International Women’s Day may be just around the corner, but here at Cotton On Foundation, we’re for girls all year round. Now, more than ever there’s a strong call-to-action to #pressforprogress.
So we’re taking part of the movement by shining a light on special women who inspire us every day. We had the chance to speak to Cotton On Foundation’s Thailand Program Manager, Yim.
Currently based in Mae Sot, Yim balances being a mum, while overseeing Cotton On Foundation’s project in Thailand; Bwe K’Lar. A well educated and equipped career woman with an undergraduate degree in Arts and Public Administration, and a Masters degree in Political Science, Yim has a passion for positive change and growth within the community.
With both parents born in Burma and Yim from the Umphang community in Thailand by the Burmese border, Yim attributes her success to her supportive family who set her up with Thai citizenship from an early age, something that many families in her community were not able to do.
“Because we were right on the border, if you were from Burma or Thailand it didn’t really matter. We didn’t really see the line. We had the same language, just a different country.”
Experiencing a Thai education, Yim recalled her time at school as “not too difficult”, she worked hard to prove herself and make her parents proud. “I always aimed to be the best in my class during my studies.” At school, speaking Thai was compulsory. If Yim was to speak one word of Karen, her first language, she would be made to run around the playground. “One wrong word spoken equaled one lap run – sort of like punishment.”
With ever encouraging parents, and a drive for social change and understanding of the cultural situation, Yim has always valued education extremely highly. “Access to university is limited in this area. My parents had a good plan, and for that I feel very lucky. Being able to go to university means you are able to help people more.”
“My mother always wanted me to stay in school and get a better education. At the time I didn’t really see how education was going to change my life like it did.”
“The [gender parity] situation is slowly changing; a woman can be involved more. Government buildings and offices are now seeing more women in roles. That is something I am proud of.”
After over a decade working with Grassroots NGOs and community based organisations on the Thailand- Burma border region, Yim is well equipped and educated for her role. Speaking on how she came to apply for her role at Cotton On Foundation, Yim said, “In the past, many people have tried to help students in this area with donations. But I have not seen anything like the [Cotton On Foundation] Quality Education Model. I am so interested to see how this will work and support the Bwe K’Lar community long term.”
Gender equality is important to Yim. Being exposed to this from a young age, Yim told us, “I think for me a large way I could overcome this was through the support of my parents. My parents have always believed that everyone is equal and have always made me feel that way. Especially my dad, he always treated my mum and sisters with respect and always taught us that we can do anything we want to, just like the boys. They always supported me, I always knew challenges would come but I always believed I could do it. I know that as a woman, we think we can but, but it very important to prove that we can.”
Yim told us about her daughter, Tara and as she grows up Yim will teach her about self confidence and self belief. “She should believe in her ability and that she can do it. She has to believe in herself that she can do it. Self confidence is a big thing that I would need to train her. With the culture here, she needs to understand that young people and older people it is changing. If she faces something, she needs to trust herself and that I will always be there for her if she needs some advice.”
“Be comfortable and have confidence in yourself. But at the same time, learn and take in as much as you can.”
As gender equality continues to improve in the region, Yim attributes this to the creation of opportunities. “We can see women getting involved more and more in different roles. So girls can be a principle girls can be a leader of an organisation, they can be a teacher or health worker. I think in the past it was always men in those positions of leadership. Women are in a position where they can become leaders and can speak louder and have more of a say. People are including women in more public conversations and decisions.”
“I think quality education will support and encourage girls to be confident to do more”.