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Commentary: Where are Burma's women?


Oct 28, 2008 (DVB), If the Burmese government is to live up to its international responsibilities on women's rights, it must allow women to participate fully in the political life of the country.

The State Peace and Development Council signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1997. In September 2007, they submitted their latest report to the committee.

In the SPDC's report, they have tried to show that the provide equal opportunities to men and women without any discrimination, as required by article 7 of the convention on equality in political and public life.

The laws look good on paper , under the constitution, special protection is given to mothers, children and pregnant women and women are granted equal opportunities and rights. But it is a different matter in practice.

In its report to the CEDAW committee, the SPDC highlights section 154, subsection (a) of the constitution as providing that women are entitled to benefit from political, economic, social and cultural rights equally.

The regime also notes that section 6 of the Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law "provides that anyone is entitled to vote at the election irrespective of sex and religion", while section 8 of the same law grants the right to be elected irrespective of sex and religion.

These laws, the regime argues, are evidence of equality between men and women as set out in the constitution. But section 154, subsection (a) is from the 1974 constitution. Until this year, the regime had ruled Burma since 1990 without any valid constitution.

The Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law was enacted in 1989, the year before the 1990 election. The SPDC still points to this law as evidence of equality even though they refused to accept the result of the election held according to this law. The election laws are meaningless unless the regime respects the desires expressed by the voters.

There were only 67 women among the 1013 representatives that participated in the SPDC's national convention and no female representatives from the political parties attended the national convention in 2006. Is this evidence that women have equal opportunities and rights with men?

While women are highly active in politics and decision making around the world, the Burmese regime proudly states that Burmese women have equal rights and opportunities without having any women in positions of power.

Inside Burma, it is very rare to see women at the decision making level in politics. Why? Is it because women are not capable of taking up these positions?

We can see many women working in areas of social services, as teachers or in nursing, because of the expectation in Burmese culture that women should be responsible for taking care of the family and raising children, and must be gentle and kind , not skills that are valued in politics.

There are some women's organisations inside Burma, such as the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation. While it is nominally a non-governmental organisation, in reality it has little independence from the government.

When general Khin Nyunt was in power, his wife was the head of the organisation; when he was dismissed from his position, the head of the women's organisation was also changed.

What kind of activities have the women's organisations in Burma mostly done so far? Beauty pageants! Is this really important for women? They have also carried out some good activities, but these are very few in number compared with the beauty pageants.

Most of the time, the women's organisations which are dominated by the generals' wives activities are not helpful for women from rural areas.

When my mother was inside Burma, MWAF was trying to recruit all over the country. But the problem is that women who apply to join MWAF have to fill in the application form and donate 300 kyat to MWAF funds.

But people from our village were poor , they had to work all day just to earn enough money for food. How could they afford to give away 300 kyat? For ordinary women, it is difficult to take part in these activities.

In spite of this, women from inside Burma are working hard to bring about real change in Burma even though they might not have be able to gain a full understanding about women’s rights or gender equality due to the SPDC’s strict controls.

There is no evidence that the SPDC is implementing any programmes to raise the status of women. Prominent women activists such as Nilar Thein, Sue Sue Nwe, Mee Mee are arrested for expressing their political beliefs, while many other women such as Phyu Phyu Thin and Naw Ohn Hla are threatened for their activities.

Furthermore, the SPDC even uses the government-controlled women's organisations as political tool to crack down on the women’s movement inside and outside Burma.

There are some people who would like to do activities which are genuinely helpful for women. The problem is that they are not independent from the SPDC’s control.

Burma is notorious for its mismanagement of health and education and its poor governance. If the SPDC would allow women's organisations to operate freely, they could work to protect women and improve their situation.

So I ask the SPDC: please try to be a good government to your own people and respect your duties within the international and regional community. A country is like a family; be good parents to your children. We would like to be proud to say we come from Burma.


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