Carrboro teen pursues passion for equality in Myanmar

tgrubb@newsobserver.comFebruary 16, 2014 

  • Find your voice

    The ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative is looking for 50 young women to be the 2014 ANNpower Fellows. The leadership and mentoring program is open to girls in the 10th and 11th grades interested in learning from some of the nation’s top women leaders. Fellows will participate in the June conference in Washington, D.C., and learn how to develop projects that make a difference in their communities.

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— Taliana Tudryn came back from Myanmar with new ideas for helping women – and men – stay strong in a world that’s not always fair.

The Carrboro High School junior was one of six young women nationwide chosen last year to be ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative delegates to The Women’s Forum Myanmar 2013: Women in a Fast-Opening Society. The 10-day trip to the Southeast Asian nation included a tour of the countryside and stops along the way where people are trying to make a difference.

“What matters is finding what you love and helping people around you,” Taliana said.

The initiative, a partnership between ANN Inc., the parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, and Vital Voices Global Partnership, is part of the Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action. It offers leadership skills and mentoring to 50 young women each year who also attend the spring Vital Voices Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.

In Myanmar, Taliana learned about women’s equality and social justice issues from influential female leaders such as Myanmar opposition leader and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi and Melanne Verveer, executive director for the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the former chief of staff to first lady Hillary Clinton during the Clinton administration.

Taliana, 17, is passionate about preventing gender violence and discrimination. She knows firsthand how comments made in passing at school about how someone is dressed can sting, she said.

Her friends have faced even tougher situations involving dating violence, rape and the isolation and blame that survivors experience.

“I want girls to know when they are being treated unfairly by both girls and boys, and for boys to become educated on the idea that being a ‘real man’ doesn’t mean mistreating and demeaning women,” she said.

Taliana already created a bullying prevention program at her school, and in college she plans to focus on women’s studies and political science or journalism, she said.

The Myanmar conference helped refine her plans for a new project, a coed gender issues group. Male students will play an important role in changing attitudes and in addressing male gender issues, she said. Without them, the project has the attention of only half the population, she said.

The group also will reach out to Karen students at Carrboro High School, she said. The Karen – one of 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar – have been battling government repression for decades. Local agencies estimate there could be 800 to 1,000 refugees from Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Orange County.

Female activists emerge

In Myanmar, Taliana said she learned equality doesn’t happen because you elect a new government. The nation is emerging from nearly 50 years of military rule and still has more than a half-million refugees in surrounding countries and the United States.

Taliana said Myanmar’s “most touching and inspiring” young female activists are overcoming huge obstacles to improve their country and change its culture. People like Soho designer Mo Hom, who built a New York fashion house while dreaming of how she could bring jobs to her native Myanmar.

In 2012, Hom launched a new, made-in-Myanmar women’s wear brand. Her family has contributed in other ways, too, such as building schools. The story of how she left New York’s glitz to help her people was fascinating, Tudryn said.

“True patriotism is really loving your country. You want to help it. You want to make it better,” Taliana said. “I want to see that in my country.”

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