Htet Oo Wai is the Myanmar representative for the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) and Demo Finland. Their work in Myanmar centers in strengthening the democratic role of politicians and political parties at the region/state level and encouraging them to enhance the practice of multi-party dialogue. This is a crucial part in establishing the right environment for Myanmar’s democratic development. She is heavily involved with the Myanmar School of Politics Programme who work in the five most eastern states and regions in Myanmar with the aim of improving the capacity of state and region-level politicians, and encouraging the participation of women in the democratic process.
Her parents were keen for her to enter local government, or become a doctor, or even an engineer when she was younger. But she had a dream, and when she explained to her parents that she wanted to follow a career that enabled her to help people, her parents responded that her dream was impossible. When she graduated from university she obtained employment in the development sector, and for the first time found herself surrounded by like-minded people who not only shared her dream but also believed that positive change was a tangible reality.
Diversity and gender equality are important factors in Htet Oo Wai’s approach to work, and she has long advocated for increased female participation in Myanmar’s political transition and peace process. “The time is long overdue for women to take a larger role in government. The narrative has changed, and the potential of women has changed.” She strongly believes that both men and women should be a part of this change though, and that men have an equal role to play in the promotion of increased gender equality and women’s participation. “The situation has improved in recent years, but there is a long way to go to achieve full participation and proper representation of women, who account for the majority of people in the country.”
“Since forever, women have been told that they don’t hold the qualities required to be ‘in charge,’ they are told that they are not strong enough, or intellectually capable enough. That narrative no longer works, and women should no longer accept or believe that they don’t have the qualities required of a leader.” Htet Oo Wai is passionate about promoting the opportunities women have to take more control and challenge for the leadership positions that they are fully qualified and experienced to hold. “It is time for everyone to accept the new role of women, and understand their potential, it is time for them play a role in the future of our country, and that doesn’t mean waiting to be called upon, that means pushing and fighting for their equal rights.”
Photos by Rasmus Steijner.