Burma’s female entrepreneurs encouraged women to push cultural boundaries and pursue leadership roles, sharing their personal struggles as motivation on International Women’s Day on Tuesday.
Rangoon’s British Embassy and the Chatrium Hotel organized a “Women in the Lead” event to commemorate the occasion. Four hundred women from all sectors of society gathered at the Chatrium to discuss the roles that women can play in the country’s future.
Panelists at the event included four entrepreneurial women with different backgrounds—Yin Myo Su, founder of Inle Heritage House; Thiri Thant Mon, managing director of the investment firm Sandanila; Htar Htar, founder of Akhaya women’s group; and Thet Mon Aye, co-founder of online bus ticketing service StarTicket.
The women were forthcoming with their personal experiences.
Thiri Thant Mon talked about balancing her professional life and motherhood. She said women should find a balance that works for them, not the one that society expects.
“The words ‘ambitious’ and ‘woman’ together somehow have a negative connotation,” she said. “While, ‘ambitious man’ has a positive connotation.”
Htar Htar talked about how traditional gender roles hinder women from seeking leadership roles.
If women do not make household, it is not because they are unable to do so, but more likely because they are not used to having that power, she explained.
Yin Myo Su told the audience to take risks and face challenges rather than waiting for safe opportunities to present themselves.
“Am I ready?” she asked. “I will never be ready for anything. But you do it because it’s about surviving.”
Tina Singhsacha, a keynote speaker and chief representative of Standard Chartered Bank in Burma, raised the importance of having more women leaders as role models so that the next generation can see potential options.
She encouraged young girls to be fearless, ambitious and to believe that they can become respected leaders in society.
“Next to every successful man, there is a strong woman. We don’t always have to be behind,” she said, referring to the famous quote, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman.”
Another keynote speaker, Dr. Su Su Tha Tun, head of the peace support unit of Burma’s UN office, talked about understanding the current context within the country in order to successfully achieve gender parity.
“Slogans are not enough,” she said. “We need to understand the context in which we live.”
Dr. Su Su Tha Tun quoted studies that indicate that many Burmese still hold the view that gender discrimination is not a problem in the country and that women in Burma do not need to demand their rights because they have already been realized.
Such assumption is frustrating, she said, because it does not recognize existing challenges.
“The problem is that [gender discrimination] isn’t seen as a problem.”
The panelists urged women to continue working and striving for gender parity, despite the societal hurdles.
“Push the boundaries,” said Htar Htar. “If you push the boundaries enough, they’re going to break.”