Nang Ei Ei Mon is an entrepreneur with a passion for women’s economic empowerment. Her experience as a domestic violence counselor made her realize how economic empowerment can break the circle of violence and advance women’s lives. Based on that belief, Nang founded How She Did It, a female talent platform in Myanmar, which upskill and reskill local women to connect them to economic opportunities in the digital economy. As a professional life coach, Nang’s vision for How She Did It is to provide economic dignity for women and help them reach their potential at any stage of their lives. You can listen to her TEDx talk In the Name of Motherhood.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): “Millions of dreams are dying in the name of motherhood.” You started your TEDx talk with such a strong statement. Can you explain further?
Nang Ei Ei Mon (Nang): It is a strong statement because it is true. And that is a very sad thing.
Having lived in the US for over 12 years, I returned to Myanmar and what shocked me the most was this particular phenomenon — women everywhere were giving up their dreams to become mothers. I’ve talked to countless women in the community and concluded that they own a single identity. That is, staying home as a motherly figure.
It’s happening everywhere, yet unrecognized by women and men alike. So I believe we need to pay attention to this issue in our society.
Kr: You mentioned that in Myanmar, mothers are limited to just one identity. It is frowned upon if they are keen on starting their own business, or pursuing certain hobbies, or even volunteering. Why is this so?
Nang: I call it the ‘motherhood penalty’. And this is deeply embedded in Myanmar’s culture.
The penalty is gender-based, and in fact, it applies not only to existing mothers but rather to every female – a woman is expected to have children and stay at home eventually, meaning that she cannot contribute to the workforce for long and she’s not valued the same as men. Therein lies a very strong, unconscious bias in employers. To top it off, spouses and parents-in-law carry the same expectation towards women in the family. So the ‘motherhood penalty’ is something perpetuated by the community as a whole that compromises the career of a woman.
The responsibility of looking after children falls primarily on the woman. This takes up most of her time and energy, so she is unable to pursue her own career or hobbies as she may wish. While she would look to childcare centers, or help from her spouse in taking care of the children, there is simply a lack of resources and support for the mother. Ultimately, she is left with the thought that if she doesn’t stay home to look after the child, nobody would provide such good care. Thus, being a mother becomes her single identity as an individual.
Kr: How did you realize this? And how did your realization lead up to How She Did It?
Nang: I am a mother. But I also had many hobbies before I became a mother, such as creative work and entrepreneurship, and more.
I remember that when my daughter was born, I spent the first two years committed to looking after her, mostly by myself. That’s when I started to feel miserable. I love kids and I love my daughter very much, but I actually started to not enjoy being a mother. I sometimes got angry at myself or lost patience with my daughter. With such conflicting emotions, I went into serious depression. Many people assumed that it was postpartum depression, but it was not. It was a very real form of depression that other mothers face too.
I wanted to pick myself up. Because I knew that if I was not at my best, I couldn’t give my daughter the best. And I needed to change things. I started writing as it was therapeutic for me. I wrote about my experience as a mother, including the problems I faced and my ongoing journey to recovery. When I showed it to my friend, she encouraged me to write in Burmese instead of English, as well as share it on social media. She was very certain that many women would be able to relate to me and feel empowered.
True enough, my second post garnered attention from thousands of women. I built a huge community overnight. They also posed questions or gave suggestions on what I could share. I was motivated to do more research on their topics of concern, write better pieces, then bring them to a larger community.
Only recently, last year, I decided to transform my personal blog into a whole company. As a company, How She Did It, stands for economic empowerment. I chose this theme because I believe that women need to gain the mindset, attitude, and skills that help them to work towards their needs. We organize training workshops and provide economic opportunities, like connecting entrepreneurs or linking women to jobs, so as to make women independent and self-sufficient.
Kr: Did the COVID situation affect your plans for How She Did It?
Nang: I would say the COVID situation forced our company to adapt and grow, by leaps and bounds. We were very used to doing workshops offline. In 2020, we redesigned the classes to create a self-paced learning style.
Women could watch lecture videos and learn online anytime. Then, we fixed timing for small group discussions, based on the availability of group members. It usually happens at 10 p.m., after mothers put their children to sleep. Messenger starts to get busy as everyone is texting in the group, and it is very inspiring to see all the mothers gathering for a class together.
With Google Classroom is easier and more convenient to organizes classes. In fact, we are able to group women by their similarities: mothers with young children in one group, mothers with older children in another group, etc. We even have a learning assistant to facilitate the discussions. So I do think the company has adjusted well to the COVID situation.
As one mother invites another mother and the word spreads, I hope that more women will be inspired to join this community, and we can continue to support one another, through motherhood and through life.