Working to support access to justice for women in Myanmar

Street Art

By Evelyn Palach

As an intern with the CBA’s Young Lawyers International Program, I have been placed with the International Development Law Organization country office in Yangon, Myanmar. Since 2014, IDLO has been working in Myanmar to build public trust in the country’s justice system. Its programming includes projects aimed at capacity development which provide training, public dialogue and access to resources to address local justice needs.

One such project focuses on facilitating access to justice for Myanmar women. Women’s access to justice, particularly with regard to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), is a leading concern in Myanmar. To address this concern, IDLO supports community-based organizations with initiatives strengthening awareness about SGBV and enhancing access to justice and services for women and girls.

But how do you enhance access to justice for SGBV survivors in a justice system which does not currently have a specific law criminalizing domestic violence, nor a law allowing victims to obtain protection orders against abusers, and no comprehensive laws preventing sexual harassment? The IDLO has the privilege of working with a number of passionate community organizations which, in lieu of a comprehensive legal framework, provide services to SGBV survivors. IDLO recognizes that it is these grassroots organizations that best understand how to sustainably address SGBV in a way that will serve their communities.

The IDLO provides small grant support to a select number of partner organizations involved in continued capacity development. One result of this grant support was the ability for a partner community organization to establish a social and psychological support centre and SOS-hotline counselling service for people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities and expressions dealing with SGBV. The establishment of this centre fills a gap in much needed services for survivors of violence and for individuals who self-identity as members of the LGBTQ+ community: Before opening the support centre, there was no such service being provided in the target area to any SGBV survivors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

By supporting a network of community-based organizations engaged in the fight against SGBV in Myanmar, IDLO is better equipped to respond to the specific capacity development needs of its community-based partners. All capacity development programming uses a survivor-centred approach to ensure that survivors are empowered, and programming is targeted to support the community-based organizations continuing to break down barriers on the pathways to services for SGBV survivors.

Evelyn Palach was called to the bar in 2017 in Ontario.