[Myanmar] Open Space #1: Women Political Participation in Myanmar: Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Myanmar has a history of being one of the first Asian countries to grant women the right to vote. The country also has prominent women political figures such as State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. However, a number of regulations and social restrictions still limit the role of women in strategic positions in the country.
Myanmar Open Space addressed this matter in an intense discussion with 16 participants via Zoom meeting on October 29, 2020. The forum started with a brief issue about the discrimination of women in strategic positions in Myanmar. For example, Section 352 of The 2008 Constitution regulates appointments of particular positions that are only available for male candidates. Furthermore, Chapter III of the Constitution outlines the qualifications of the president and vice president that reduce women's chances of holding office.
In a survey conducted at the beginning of the forum, half of the participants wanted comprehensive reforms to encourage women's political participation in Myanmar. The majority of respondents (85.7%) also strongly agreed that increasing women's political participation should be discussed in the amendments to the 2008 Constitution.
The forum also addressed women's involvement in the negotiation process for the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) between government, military, and Ethnic Armed Organizations. One of the highlights is that the negotiation must include women from various ethnicities because of their vulnerability to being assaulted by the Burmese military.
Sufficient representation of women in parliament was also brought up by one of the participants, Shwe Yone Nandy. She said that fair representation of women was urgently needed to reduce systematic sexual violence.
Even so, women's political representation cannot only aim to meet quotas. The survey also showed that 71,4% of participants were willing to choose a candidate based on merit instead of gender. In order to meet that need, the representation must be accompanied by sufficient awareness from the entire community that women have equal opportunities as men, including in political rights. This awareness can be grown by empowering women with soft skills and leadership skills.
Here are some highlights from the session
"It is even more important to include women of different ethnicity for the peace process and since they are the most vulnerable ones even among women in our society, their voices must be heard in the parliament."
"Women, especially from rural areas, feel discriminated against even more in their households due to strong influence of conservative norms and have rare access to their improvement."
-Me Me Zin Oo
“Although there is a woman leader, the government is using patriarchy as a weapon of oppression against us, especially women, for example supporting the Burmese military which use rape against women of ethnic minorities as a weapon of war.”
“There is a possibility if we include women in the military to reduce systematic sexual violence.”
-Myat Zandar Saw