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Civil society and social accountability programmes in Myanmar

Women at a community meeting, Myanmar VSO


Civil society in Myanmar

Myanmar has been led by a semi-civilian government since 2011. Although during the military regimes from 1962 to 2010 it was extremely challenging - if not impossible - for civil society organizations to operate freely, by 2000, new groups had proliferated in both ethnic areas and central Myanmar, due to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and the lack of basic services provided by the state.

These included religious, educational, and social welfare organsations, and civil society groups focusing on environmental issues and community development.

After Cyclone Nargis struck the south the country in 2008, and more recently with the change in government and democratic reforms, civil society in Myanmar has experienced a profound evolution in structure, resources, and stakeholders.

New networks are now forming, and existing networks are expanding. There are increased local, national, and international partnerships. Civil society and government are beginning to interact more openly and constructively, and legal frameworks for participation are liberalising.

While the government remains highly centralised, the landscape for civil society–government relations is rapidly changing.

Civil society stakeholders are increasingly working with, influencing, and coordinating activities with the government at the village, village tract (urban ward), township, state, region, and union levels.

In this changed context, working to strengthen civil society organizations and promote social accountability seems possible, as the new civilian government is moving towards democratic governance.

Our civil society and social accountability programmes

We currently work with:

  • The British Council, supporting the development of various civil society organisations to ensure access to justice at the grassroots level, and to promote the livelihood of factory workers in Yangon (Amatae, My Justice and Pyoe Pin projects);
  • FHI360, on a Media and Civil Society project;
  • The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, on a project combatting gender-based violence (GBV), working with 40 local organisations.

These partnerships have enabled us to create crucial links and networks, improving our presence within the framework of organisations working in Myanmar's governance and social accountability sector.

With the vision that all citizens should have the ability to hold accountable those to whom they rely on for services, we aim to work especially with organisations that support women to have their voices heard in the dialogue with decisions and policy makers.

For this purpose, with the support of an international volunteer, we have recently conducted an assessment on gender and social accountability that will inform the design of new proposed interventions, also observing and evaluating the key priorities of the newly installed government.

Read VSO volunteer Jo Povey’s account of her work at a local non-government organisation (NGO) advocating on disability and child rights.