginable difficulties in order to provide for their families.
“We want to bring those women’s work to international attention as well as to people inside Burma,” said San.
As Burma goes through its political and economic transition there have been many voices urging women not to be left out. A Women’s Forum held in Rangoon in December featured many high-profile speakers who examined economic and social issues in Burma from a woman’s perspective.
In January, the Burmese military appointed two female officers for the first time ever as representatives in parliament.
But women continue to face barriers to employment, education and healthcare in the country.
The “Emerging Women of Burma” documentary will be released on 14 March.
You can get more information about of the campaign at: http://wewomenfoundation.org