For a long time, life for rural women in Myanmar means sacrifice, deprived of rights and opportunities. Less often women can make their voice heard or make important decisions. Daw Cho Aye, a village woman and elected Chairwoman of May Doe Kabar National Network of Rural Women, decided to make a change. She wanted to establish a platform that can connect more women effectively and motivate women to support each other in good decision-making and building up confidence.
Image: Daw Cho Aye; source: Channel News Asia
At the same time, the internet accessibility in Myanmar has climbed from 1.2% in 2013 to 55% in 2016, with the cost of a SIM card decreasing from 2000 USD to 1.5 USD. The fast-growing mobile industry has boosted the potential of applying technology to solving social problems, and iWomen came out at the right time with partnership between May Doe Kabar and UNDP tech team.
What is iWomen?
Started 18 months ago as a joint initiative of May Doe Kabar (National Network of Rural Women) and UNDP Myanmar, the iWomen mobile application aims at connecting women from rural Myanmar to inspire, foster self-belief and channel mentorship and peer support in their lives. The iWomen app was co-developed by Myanmar tech women with Myanmar rural women. So far it has successfully connected over 8,000 rural women.
Source: UNDP Asia Pacific
How does iWomen work?
iWomen is short for “inspiring women”, a mobile app that will tell women’s true life stories, encourage them to share experiences with each other, establish self-help groups to solve their own challenges, and make their voices heard. Women groups can also upload events information to iWomen app and invite other women in this network to participate. “Rural women still face a large number of challenges. A recent UNDP Study on rural Women leaders in Myanmar highlighted that a key barrier preventing more women to take leadership position at the local level is the lack of support from other women in the community’’, said Eleonora Gatti, iWomen App Coordinator at UNDP Myanmar. To a large extent, iWomen is really a platform that encourages women to support each other with the help of mobile technology.
Source: iWomen website
What is the financial model of iWomen?
The Management team of iWomen meet regularly to discuss the financial need of its members and utilize their crowd fund to lend to people in need. The crowd-fund comes from rural women members of the network. Every week in all the villages small groups of 10 women meet and save a weekly amount; at the end of each month or every couple of months this amount is given as a low-interest loan to group members. In addition, with the support of UNDP RBAP Innovation Fund, May Doe Kabar Network receives annual grants for the Network to operate and support their members with trainings, advocacy to government and other related activities. In the meantime, May Doe Kabar negotiated with a smartphone retailer an installment project whereby women can buy high-quality phones through a 6month plan. Women members can buy the smartphones with May Doe Kabar crowd-fund and install iWomen and receive inspiring stories.
In fact, this is also one of the main objectives of iWomen to foster rural women entrepreneurs by inspiring them with stories from other women entrepreneurs, providing them with knowledge about how to access small business loans as well as a platform where they can receive support from other peers and eventually sell their products. One other expected outcome of the iWomen app project is the increasing of confidence and self-esteem of the rural women users, this will contribute to making rural Myanmar women more respected as leaders in their community.
iWomen Inspiring Women App is a joint initiative of May Doe Kabar and UNDP Myanmar. May Doe Kabar is the leading rural women network that connects 22,000 women members organized in over 2,000 self-reliant group from 8 different states and regions of Myanmar. May Doe Kabar facilitates information sharing of iWomen platform, approaches members and potential members and educates rural women by using mobile phones and iWomen app. UNDP over the last 10 years has been providing essential support in financing the 31 Women Township Leading Groups who make up the May Doe Kabar Membership. Smartphone suppliers are also engaged in the supply chain of the app. The strong partnership developed over time has boosted the usage of the platform and expanded the impacts brought to rural women.
Innovative design of iWomen
To attract more audience and encourage communications, iWomen has applied innovative designs. One of the most innovative parts of iWomen is a set of stickers designed by May Doe Kabar and UNDP Myanmar. Using stickers to express the emotions in daily life is a common practice in modern society, but in Daw Cho Aye’s village, it was quite new when iWomen stickers first came out. Very quickly, people started to love it and design the stickers by themselves. Using stickers itself is a way of empowerment, as people put their opinions in it and become confident to express themselves over time. It is obvious how they love the program: people gain mental strength, as well as start missing each other after women group meeting and hope the next meeting will come soon (explanation of below image).
 Note: May Doe Kabar is a national association with a strong and established organisational network structure reaching from village to national level, which represents women from Myanmar’s most poor and vulnerable households (including women-headed households, landless families, migrant women, and women with disabilities). The impetus driving May Doe Kabar members to form as a national association in 2015 was to create a channel for realising and raising their collective voices for national policies and local implementation accountabilities in responding to the current needs and long-term aspirations of rural women and to promote the role and leadership skills of rural women in public sectors to contribute more effective to sustainable development with a commitment to gender equality.