The Situation of Women in Myanmar

Myanmar’s long road to democracy has been hindered by violent ethnic conflicts, which have taken its toll on women. Within these instances of violent conflicts between minorities, women often suffer abuses such as rape and other forms of physical violence. As rape is often a display and abuse of power, it has been argued by many women’s organisations that rape is utilized by military powers as weapons of war. However, there have been several positive developments in Myanmar in recent years with regards to increased gender equality. These include the following:

  • According to UN Women, Myanmar has achieved gender parity in education with regards to enrollment ratios of girls and boys in primary and secondary education.
  • In the case of divorce, women in Myanmar enjoy equal rights regarding inheritance laws and equal marital property rights.
  • The country has expressed its dedication to women’s rights through the adoption of The Convention to Eliminate all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997.
  • In 2013, the government approved a National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women, which identified twelve areas in which it must act for gender equality. Areas include poverty reduction, education, health care, inclusion in decision making and the promotion of the welfare of girls.

Despite these positive developments, Gender Concerns International and other civil society organisations have noted with concern that Myanmar still faces several problems which need to be addressed regarding women and their position in society. Myanmar has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region due to insufficient access to basic reproductive care and health services. Traditional patriarchal values are enforcing gender stereotypes that continue to shape familial relationships, while contributing to the gendered division of labor and restraining women’s influence in decision making at all levels of society. These values are particularly dominant in some of the poorest rural areas which leads to the exacerbation of gender disparities. In terms of labor relations, female participation in the labor market is significantly below that of men at 63.1% compared to 85.1% for men. Congruently, the women of Myanmar do not have the same career development prospects as men. Women are paid less for the same work and are not able to move out of the lower-level positions in both the informal and formal sectors.

With regard to the political decision making process of the country, women remain consistently underrepresented. As of the 2012 elections, 5.6% (lower house) and 1.8% (upper house) of seats in parliament were held by women. It is impossible for women to obtain high positions in government, as the highest offices of the country are de jure or de facto reserved for (male) military officers. There was only one female minister of 36 ministers serving at the union level: the Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement. During the 2015 elections, positive developments were observed by Gender Concerns International. Amongst the 6189 candidates registered for the November 8 election, roughly 800 of them were female, according to the Union Election Commission (UEC). This number was higher than at previous elections. However, the organisation has noted that, despite all the positive developments taking place in Myanmar’s democratization process, women remain largely underrepresented in the political decision making process.

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