Presentations by Dr. Philippe Doneys and by Dr. Donna Doane and Ms. Duanghathai Buranajaroenkij at the “Southeast Asian Studies in Asia” Conference in Kyoto, Japan, on 12-13 December 2015

Both PIs, Dr. Philippe Doneys and Dr. Donna Doane, and Ms. Duanghathai Buranajaroenkij attended the “Southeast Asian Studies in Asia” Conference, organized by the Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies in Asia (SEASIA). As a PhD candidate at AIT-GDS, Ms. Buranajaroenkij assists the project with research in the four countries, and particularly in Myanmar and Laos as they are related to her Ph.D. and other research interests. The team went to the Conference to present the aims of the project and some of the findings from the qualitative phase of the ESP-Mekong research.
Dr. Doneys gave a presentation titled Gender and ‘Development’: What do ‘empowerment’ and ‘security’ mean to women beneficiaries of economic development projects in Mekong countries? (Focus on Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Viet Nam), while Dr. Doane together with Ms. Buranajaroenkij gave a presentation entitled Gender, 'Development' and Social Protection: How can women's organizations respond to inter-community conflict in Mekong countries? (Focus on Thailand and Myanmar).

Dr. Doneys’ presentation covered the first phase of the project, consisting of interviews with beneficiaries and participants in economic and security-related projects in the four Mekong countries. After presenting an overview of the research project and the methodology used, findings were presented on the difference between women and men in ways empowerment is defined, with men focusing more on money and income, while women held a broader view of empowerment. One of the consistent and interesting findings is that women see empowerment as anchored in their social environment, both in terms of greater contribution to the household and community, but also in terms of higher social recognition and respect they get from those around them. Skills and knowledge were also important for the sustainability of income generation activities. Decision-making was also influenced in that joint decision-making was often reported as an outcome or indicator of empowerment, as well as greater support from partners who often saw income that women bring to the family as a validation for the partner’s greater involvement in household work.

Dr. Doneys finished his presentation by arguing that empowerment and social protection were closely intertwined and interdependent. Credit and saving systems were often contributing to both in contexts where traditional social protections have disappeared and where formal systems are yet to be implemented. This is particularly important for health since illness can rapidly deplete any saving, and so participants can borrow in times of need. Hence such village funds and self-help groups are important mechanisms to address both economic and security concerns.

Dr. Doane and Ms. Buranajaroenkij made a joint presentation that was drawn from two separate but complementary areas of research: our current ESP-Mekong study of women’s empowerment and social protection/security in four Mekong countries, including conflict-prone areas in Myanmar (Kachin and Rakhine case studies in particular), and Ms. Buranajaroenkij’s work on women’s groups and peace processes in Thailand’s Deep South. The presentation focused on findings regarding how women’s organizations are able to increase security for women and their families and communities in conflict-prone areas in Southern Thailand and Myanmar (again, focusing on Kachin and Rakhine States in particular). As an introduction, a number of impacts of conflict in both countries on women’s lives and their families that are common to both countries were noted. First, under these conflict conditions women and their families have been subjected to the loss of most types of security (personal security, community security, income, job, asset, health and other crucial forms of security). Second, women who are now without husbands have also been suddenly thrust into roles of having to provide for dependents without any preparation. In addition, the psychological impact of losing family members and facing continuing insecurity is immense.

Dr. Doane and Ms. Buranajaroenkij gave a number of examples to illustrate that in both countries, women’s groups, organizations and networks have been able to respond to the catastrophic changes caused by war and conflict by providing a certain amount of security for women, their families and communities in conflict-prone areas. The limitations and constraints on what they have been able to do were also discussed, particularly in IDP camps and in conditions where ensuring survival is paramount but decision-making is almost never in women’s hands. It was argued that to increase both empowerment and security in a sustainable way, it will be important for women’s groups to be allowed to take on greater decision-making roles – in IDP camps, in formal and informal peace processes, and in helping design development projects in post-conflict (or “intermittent conflict”) periods. This will allow the critical needs and priorities of women and their families in conflict-prone conditions to be addressed. On the national level, in both countries women’s groups have been trying to reduce inter-community and inter-religious tensions through legal means and popular campaigns, including by fighting discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and religion through a number of innovative approaches. However, it was argued that in order to ensure positive changes regarding both security/social protection and empowerment in the long run, careful step-by-step planning is fundamental, and that women’s groups, organizations and networks can play crucial roles in this process of peace-building, reduction of inter-community conflict, and establishment of a more secure environment in conflict-prone areas.