In Person

Local Marketing Agency Combats Discrimination and Stereotypes

By Tin Htet Paing 13 November 2017

In Myanmar, a typical vacancy announcement would specifically mention that the employer prefers someone who is between 18 and 25 years old and has a university degree. Sometimes, it even includes “not married” for marital status. Amara, a local digital marketing company breaks these stereotypes and more.

Vacancy announcements at the digital marketing agency state that “there will no discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, skin color, religion, race, appearance, physical disability and marital status.” Amara’s founder Chan Myae Khine told the Irrawaddy recently that homophobia and racial discrimination are common in the workplace and she wanted an announcement that would give the sense of a safe and non-discriminatory work environment.

When asked why vacancy announcements at Amara don’t demand certification of university degrees like many employers do, she said, “I only care about dedication to work and a positive attitude.”

The Irrawaddy sat down with Chan Myae Khine last week to talk about her struggle with digital marketing in a country where the majority of Internet users are limited to Facebook and the Internet speed is still worse than neighboring countries. She also discussed digital rights and feminism, as the 28-year-old entrepreneur is known for not tolerating any form of sexism or gender discrimination, either on social media or in her work.

How do you run a digital marketing business in this landscape?

In the beginning, we had to provide services for our clients through Facebook because it is the most influential digital platform here. We mostly do marketing for our clients on Facebook but not every product is suitable to be marketed through Facebook, such as business-to-business ones. Nonetheless, we are in a situation where we can’t ignore Facebook because the majority of our country’s Internet users are on it.

Some blame people for thinking of Facebook as the Internet, but really, there is not content for them to read once they get off Facebook. Myanmar has a huge problem regarding fonts and because of that, there is not much content [written] in Myanmar language. That’s one of the reasons they get stuck there.

How can Myanmar overcome these challenges?

Most people in Myanmar can only afford mobile Internet that is provided by telecom companies. This is not normal. We need to have affordable Internet service for homes, costing around 30,000 or 40,000 kyats per month for an unlimited plan. The government should encourage Internet service companies to provide these plans, creating a situation where everybody can use unlimited Internet. Now, people are concerned about the time spent loading websites and that the data will be expensive. This hinders people from getting off of Facebook and surfing the Internet. Myanmar needs cheaper, faster options for Internet and more home service providers.

What role can digital [platforms] play in promoting peace when there is so much hate speech online?

It’s difficult to say because digital platforms belong to no one. Facebook has its owner and it scrutinizes posts on its platform based on its policies. But when it comes to an individual country and acting according to one country’s context, everyone is responsible. When we talk about people online, we can’t see what kind of people we are talking about. We dare to talk about people because we can’t see them. People say things they would never say to someone’s face.

Also, racial and religious discrimination won’t just disappear even if they are taken offline. Digital platforms reflect what is happening in public. We need to tackle the root causes. If we only censor, ban or arrest people who express discrimination online, this will not fix the problem. But this will take time. It can’t be tackled overnight.

Doesn’t online hate speech worsen the same problem offline?

It could, as we all know what is happening in Myanmar currently. An individual may express opinions online without much impact. But if a group inflames racial discrimination through fake accounts, this could become dangerous offline. Most Internet users in Myanmar can’t discern between real and fake news; they take what is on Facebook seriously. It is important that the government and media release accurate, unbiased news quickly.

Do you think the government should impose some kind of policy to control speech on social media?

I personally don’t like restricting and controlling people’s expressions online. But in the case of a fake account or laws being broken, then it should be dealt with according to the law, even in the case of government officials. The real problem is a double standard in addressing this problem. Everyone should be held accountable equally according to the law, which is a difficulty in Myanmar.

What is the potential of digital marketing in Myanmar in the near future?

Now, some clients and agencies still think that Facebook is the way to advertise and digital marketing has become a popular job among young people. Trends will change as people branch out from Facebook. We have to make creative content that gets noticed and think about how to promote our brand outside of Facebook. I hope agencies also start thinking about how to connect online and offline marketing platforms.

How can you raise awareness about everyday sexism through your platform?

We do what we can. For example, in a commercial, we put the actress’s name before the actor’s name in order to see how the public would respond. Normally, the actors’ names appear first even if actresses are more successful or have bigger roles. When we reversed this, people responded negatively, as we predicted. Men asked online why we did this. We try to be rebellious and break stereotypes gently by challenging people’s habits in small ways.

We can also try raising awareness on digital platforms related to the harassment of women in public. Some Myanmar men don’t think they act inappropriately or do anything wrong. But these issues need to be confronted and taken seriously.

Are you a feminist? What does feminism mean to you?

Many people know that I am one. But the problem here—actually not only here but in every part of the country—is that there are many feminism extremists who are doing stuff not related to gender rights and gender parity, which I believe created a situation where many women don’t want to label themselves as feminists or associate with feminism anymore. For me, being a feminist means believing in equal rights no matter what your gender is rather than women demanding the same opportunities as men.

You have spoken a lot online about the contentious Myanmar term “a good woman.” Can you discuss this?

Rather than defining “a good woman,” I think we should define “a good human being.” If we define a good woman, we also have to define a good man. In doing so, different standards and ideals will be involved and this will lead to discrimination again. To me, a good person tries for success without mistreating anyone along the way and contributes to the community and society.

Can you discuss gender disparity problems in Myanmar?

Gender discrimination in the workplace, such as women not receiving managerial positions or the like, is rare in my opinion. But gender issues are obvious in job choice based on societal and familial support. There is a stereotype that programming is not suitable for women because the profession is male-dominated and they would have to work late nights together.

I notice sometimes that the men take on higher job titles than the women despite equal intellect and education when spouses or couples partner in founding a business. I don’t know why this happens, whether the male partners are more capable or the women defer. I generally see men holding higher positions in male-female partnerships and I wonder why this is.

Also, people sometimes behave differently toward men and women, which I have experienced infrequently. One of my clients introduced me to a foreigner who recently joined his company. Out of nowhere, he told me I was beautiful in a detestable way and asked if everyone in Myanmar was so beautiful. He would never have said something like that to a man.

The real struggle is selecting a university after high school graduation. Parents place pressure on women in regard to which institutions and careers are appropriate.

Myanmar women are vulnerable to online harassment and cyber bullying these days. Why do you think this is?

Frankly speaking, there is not much entertainment for normal people. Facebook has become more than a communication platform—it has become an entertainment platform. They read news, watch comedy, mock things and share them. That is where the problem starts. People on Facebook don’t think long term or about the damage they could cause.

Now, even police are starting to take action against online harassment and cyber bullying against women. How can police handle such cases effectively?

As far as I’ve seen, these cases usually stop when the police say they can’t identify the Facebook account user who committed the crimes. But police or courts could contact Facebook for this information. Even setting an example by prosecuting a few cases would lessen online harassment.

 This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.