Gender Equality is a Must but Should Not Deflect Attention from Root Causes of Conflict

While moves to improve women’s participation are encouraging as a first step toward quality participation, the women involved should have knowledge of gender issues and include women from all Myanmar’s diverse range of ethnic nationalities and religions, particularly women from conflict-affected communities.

At the third session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), much discussion was focused on gender equality, the only topic in the political sector that the Myanmar[1] military had agreed to discuss. Although the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP) and the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) had pushed for at least 30% quota in all positions in the peace process, the final agreement was simply an aspirational statement that “a minimum of 30% involvement of women in each sector is to be encouraged.” While moves to improve women’s participation are encouraging as a first step toward quality participation, the women involved should have knowledge of gender issues and include women from all Myanmar’s diverse range of ethnic nationalities and religions, particularly women from conflict-affected communities. Furthermore,  the focus on gender equality came at the same time that discussion of ethnic rights was blocked. Work on gender equality should complement, and not be at the expense of, the central issues of the peace process – federalism and equal rights for ethnic nationalities.

While women’s participation in peace processes is crucial to the long-term success of any agreement reached during the process, simply including women is not sufficient to ensure that the process includes an adequate understanding of and response to the various ways in which women experience and are affected by conflict differently. Particularly in Myanmar with such ethnic, religious and socioeconomic diversity, it cannot be assumed that women in leadership positions, especially when they are from elite backgrounds, can adequately represent the needs and experiences of conflict-affected women. Thus, in addition to a target for women’s involvement, it is important to ensure that the women participating have direct knowledge and/or experience of the issues under discussion.

One of the most commonly-discussed ways in which women are affected by conflict is through sexual and gender-based violence committed by armed forces, and as caretakers of children and the elderly, including in displacement sites. The Myanmar military’s systematic use of sexual violence in conflict has been documented by many ethnic nationality women’s organizations throughout the conflict.

Discussion of women’s participation during the peace process must include not only the protection of women from abuse, but the other roles that women have played in protecting and serving their communities.

These are important issues that must be addressed, but focusing on these issues alone includes only the ways in which women have been victims, and not their more active roles as change agents and peacemakers. Women in Myanmar have played many other roles during conflict, including as village heads, community leaders and as members of the Myanmar military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). While women may not often be directly participating in active conflict, they do play many other roles. The role of women in EAOs came to the fore in Myanmar recently, when the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) accused the Myanmar military of killing six female TNLA medics after capturing them in Shan State, actions which if true would amount to a war crime. Thus, discussion of women’s participation during the peace process must include not only the protection of women from abuse, but the other roles that women have played in protecting and serving their communities. In order to adequately address the range of women’s experiences, a diverse range of women must be included in the process.

The WLB and AGIPP statement also called for a policy to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence throughout the country. Even within civil society, women can face sexual harassment and abuse from their colleagues that can have a serious negative effect on their ability to fully participate in and advance their work. Organizations that work on human rights and women’s empowerment are not exempt from such harassment and abuse, as has become clear recently with reports of sexual harassment and worse from leaders of prominent Myanmar civil society organizations. These instances only reinforce the need for stronger protections against sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination and violence, and for more support for victims.

Women’s participation in the peace process must be increased, as well as in any other reform processes and sectors, and the focus on gender equality at the most recent 21CPC may help toward that goal. Women’s participation in the peace process is vital for long-lasting peace in Myanmar. However, women’s participation is not simply a question of numbers, but also of ensuring that the right women are in the room, with the experience and perspectives to address issues that affect women, and that affect the entire country. Women must be included in every discussion and decision-making process, not only those deemed to specifically affect women. Participation must also be followed up with concrete action to protect women affected by conflict, including by providing justice for survivors of sexual violence and taking measures to stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war by the Myanmar military, including by holding perpetrators to account. Furthermore, focusing on gender equality should not be used as a way to deflect international pressure or attention from the lack of progress on addressing ethnic rights and federalism – the key to resolving Myanmar’s political crisis.
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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

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By Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari

Global Environment Facility Conservation Project in Myanmar Violates Indigenous Rights

By Conservation Alliance of Tanawthari

Rohingya organizations worldwide call for accountability for genocide and crimes against humanity in Myanmar

By 26 Rohingya Organizations

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By Fortify Rights

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reports

Reports

They Gave Them Long Swords: Preparations for Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity Against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, Myanmar

By Fortify Rights

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By Shan Human Rights Foundation

Burma Army and Militia Severely Torture Village Headman for Alleged RCSS/SSA Links in Loilem, Southern Shan State

By Shan Human Rights Foundation


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

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