From Myanmar with Love: VIU Alum Takes Her Degree on the Road

VIU Political Studies alum Shantel Beute is in Myanmar working as a gender advisor for a small pro-bono lawyers network. A Global Studies internship in Belize last year helped set her on this path.

July 31, 2017 - 4:00pm

Shantel Beute’s year of travel and training opportunities started with a VIU Global Studies internship

Vancouver Island University (VIU) alumnus Shantel Beute has travelled around the world following her passions this year.

Beute has sat in Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson’s seat in Parliament, studied rural women’s groups in Belize and she’s now in Myanmar working as a gender advisor for a small community organization.

The Political Studies alum missed her Convocation ceremony in June to get on a plane to the Southeast Asian country to begin a six-month placement with the Dawei Pro-Bono Lawyers Network, an organization headquartered in Dawei, a small township in southern Myanmar, which advocates on behalf of people dealing with environmental injustices. The organization wants to branch into advocating for people with gender-based violence issues, and Beute is there to share her knowledge about working with people who have experienced this kind of violence.

“I’ve been incredibly busy right from the start,” she says. “Myanmar is a fascinating and beautiful place. The skills I am learning here are helping me further develop my critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills.”

The road to this remarkable journey was paved when Beute went to Belize last summer on an internship through VIU’s Global Studies program. She worked for a city councillor in Belize City who specializes in gender issues, then got involved with researching how rural women’s groups function. Beute interviewed women in places where she wasn’t always welcomed with open arms.

“I was able to design my own field work, put myself into situations where I had to be a bit more assertive,” Beute remembers. “I already knew I was interested in women’s issues before I went down, but when I came back I was even more eager to get into that field of work. It was a really phenomenal internship.”

The work inspired Beute to apply for a volunteer position in Haven Society’s Sexual Assault Response Program when she returned to Nanaimo from Belize. Throughout the fall and early spring, Beute trained with others once a week in how to support survivors of domestic abuse.

In March, she was chosen to go to Ottawa for a week by Daughters of the Vote - an initiative through Equal Voice National to bring together 338 young female leaders, one from every federal riding, to Ottawa to represent their communities and mark a century of women’s suffrage. Equal Voice advocates to elect more women in politics.

For Beute, the highlight was taking Malcolmson’s seat in the House of Commons on International Women’s Day. The Daughters held a session of Parliament, during which each representative delivered a short speech about what they were passionate about.

“The leaders of each party came and spoke to us, then we had Question Period hosted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” says Beute. “The young woman in his riding got to have a private meeting with him, and she invited me to join a working group that aims to review a violence against women strategy the government is working on. It was a powerful experience overall, and I’ve been invited to participate in other projects as a result of the connections I made.”

In early spring, she learned she got the job in Myanmar through Cuso International, an Ottawa-based development organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of highly skilled volunteers, collaborative partnerships and compassionate donors. The group pairs volunteers from Canada with volunteer partners in developing nations so Canadian professionals with expertise in areas of interest to the partner groups can transfer that knowledge where it is needed to improve the quality of life of residents of that country.

So far, Beute is hosting training sessions on gender equality, working with clients who have experienced violence and learning Burmese. She’s also figuring out how to work with no Wi-Fi, limited access to complainants in rural areas due to washed-out roads and daily power outages.

“Coming in as an outsider is very challenging,” she says. “It’s like learning the rules of the road only to find out that drivers disobey the rules and you must learn to drive all over again. Women’s issues remain a fringe topic here, and a violence against women bill has been sitting in Parliament for what feels like forever with no sign of being passed. This is paired with implicit bias in the legal system, absence of legal aid and rampant corruption. Working from the side of pro-bono lawyers is an incredible process to be a part of as they try to navigate the complicated and uneven legal system.”

When she returns from Myanmar, Beute will study International Development and Global Studies at grad school at the University of Ottawa and after that, she hopes to work for a large global organization, combining her passions for women’s empowerment and project management.

“I want to be able to go in somewhere and help people fix something,” she says. “I like assessing policies related to women.”

And, of course, a political career isn’t out of the question.

“More women in government means better legislation affecting women,” she explains. “There are so many positive changes we could make for women in government.”

To view this press release online, visit VIU News.

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Jenn McGarrigle, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P: 250.740.6559 | C: 250.619.6860 | E: jenn.mcgarrigle@viu.ca | T: @VIUNews

 

*This is the first article in a new #HaveDegreeWillTravel series. Are you using your VIU degree to see the world? Email Jenn.McGarrigle@viu.ca to get your story featured next! 


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