Women building in Myanmar, empowered or exploited?

In New Zealand, most people have an entrenched perception that construction workers are male. Because of this preconception, seeing a female construction worker, especially in a particularly labour intensive job will often come as a surprise. Contrastingly; in Myanmar female workers building roads and performing hard labour is a common sight because women make up a striking proportion of the labour force.

This week, the Guardian published a piece on women working on Burmese building sites. The article examined whether these women should be seen as empowered or exploited by their dominance within the construction industry.

In Myanmar, most of the women working in construction come from very poor backgrounds. The article considered these women as empowered because having employment offers an opportunity to earn money, have shelter and purchase food for themselves and their families.

On the other hand, what makes these women empowered can also be seen as exploiting them. Female workers are typically paid less than male workers. An example from the article is of Chaw Su Khaing who lives with her husband on a building site. She gets paid 4,500 kyats a day, whereas her husband gets 5,000, because his is considered skilled work.

Labour rights are a relatively new issue in Myanmar. This means construction workers are also exploited by the nature of the job. The lack of controls means workers will often work long and difficult jobs in unsafe conditions.

The difficulties Burmese women face from working within construction highlights that their dominance might not necessarily be empowering. It is a sad reminder of the importance of awareness, in Myanmar “inequality is so much a part of society that many of the women do not even know that they are being discriminated against”.


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