Thazin Aye wanted to design a program that would break the silence surrounding gender-based violence in Myanmar and get people to take action against it. So, she founded United Women, a nascent non-governmental organization that shines a spotlight on uncomfortable issues through street performances at bus stops, hospitals, and police stations throughout Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city.
“We want [the public] to recognize it when it occurs and know that there are services and resources available to them,” explains Thazin Aye, age 32.
In 2016, as United Women was coming together, Thazin Aye attended the Institute for Political and Civic Engagement (iPACE) in Myanmar, which helped her understand the type of organization she wanted to create. iPACE was established in 2012 to increase knowledge and practical application of fundamental democratic principles and promote citizen engagement.
Thazin Aye participated in two courses at iPACE: Advocacy Against Gender Based Violence and Organizational Development. But the real inspiration came when she learned about SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) in iPACE’s Organizational Development training.
“We figured out that we had not really capitalized on our strengths, and we had very skewed understanding of what our opportunities were,” she says.
The strengths, as she sees it, are that they are a part of the community, speaking its language as well as tackling issues that worry a large part of the community. Being deeply engaged with the community and becoming a trusted resource on gender-based violence, Thazin Aye suddenly realized, would enable her team of volunteer actors and scriptwriters to get funding more readily to pursue their goals.
After performing these shows based on real stories and experiences, the group encourages questions from passersby who have stopped to watch. “We respond to their questions and create support teams among the people who gather and want to join us in fighting this fight,” Thazin Aye explains.
In just a year, that approach has paid off.
Due to its reputation and network, a local foundation asked United Women to apply for a small grant. They applied, and received funds to start a six-month performance schedule. Three months later, the same foundation announced a larger grant. Being able to show results helped United Women secure even more money and start to pay a couple of salaries. Now, Thazin Aye can even pay a small per diem to the volunteer writers and actors.
Thazin Aye credits the development of her professional skills to the eight years she spent working for the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) Mandalay.
She believes United Women has also made a difference in how people perceive gender-based violence. “Women usually tell us that they learn a lot from our performances. Men often find that they are not only the problem, but also the solution. They can do something about it for their sisters, daughters, grandchildren, and their own wives,” she points out. “The future is hopeful. There is a real need for us.”