Uplifting Women in Myanmar

  • Written by San Maung Than
  • Published in Arakan State

San Maung Than — Daw Khin Saw Wai (Arakan National Party), Lower House candidate (Rathedaung Constituency)

Q: With so few female MPs elected in Arakan State do you think there is a gender imbalance?

A: It is unbalanced. Even so we invited women in the Arakan State (to join the party). Anyone could contest the election in our party, but only five or six female candidates were selected. Out this only two female candidates won seats. Women need to get more involved in politics and run in the election.

Q: What kind of proposals regarding gender equality are prioritizes for submitting to Parliament?

A: We are always reading in the media about the rape of underage girls in the Arakan State. I will submit proposals to take action against the culprits that rape minors. There is more women’s participation from (non-ethnic) parties in Parliament, but women’s participation in ethnic parties is still quite rare. There are only two female MPs in our party. So, we will submit a proposal to Parliament to ask whether these issues can be resolved by allotting spaces for female politicians (for greater representation).

Q: What are women’s needs in Arakan State? What are your plans to address these needs in Parliament?

A: Sadly, when we conducted field studies in Arakan State we found that many women are working in Thailand, Malaysia, and China. When we studied why they need to go abroad, we found that because of electricity shortages there aren’t many factories in Arakan State. Job opportunities need to be created for both men and women. So, I’m thinking about ways to do this at this time.

Q: What kind of programs need to be implemented to stimulate women’s involvement in politics and social work?

A: We entered Parliament after first getting involved in the social service sector. I have found many women working in this sector. In Arakan State many women are involved with social work but there seems to be a shortage of women in politics. I’m not sure if this is caused by barriers or a lack of interest as social work runs parallel to politics. I entered Parliament with the intentions of developing Arakan State.

Daw Htu May (ANP), Upper House Candidate (Constituency No 11 - Rameree + Ann)

Q: Few women have been elected as candidates in the recent election how will this affect fairness?

A: I don’t think whether or not there are a few women or many in Parliament will affect fairness because it’s still a transition period. The majority of women are not involved in politics. Perhaps they still don’t understand the situation? It’s possible that many women aren’t involved due to various reasons and not because they aren’t interested in politics.

Q: Once the new government takes office what proposals for women’s rights will you submit?

A: We must implement a federalist system as it is essential for all ethnic people. Although I can’t say exactly how much we will be able to do in the five-year term for now we need to remove any obstacles in the way of federalism. The 2008 Constitution is the main obstacle that we need to remove. It’s important to either amend it or draft a new one to implement ethnic rights (in Myanmar). Regarding protecting women’s rights, Myanmar signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, I believe it’s more important to work as a whole nation to rebuild the country rather than for exclusively women. So, I would rather work on primary issues affecting the entire country and ethnic affairs, while at the same time uplifting women’s role in all of this. I will also make plans to get more women leaders in Parliament; give capacity building programs for women; include women in decision-making of every sector; and work on important issues for women after they are submitted to Parliament.

Q: What programs would be suitable to encourage women’s participation in politics? What are your plans regarding this?

A: First, women need to try their best. Secondly, we need to uplift women’s role in Parliament. In order for women’s presence to be felt in Parliament, we need to work hard to lay the ground work for future generations. If special leadership classes are provided I think we will have more women leaders. I got involved in politics after losing my rights. Women need to first know what their rights are to establish what rights they don’t have. After, they need to make an effort to be included in decision making in order to fight for those rights. I think they will become more politically active after becoming educated about what it is happening right in front of them and how this relates to events on both a national and international level.

U Kyaw Zaw Oo (independent candidate), State Parliament Candidate (Sittwe Constituency No 2)

Q: What’s your view on the shortage of women in politics?

A: I don’t think we can immediately make changes for more women to become involved because women may not be able to rise up even if there is support. The first point is there are no limitations against these women, but it is rare for these women to lead on their own. The second point is society is still weak for prioritizing women leaders. This is not concerned with party politics, but the way society generally works and we need to change this first. Only then will more women become involved.

Q: What can be done for more women to participate in political parties to increase the number of elected female MPs?

A: I have heard people talking about making special arrangements for women (candidates) but we can’t fully support these initiatives because we also need to sometimes look at a person’s qualifications before their gender. We should not only encourage women to get more involved in politics but the other sectors (social work) as well.

Q: What message do you want to give to women to encourage them to become involved in politics and social activities?

A: The love for our people is the same for both women and men. Women account for more than half of the country’s population but they haven’t reached their full potential. This is due to time and conditions. I don’t think it’s true that rules and regulations have been set (to restrict women). Their abilities have been lost because they haven’t been able to use them and this is also a loss for our people and the country. I want to uplift women so they can move forward to create situations where they can reach their full potential.

Khine Kaung San (Wun Latt Foundation’s director, leader of Polling Station Observation Group)

Q: Do you think the current political landscape is inclusive to women?

A: It isn’t because they aren’t allowed to participate. Rather than deciding if it’s fair, the parties need to implement policies. Even in the NLD, the largest party in Burma including Arakan State, women account for only 14 percent (of all candidates). But (Myanmar) has agreed to strive for 30 percent of the seats for women in Parliament. However, there haven’t been decisions made on official percentages for women in parties in Arakan State. Strategic policies on how to uplift the capacity of women and youth are crucial for more participation of women in the political sector. We need to implement them and only then will there be more participation of women.

Q: How do you want to encourage women to become more involved?

A: We need to campaign for women. We need to persuade them by organizing workshops and classes to teach them how international women succeeded in attaining more rights, and of course following CEDAW. Politics are not only the concern of men, both genders need to participate and it needs to be on equal terms. I want to encourage women not to stay at home according to traditional customs but to participate with matters related to their own wards, villages, townships, country, and parties.

Translated by Thida Linn
Edited by BNI staff