​In 2012, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced concern about violence against children, including gender-based violence, in Myanmar, noting that there were not adequate resources in place to keep girls and boys safe. In 2013, the Myanmar Red Cross and Canadian Red Cross joined together to work towards violence prevention programs. 

Together, the Canadian and Myanmar Red Cross Societies have been working to address physical, sexual, psychological and gender-based violence in support of the country’s emergency response and healthcare capacity. Gurvinder Singh, International Operations Advisor for Violence Prevention and Response, explains that, “violence is a public health problem and often escalates in emergencies... evidence from emergencies around the world show that as stress increases and support systems become strained, the risk of violence can increase, especially against boys, girls and women.”

Gurvinder describes working with the Myanmar Red Cross as “a gift”, saying that, “during this project the country has been going through considerable and rather dramatic political transitions that have opened up new space for humanitarian action. Conversations about hard issues like protection from violence have become more possible.”

What stands out the most about this project for Gurvinder is the dedication of the Myanmar Red Cross volunteers – especially young people getting involved, many of whom have moved away from home to join the Red Cross in remote and fragile communities. Their efforts include hosting conversations with communities to find local solutions to violence, identifying local referral systems so people know where to access help if violence does occur including in emergencies, and supporting local youth to engage their communities through theatre and music to help spread the message about violence prevention as a public health problem.

This project also faces unique and complicated challenges. Myanmar has been closed to much of the world for decades, and many people experience poverty or are displaced within the country. “Problems like sexual and gender-based violence against children and women are hard enough; but to do this as part of health and disaster preparedness situations where the conversations have not occurred openly before, or support systems are still being developed, or communities are hard to access makes it even more complex. Considering these realities are shared by many National Societies, the work in Myanmar is important. This project is a practical example of how violence prevention and response can help strengthen the health and emergency capacity of communities.”

When asked what success looks like when it comes to a project like this, Gurvinder says it’s “helping to lay a foundation for communities to recognize and respond to physical, sexual, psychological, and gender-based violence.”