Feature Story

Ending the damaging cycle of gender-based violence and drugs: Enabling young people to fulfil their potential

12 January 2016
A YIC member from Shan East.
A YIC member from Shan East.

Nang Kham (not her real name) is part of a Community Support Group which was established to support UNFPA trained youth volunteers to conduct outreach activities and preventative peer education sessions to rural youth. She explains that gender-based violence (GBV) is one of the biggest challenges for women in Shan East and that drug abuse is the main reason behind the violence against women. "If a husband does not get money for his drugs from his wife, he simply beats her up," she explains. Initial findings from the nationwide in-depth review of its support to rural youth, highlights that UNFPA's strengthened efforts around GBV are filling an urgent unmet need of support to survivors of GBV. This is particularly true for young girls, some of whom are married off at the age of 13. New preventative initiatives need to integrate these young girls, and target high risk areas such as rural border areas.

Nang Kham highlights the efforts from the government to date, which includes the establishment of a few institutions to support survivors of GBV, but explains that the demand for these services is much higher. "What is provided is simply not enough. It needs to be expanded. It would also be useful to provide more training to government staff, for example police officers, to handle GBV cases," she said. A young man encouraged the UNFPA team to integrate a stronger component on the prevention of drug abuse in UNFPA's new strategy for its support to rural youth. "If you want change, you first have to start to reduce drug abuse. That is the core of the issue here". 

Several people stated that up to nine out of ten young people in the 15-19 age range are using drugs in certain parts of Shan East. "Drugs are cheap and there is simply nothing else to do. As most of the land belongs to rich business people, it makes it almost impossible to create new businesses," one young man explained. He further highlighted how difficult it is to build a future as no land is accessible for new opportunities. Moreover, he described parents' drug abuse as being a limiting factor for young people's possibilities of fulfilling their potential as children are sent to work in Thailand in order to finance the drug habits of their parents. 

UNFPA and the Myanmar Anti-Narcotic Association (MANA) recently held the first training of its kind for Myanmar's police officers on GBV, reproductive health and HIV in Mandalay Region, underlining UNFPA's stronger focus on GBV in Myanmar. The feedback on GBV and drug abuse from parts of Myanmar such as Shan East is valuable for the development of UNFPA's strategy for support to rural youth.