It has been 6 months and a few days now since I came to settle down in Yangon.  The first 2 months was just observing, the rest is just trying to settle in and get by and observing further.  I’m always interested with issues related to women, especially their empowerment.  Indonesia is more advanced when it comes to the empowerment of women in general.  The number of female in our parliament is a lot more compare to the number of women in parliament here.  I’m not too sure if any of the cabinet member is a woman.

We, Indonesian women should be lucky.  It is a custom here that the standard of living of married women here depends on their mother in laws.  Instead of giving his salary to his wife, the husband would give it to his mother and in turn the mother would decide how much money she should give to her daughter in law.  Hence mother in law has so much control over the couple’s finances.  I would go mad if this happens to me.  Though this custom is beginning to change, I just feel sorry for those women who is or have lived under such arrangement.

In Indonesia especially the big cities, it is common for women to have a good career sometimes reaching the top of the hierarchy.  It is also common to see successful women entrepreneurs.  And it is normal for women to think for themselves.  We can voice our thoughts without needing any permission.  Though in some cases we are still subordinated, but to a high degree, we are independent, free to do what we think is right within the boundary of our law and regulation, as well as societal norms.  Here, a lot of laws are being amended including laws that relates to the position of women in parliament for example.  But it seems their societal norm just doesn’t allow people especially women to think for themselves, have initiatives and act upon it.  They seem to have to ask and get the permission to do what they want to do.

I may be wrong but that’s what I observe here.  For the past two weeks I was working with a group of young Burmese, organising a mass recruitment event for one of international telecommunication company in Yangon.  For the purpose of the event, candidates CVs were made available for us, apart from just a list of candidates that the company want to interview.  Just before the event, one of my team members called me to inform that some candidates’ phone numbers were wrong.  The team was panicking because it was only one day before the event and we had around 350 candidates to call.  “Gita what should we do?” she asked me.  My immediate answer to her was “if the phone number is wrong, what options do we have to get the right phone number?”.  I was hoping she would come up with some options, but she didn’t!  Instead she said “I don’t know, there is no way we can get the number.”

I remember when I was taking my coaching and counseling certification, there are different types of questions you can ask your coachee and one of them is leading question.  But somehow, I use leading questions way too much since I got here and in this particular incident I simply just led them to the answer without requiring them to think.  All they had to do was say yes or no.  Do you have their CVs? Yes…. Is the phone number written on the CV? Yes…. So do you know the right phone number now? Yes…. And out of curiosity, I asked them why didn’t you look at their CVs in the first place?  The answer was, we thought we’re not allowed to do that.  My jaw dropped.

I love my team, but I often wonder why majority of Burmese I worked with including them and most of my clients could not think for themselves.  Someone had to think for them and they had to ask permission to think and act.  I was told that the reason why they’re like this is because of their freedom had been ripped off by the military juntas who ruled this country for so long.  Despite their independence from the Brits, they were not really independent.  Thank God I also see a movement here to change this.  Myanmar now has Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association and they’re doing pretty well in empowering women through their development programs.  With Daw Aung San Suu Kyi free from house arrest, Myanmar women have a better hope for their position in the society and their future development.

The irony however is us, the women of the Embassy especially who live in Myanmar.  While we’re given the freedom to think and act back home, the Indonesian highest authority in Yangon ripped off our freedom to think and act.  The so called ambassador and madame were running the Embassy like the Burmese military junta, degrading our capability to think and act to the level of our Burmese friends who are longing to have the freedom we have in Indonesia.  Thank God they’re no longer here.  Fingers crossed, the new ambassador will be more sensitive of this issue.


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