To empower migrant women population to gain knowledge and understanding on issues such as women’s rights, labor rights and human rights by providing space and reading materials and services.
The BWU continues to run two libraries for migrant women workers to provide reading materials and space for hold training, workshops and discussions on issues such as women’s reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, adolescence’s health, women and religion, and women’s role in Burmese society. The libraries are located in Mae Sot and Ranong as part of the organization’s empowerment and capacity building. It is our goal that easily accessible educational and resource materials will serve to educate and help to build migrant women workers’ capacity.
BWU has one library in Region (2) based in Karenni refugee camp, near Mae Hong Son. The library is mainly for BWU members in it respective areas but also open to other people who are living in those areas to access to the reading materials, for the members to have a resource center to use for the discussion and the library also provide general knowledge in order for the work that operate in the camps to be fortified.
The library was established to create a space where migrant women workers could escape and temporarily escape the hardships of their daily lives. It was also seen as a site in which migrant women workers can access reading materials and resources. It is the BWU’s goal that the library and the education that women may get out it will serve as a stepping point of changing ways of thinking and patriarchic mindsets. It is only when biases and prejudices are eliminated and women are informed that the struggle to improve women’s lives can truly taking effect. It is our belief that education is very important in empowering and mobilizing women. Without this, women will continue to be hindered and remained marginalized.
The library aimed to create a chance for a reading materials and space for the migrant workers who came from Burma due to variety of difficulty and the effect of civil war to the ordinary life of the people of Burma. The library also targeted to get the outcomes of changing the society way of thinking in favor of patriarchy system, which dangerously hinder the development of women lives by using different tools to empower, educate and mobilize the migrant women especially to came up gradually and to participant in the struggle to change society perspective and stereotype that ties the thinking and practices into women as subordinate people.
The libraries began operating mid 2002 and with each year the BWU’s collection has grown. Currently our Mae Sot branch alone has over 2000 hard copy prints of various materials and serves nearly 4000 library members. Of the clients approximately 75% of the readers are women and 25% are men in library in Mae Sot. Around 1000 books are in circulation each month through 130 readers each month in Ranong. The library also offers book deliveries and pick up services for those who are unable to leave their work. Our membership has increased significantly over the last few years.
Libraries are open from Wednesday to Sunday every week. Mondays and Tuesday are the only two days of the week in which it is closed. It was specifically set up this way so that it could serve the most customers during the week. For instance, the weekends are when most migrant workers get their one-day off in a week and for some it is Saturday and for others it is Sunday so in order to best serve them, the library since its formation have been open on the weekends. Looking back, when the first library opened, it had only 12 factory workers as members and since then it has grown and the membership now extends to nearly double the factory. In addition to the migrant women workers, the Burmese communities and pro-democratic movement also regularly uses the library. The Mae Sod branch, there is one coordinator and one staff who are in-charge of both working within the library and the mobile book service. There are 10 part-time staffs (one per each in ten factories) to help assist with book circulation and record keeping of loans.
The libraries have also been used as training sites on different topics ranging from women’s issues to human rights. The library has also become a mechanism for networking with women from other organizations and the migrant women worker community. Each month the library host a session in which women from the community gathers to share their experiences takes part in discussions and exchange information. The attendees/clients and the library staff choose the discussion topics. Past discussions have focused on women’s issues ranging from health education to cultural oppression of women.
One the BWU’s initiative have been to “bring the library to you” by first doing outreach work at various factories and explain to the workers the services offered by the libraries and spark interest by informing the workers as to what they find at the library. Thus selection of books into the BWU collection are carefully chosen but the main criteria has been books that are relevant to women and will encourage women to read more. In addition to the latest Burmese magazines, there are a large number of books on women rights, international relations, politics and human rights.
The hope is that these “advanced” books will serve to open women’s minds and inform them to the relevant topics associated with the Burmese Women’s movement. Moreover, health education, HIV/AIDS and specifically women’s reproductive health related information is readily available for the women wanting access to them. These information are most often kept to help women understand their bodies and offer a venue where women wanting to know such information can turn to. The library has also been quite useful in setting up peer groups for women through the monthly discussions. One of the positive outcomes of these have been that they offer women with invaluable support systems and sharing about each others lives as migrant workers, reason of crossing the borders, difficulties they may encounter while working in Thai soil, have served to remind the women that they are not alone in their struggles.
These meetings have also allowed the BWU to truly understand the issues surrounding migrant workers and have shed light as to the dire needs which in turn has shaped how the BWU can better meet its clients needs. One of the long-term visions of the library has been to help found a migrant workers’ labor organization as a way of demanding for their rights. Furthermore, the BWU would like to help migrant women workers to become part of the resources needed rebuilding future democratic federal Burma so it is crucial that these women are empowered and ready to determine their own future.
Feedback from the libraries’ service areas has been extremely positive and many Burmese women and men have stated they are very happy about the services offered. Many have stated that access to various kinds of knowledgeable books on Burma have been useful due to the military censorship and Burma’s closed door policy. Another recurring comment has been that the libraries serve as a medium of contacting the world they left behind and that it is through the books that many are able to keep in touch with Burma. Moreover, women have stated that their self-confidence and self-esteem have increased since they began to participate in discussions and talk in public among their peers. Furthermore, others have stated that the topics covered in the discussions are relevant and many are able to find support through the knowledge that their hardship are not mere isolated incidents but a difficulty shared by many.