Last Updated: Monday, 30 November 2015, 08:01 GMT

Myanmar: Female-headed households struggle in cyclone-affected area

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 6 May 2010
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Myanmar: Female-headed households struggle in cyclone-affected area, 6 May 2010, available at: [accessed 1 December 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

KAWAT VILLAGE, 6 May 2010 (IRIN) - About 14 percent of households in Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis-affected region are headed by women, mostly widows, according to a report published in March entitled Women's Protection Assessments: Post Nargis.

The report said female-headed households make up the highest percentage of low income groups, and more than 80 percent of the women surveyed were in debt, having borrowed money from relatives, friends or moneylenders.
Sixty percent of female-headed households live in unsatisfactory shelters, it said, while children from these families often drop out of school for lack of cash.

"They face the additional burden of being the only adult in the family and are therefore more vulnerable in terms of poverty and protection compared with households with two adults," Joern Kristensen, manager of the Recovery Coordination Centre, which oversees humanitarian and rehabilitation efforts in the delta, told IRIN.

"The main problem for women is that usually they can only engage in secondary income generating activities which do not generate enough income for the whole household to survive," said Andrew Kirkwood, Myanmar country director of Save the Children.

Kirkwood said job opportunities were fewer than before Nargis because employers lacked the funds to pay casual workers.

Furthermore, the fishing and agriculture sectors, which used to support the area, have not fully recovered, so day labourers have limited job opportunities.

Health care is another pressing need for women heads of household, especially older women, said Samantha Chattaraj of the Myanmar operations of HelpAge International.

"When their health is not good, it can affect their livelihoods, so it's also important to give health care to the female-headed households," Chattaraj said.

In an effort to help women heads of household rebuild their lives, humanitarian agencies have prioritized them for assistance, and established nearly 1,300 women's self-reliance groups and seven women-friendly centres offering psychosocial support, humanitarian kits, and skills training.

"There is a need to conduct further research and understand what sorts of jobs and livelihoods women heads of household - especially older women - prefer, so that we can help them effectively," Chattaraj said.

Many women heads of household are in financial crisis and deep debt, and have had to sell their property to pay back moneylenders.

Kyin Myaing, 56, sold her land to appease her debtor, but has more to pay.

"Soon, we'll sell this house to pay back all the debt, and then move to Yangon for whatever jobs are available there. We have to do this to survive," said the mother of three, as she looked around her wood-and-bamboo house.

Those who have already sold their land or houses are being evicted by moneylenders.

"We're now being forced to dismantle this house and vacate the land," said 58-year-old Mya Aye, the matriarch in a family of six. Surrounded by her grandchildren, she sighed heavily and asked: "Where should we go then?"


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