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MIL OSI – Source: Asia New Zealand Foundation – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Film highlights entrepreneurial women in Myanmar

The story of three Burmese women battling to lift their families out of poverty is set to make its Kiwi debut on the big screen at the Doc Edge Film Festival in Wellington and Auckland starting this weekend.

However, the first “red carpet screening” of the movie, On the Backs of Women, took place in a rented building with a mango tree out the front in a dusty yard in the small town of Kalaymyo, northern Myanmar.

The audience filled the plastic seats lined up in front of a laptop in the offices of the Zozam Microfinance Company (ZMF), with Za Sung, Khin May Yi, and Nyunt Kyi, the stars of the show, claiming the front row.

The three women are clients of ZMF, which provides microloans for local people, mainly women, to start or expand a small family business.

ZMF is partnered with ADC, a New Zealand-based charity run by young Kiwi professionals (including Leadership Network members Jeremy Kenealy, Nick Hammond and Kim Choe) and backed by New Zealand donors.

ADC executive director Zac Colborne says it’s about giving people a hand up, not a hand-out.

The problem with poverty that isn’t always obvious, he says, is the way it limits people’s access to finance.

And that is especially true for women. In Myanmar, only 17 percent of women have an account at a financial institution, he says.

“The average loan size (at ZMF) starts at around $150-200. So the loans are small, and that increases over time as the clients repay their loans.”

People often have the know-how and drive needed to create a better life for themselves and the people they love, and they just need a bit of support to get things started, Colborne says.

Take Za Sung, who’s used a loan to set up a recycling business.

“She goes around on her bike collecting mainly bottles, and that’s her business,” says Colborne.

“She highlights this in the film: she’s looked down upon in her community because it’s seen, for lack of a better word, as dirty work. But she’s so proud of what she’s doing and the way that she’s been able to support her family and herself. Each day she goes out there and she is super, super tough.”

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Watch the trailor for On the Backs of Women.

Film-maker Dean Easterbrook spent four or five days filming each of the women.

He says he remembers the pride Za took in welcoming him into her simple home, beside a polluted river. She had organised tea and samosas.

“She’d had a very hard life – a husband that beat her and in-laws that never accepted her because of her culture. But she put her children first, wanting to get them educated, so went out on her own.”

He says Za’s story is phenomenal to Western audiences but in the corner of the world she calls home it is a common one.

Easterbrook is co-founder of Borderless, an Auckland-based company committed to telling stories that bring about social change.

“Film-making brings people together. They can all sit down, they can watch something and then they can walk away and go ‘hey, that was really cool and this is what I can do to make a difference’.

“Wrapping a campaign around a film is a good way to create action.”

The festival screening of On the Backs of Women coincides with the launch of a major global fundraising campaign. #BackAWoman aims to inspire global citizens to invest in and empower 3000 entrepreneurial women in Myanmar over three years, by raising a total of $1 million.

After the festival, the film will be made available to the public to organise private screenings. Each screening will be asked to #BackAWoman by donating $300 or more – enough to support one woman to start or expand a business.

Find out more

May 2016