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MyJustice responds to local needs in the wake of COVID-19

The second phase of MyJustice commenced from January 2020 for a period of 4.5 years. With a short inception period planned for 4 months, the programme was poised to commence activities full steam from May 2020. The team was designing a call for proposals for community legal awareness and paralegal support. And then all the well laid plans met the harsh reality!

COVID-19 was fast spreading across the globe and Myanmar was no exception! From March 2020, several countries including Myanmar started taking precautions to arrest the spread of COVID-19. This included placing restrictions on public gatherings, stay-at home directives accompanied by travel restrictions, all of which impacted community level activities as well as routine office functioning. Priding itself on being a context specific and adaptive programme on access to justice, MyJustice quickly decided to put its plans on hold and pivot to a new approach that would provide rapid response support to civil society organisations to address emerging key justice issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MyJustice designed and issued a call for proposal in early April 2020 to ensure that pandemic response respects the rights of all without discrimination, and Myanmar’s justice system adapts to this unprecedented situation to the greatest extent possible. Entitled “Rights Remain: Rapid Response Support to Address Justice Issues Arising from COVID 19 Pandemic”, the call for proposal sought to support adaptive and innovative concepts including creating online legal awareness, providing remote legal advice or counselling (over phone or Facebook), creating online support groups, and justice sector advocacy in response to COVID–19. 

Five organisations were selected: AAPP (Assistance Association for Political Prisoners), AFXB Myanmar, Akhaya Women Myanmar, Braveheart Foundation and Mi Organization. Akhaya and Mi working on sexual and gender-based violence; Braveheart on returnee migrant works and their right to legal identity; AAPP on prisoners’ rights in COVID-19 context and AFXB on creating legal awareness on key issues, using radio and social media. Covering all of MyJustice 6 project locations - Yangon, Mon, Shan, Bago, Karen and Mandalay – the selected organisations provide a range of support and services to local communities, using adaptive and COVID-19 specific tools and methodologies. This includes providing legal awareness, advice and counselling through hotlines; over phone, Facebook, and Facebook messenger; and using short films, radios and social media influencers.

Some face to face support is also provided at the community level, in line with government health advisories. This includes accompaniment to police station, lawyer officers, government offices and courts etc.; holding small community discussions on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) with family members of survivors and local authorities; and operating safe houses for SGBV survivors. In addition, organisations are carrying out advocacy activities with local authorities and some are also producing short studies/analysis to strengthen their programming and advocacy. Some strategies used to create entry points for engaging with local government officials include providing masks, sanitisers and other basic health equipment. In addition, relevant health messages and government instructions are also shared at the community level in local languages to protect the community from penalties for violating government orders.

As of now, the situation seems to be returning to near normal in Myanmar. Government advisory now allows 30 people to gather together and organisations can commence community level activities including trainings and workshops. MyJustice and partners remain vigilant and aware that a second wave of infections may still come to Myanmar. While we remain prepared to meet the challenges head on, MyJustice supported Justice Centres continue to provide legal aid; a call for proposals on empowering communities through community-based paralegals has been launched as is a request for proposal to map plural justice systems in Myanmar and explore linkages between them. Watch this space for information on other key activities that will also soon commence!