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DFID boss highlights support for garment workers, marginalised groups


A UK cabinet minister highlighted how Myanmar’s garment industry is supporting the livelihood and security of vulnerable women.

Penny Mordaunt, Britain’s international development secretary, said during her visit to Myanmar that protecting the Muslim communities who have remained in northern Rakhine and supporting them to live “side-by-side and in peace in their communities” is among the priorities of her Department for International Development (DFID).

An estimated 730,000 Muslim refugees have fled northern Rakhine to Bangladesh in August 2017, after an extensive military crackdown following attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. Tens of thousands remain behind in Rakhine, where they are subjected to restrictions on movement and have limited access to healthcare and education. Last month, the United Nations urged Rakhine’s Internally Displaced Persons to be given freedom of movement and that the authorities should allow “rapid and unimpeded” humanitarian access to the area.

Ms Mordaunt also said human rights is “at the heart of” DFID’s work.

“In Yangon I’ve seen UK aid doing just that by tackling organised crime, protecting vulnerable girls from trafficking, training women to have jobs and livelihoods and giving British businesses confidence in the standards of their supply chains here,” she said via a press release concluding her visit.

In the commercial capital, Ms Mordaunt met women who are being protected from modern day slavery, trafficking, gender inequality and poor sexual and reproductive health, at two DFID-funded projects, Eden Project and Aung Myin Hmu. Female workers at the Aung Myin Hmu project learn how to make garments safely in a factory setting, so they can go on to work for registered, safe and fair employers and support their families.

“The garment sector in Burma [Myanmar] is expected to grow from 400,000 to 1.5 million workers over the next five to 10 years, and these women migrants from Rakhine and Kachin will be protected from trafficking through better jobs and improved livelihoods,” DFID’s press release stated.

Commenting on the sector’s progress, Jacob Clere from Smart Myanmar agreed that it provides a source of income and opportunity for rural workers.

“The garment industry is one of very few industries able to take in completely unskilled workers, most often young women from rural areas who were not able to finish their education due to poverty, and lift them up into a position in a factory where they can become the main income earner for their family,” he observed.

Garment performs better than many other manufacturing business with respect to areas like fire safety, labour law compliance and respect for freedom of association.

“When we interview migrant women about their experience getting jobs in the garment sector we often hear a similar narrative over and over. They are almost always the main cash earner in their families. They almost always send nearly half their wages home to share with their families and the money is always said to be spent primarily on the family’s health, education and food,” Mr Clere added.

“It’s clear that the jobs created by the sector are among one of the powerful forces helping lift thousands of rural families out of poverty.”

However, Myanmar’s fast-growing garment export could be hit by losing tariff-free access to the EU market. Brussels is now considering withdrawing Myanmar’s Everything but Arms (EBA) arrangements due to human rights violations in Rakhine and other areas. Doing so will deal a heavy blow to the industry and result in massive layoffs, business groups have warned. The young women workers would also be forced to work in rural poverty or risk being trafficked to Thailand and elsewhere, according to the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB).

It is unclear whether Britain will follow the EU’s decision if Brussels goes ahead with the withdrawal, owing to Brexit, the UK’s departure from the European Union. The UK is scheduled to formally leave the bloc in March.

“At this point, we cannot speculate on how Brexit will affect the GSP and trade relations with third countries,” a spokesperson of the EU Delegation to Myanmar told The Myanmar Times last November.

Amounting to a total of £88 million (US$114) in 2019-20 for Myanmar, DFID is one of the largest donors, providing humanitarian assistance and helping communities to have access to healthcare, education and livelihood opportunities.

Last year, DFID reshaped its Myanmar programmes to focus on supporting “those who are persistently left out of economic and social development” and putting more emphasis on “inclusion, social cohesion and equity.” Its aid programmes support all communities in Rakhine State.

Source: Myanmar Times

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