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Burma's women come out of the shadows


Nov 18, 2008 (DVB), On 27 October 2008, the Women's League of Burma launched its shadow report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The shadow report, which was sent to the 42nd session of the CEDAW committee, was compiled by women's groups, especially groups in exile and other networks.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council has already submitted its own report to the committee on the measures it has taken to comply with the treaty.

The shadow report explicitly claims that, "The face of public life in Burma is male, in large part because the culture of Burma today is profoundly militarized."

In addition, it argues that the SPDC is unreasonably neglecting the reality of what is happening in the country when it states in its report, "Women are possessed of full rights from before birth."

The shadow report also argues that even the many women's organisations established by the SPDC inside Burma function as a mouthpiece for the SPDC instead of standing up for Burma's women.

According to this CEDAW shadow report, Nang Yin, general secretary of the Women's League of Burma, said, "The SPDC's political objective of building a 'disciplined democracy' is entrenching the patriarchal society for a second time."

Here, there is one question: are women discriminated against just because of the military government?

It is clear that while all Burmese citizens are exploited by the military regime, women are doubly abused. Around the world, in countries under military rule and other kinds of political systems, there are many women's groups resisting gender-based discrimination. It is not only due to the political system that women are discriminated against and abused.

The first wave of feminism began during the 19th century. It moved to Burma's democracy movement in the 20th century. Even though some women's organisations were established during 1950s, it was not until 1999 when the Women's League of Burma was founded that the women's political movement took off.

Here is a second question: why are women in the pro-democracy movement attempting to bring about a double revolution of political change and equal rights?

This question is linked to the answer to the first question, which made clear that women are discriminated against not only due to the military regime but also because of the patriarchal structures of society. It should be explicitly stated that the Burmese democracy movement needs both political change and a commitment to gender equality to achieve real change in the country.

What are exile women groups are doing to promote women's equality?

Initially, most women's groups in exile were founded to deal with social issues. Then later, they realised that women's participation in politics and at all decision-making levels is the basis for promoting gender equality and justice in society. While women's organisations continued to work on social affairs such as raising awareness of women's rights, women's participation in politics became their priority.

The inclusion of a quota system in the Federal Constitution organised by the exile movement, whereby there must be at least 30 percent women at all decision making levels, is one of their greatest successes of the Burmese women's movement and a mark of their solidarity.

However, even in the exile Federal Constitution Drafting Coordinating Committee, there is still a lack of participation by women and it clearly shows that the movement still needs to pay more than lip service to promoting women's equality.

Looking back on the process of enacting the principle of a quota system, it took tears, anger and unity on the part of the women involved. Men often say that "tears are a woman's weapon", but it is more accurate to say that "tears and life are the symbol of revolution" given that no revolution has been achieved without these sacrifices which are built into the spirit and beliefs of human beings.

The CEDAW shadow report shows the unity and strong feelings of solidarity among Burma's women. It may or may not change the SPDC's implementation of policies on women's rights, but at the very least it can surely shame the SPDC before the international community and bring regional pressure to bear on the regime.

It is impossible to estimate when women's rights and gender equality will be perfectly practised in society and when the women's movement will end its revolution. For the moment, Burma's women are still on the road to revolution, offering their tears, anger and solidarity. But one day they must surely achieve their goal.


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