Women’s Livelihoods Undermined by Dawei SEZ: Report

By Yen Saning 24 December 2014

RANGOON — The Tavoyan Women’s Union (TWU) called for the immediate cancellation of the Dawei special Economic Zone (SEZ), in part due to its damaging impact on Tavoyan women, in a new report launched in Rangoon on Wednesday.

The group’s report, “Our Lives, Not For Sale,” focuses on the impact of the multi-billion dollar Dawei SEZ on local women, drawing on interviews conducted with 60 women from six villages in Yephyu Township, close to where the deep-sea port is being built.

More than 10,000 people live in these six villages, according to government figures recorded at the start of the project. Interviews for the report were conducted between September 2013 and September 2014.

“Our main finding from this research is that women’s lives are getting more difficult due to the project,” Soe Soe Nwe, research coordinator for the report, told The Irrawaddy.

“The rate of children dropping out of school is higher [and] more young women have left for Thailand to work.”

According to the report, almost all the women interviewed have lost sources of income since the project began, due to land confiscation, destruction of farmlands and restricted access to the coast.

Forty-nine of the 60 women have taken their children out of school since the project started.

Traditional livelihoods, such as shellfish collection carried out by women, have been “drastically affected” by the project. “Just over a third of the women now have no income at all from their former livelihoods,” the report said.

Speaking at the report’s launch in Rangoon, Kay Kahing Yu, a villager from Mayingyi in Yephyu Township, said that the project’s development had led to the destruction of fields and crops, as well as reduced yields.

“Usually we grow rice only in the monsoon season, which is enough for us to eat for the whole year. Since the [Dawei SEZ] project arrived, due to a mine at the mountain, our paddy fields were destroyed [as water became polluted],” Kay Kahing Yu said.

“Now, the yields from our paddy fields are not even enough to eat for six months. … When we went to talk with the company [Italian-Thai Development], they promised us compensation, but we still haven’t received it.”

The report also urged the Thai and Burmese governments, and project developers, to return confiscated land to landowners and to offer adequate compensation for damaged or confiscated land.

Yi Yi Htwe, the secretary of the Dawei Farmers Union, said the price of land in Dawei skyrocketed within a year of the project’s launch and locals could no longer afford to buy land in the area.

“Suddenly we were forced to sell our land,” Yi Yi Htwe said. “Farmers have no money now. There is no farmland to work on anymore. We can’t even afford a plot of land in our area now due to higher prices.”