The challenges and opportunities for women in technical professions in Myanmar
As a young woman working in a technical profession, Ma San Yin had to overcome several hurdles, including gender stereotypes, to get to where she is.
“From the very moment I learned about agricultural technology, all I wanted to do was get a job in this field and work to the benefit of our local farmers,” says Ma San Yin. The excitement in her voice could not only be heard but felt.
The 24-year-old native of Mrauk-U Township in Rakhine State has found her dream job, but it was not easy getting into an environment still mostly dominated by men. Ma San Yin spends her days as a Technical Field Officer in the Mrauk-U Project of East-West Seed, a grantee of The Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT) – a multi-donor fund managed by the United Nations Office for Projects Services (UNOPS) – and she oversees the knowledge transfer to farmers in 16 project villages at the moment and has quite a packed agenda.
Education and motivation are the key ingredients
“I have been doing this job since the start of the project in August 2022. I spend at least four days a week doing fieldwork. Our day to day work consists of meeting with farmers in the project villages and provide them with training and the technical support they need,” explains the young Agri Tech Officer who attended the Agricultural Institute in Kyauktaw for three years with a specialization in agriculture during her education.
But that was not enough for her high aspirations.
“It is impossible to get a job with just one degree (here in Myanmar), so I decided to continue learning agricultural techniques through other external opportunities and attended an agricultural technology course in Yangon.”
Gender stereotypes still disadvantage women in education for technical professions
The path to getting where she is today was not an easy ride, with even education regulations working against women and making it more difficult for them to succeed.
“University admission depends on the score you get in the university entrance exam in Myanmar. For girls, the required score for admission is higher than for boys. Girls like me who want to join the Agricultural Institute need to have at least 350 points in the university entrance exam, but boys can be admitted if they have more than 300 points,”explained the 24-year-old.
It was only after she got her degrees that the process became easier. Ma San Yin found a job as Project Assistant at a local NGO in the field of agriculture and that gave a start to her career working for local and international organisations.
Working with ‘key farmers’ to improve their livelihoods
Currently, Ma San Yin is working with ‘key farmers’ in 16 different villages improving their knowledge, giving technical support and thus strengthening their livelihoods.
“There are certain criteria for selecting a person and to be identified as a ‘key farmer’. If a farmer has a plot of land for cultivation and the necessary equipment for planting, we select them as a ‘key farmer’ and provide with inputs, technology, and agricultural equipment until they can grow the crops successfully. Even when I cannot go to the field in person due to my busy schedule, I also share the necessary agriculture techniques with those farmers via mobile phone.”
Cultural awareness and gender issues in agriculture
As these trainings are conducted with different communities in the region, Ma San Yin explains that it is essential to consider integrating cultural sensitivity in her work and practices.
“When I conduct trainings in a village, I first choose a day when most of the farmers in that village will have free time. So, for example, for trainings in a Muslim village, we avoid Fridays and other religious days of worship. There may also be religious and social events in Rakhine villages, so I negotiate with local farmers in advance to choose a day for training. I accompany each farmer to the place of cultivation and support the necessary technologies from the seedling of the crop to be grown. This is long-term support. I also provide problem-solving solutions on what best methods to use if the crop they are growing is infested.”
Being a woman in a technical capacity and working with communities and people in need, Ma San Yin has an eye for gender issues and observes differences when working in her communities in Rakhine State. Participation of women in agricultural activities is still not the norm.
“Women participate, but men participate much more. Among the 16 project villages that I am currently working with, there are two Muslim villages and here, the participation of women is significantly lower compared to men. However, there are awareness campaigns going on there and women’s empowerment is slowly improving.”
Ma San Yin has also experienced some stereotyping when it comes to her own profession when interacting with beneficiaries.
“In some villages, I also encountered a somewhat uncomfortable situation. Some farmers who have been doing agriculture for many years seem to think that a young woman who provides training in agricultural technology is not as skilled as the male farmers. But there are others who are willing to learn about new modern farming techniques, especially if it will help and support a more efficient cultivation and higher crop yield”.
Advice for girls and young women to make their dreams come true
Although still young, Ma San Yin has been able to overcome several hurdles to get to where she is today, she wants to encourage and advise other young women and girls who might want to follow a similar career path as her. The young professional is a huge advocate for women and girls to be proficient in using information technology (IT) as this is a necessity in today’s world. IT encapsulates everything from being able to know how to use computers as well as how to use the internet and its functions. She also shares that gender discrimination in the workplace deeply affects women and girls and hopes that the aspirants are fortunate enough not to be recruited into a workplace that discriminates based on gender.
Lastly, to improve the self-confidence of women and girls, she also has a recommendation to all actors.
“I see the need for the local and international organizations that are implementing regional development projects to provide training to women and girls and improve their communication and social skills".