DEMOSO TOWNSHIP, Karenni State — Ethnic Padaung woman Mu Parin, 39, has eight children—three girls and five boys.
In her culture, school is not considered a necessity for women, who are only expected to tend to crops and look after livestock.
Men are encouraged to study, however. Here in Pu Kho village, Mu Parin’s son, La Lon, is 11 and has studied up to fifth grade. He can write and he speaks some Burmese, but his three older sisters can’t read or write, or speak a word of Burmese.
“Our culture only lets women take care of the cows,” Mu Parin told The Irrawaddy. “We give birth to them, but we feel they are not really our children because when they get married, they have to go and stay at their husband’s house. This is why we do not send them to school.”
Since men have to take care of their families, the Padaung believe, they should go to school.
The ethnic group is best known for its “long neck” women. From age 5, girls must begin wearing metal rings around their necks and limbs, and more are added as they grow older, giving the appearance of an extended neck.
Pu Khu village in Karenni State’s Demoso Township has 40 houses and is populated by mostly ethnic Padaung people.
Ma Htin Htet Phyu, an ethnic Pa-O woman who is married to a Padaung man, said that a lot of Padaung women can’t read or write, and don’t speak Burmese.
The culture is beginning to change, she said, and a few girls are now allowed to go to school, but progress is slow.
“People here are not really modernizing. They remain behind in modern education and development,” said Ma Htin Htet Pyu.
“The community is poor. There is no one who could lead them in the community to teach these people or let them go to school.”