Today, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) is celebrating International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter because gender balance drives a better working world and is essential for communities to thrive. Key to achieving gender balance is to notice its absence, celebrate its presence, and to work every day to challenge the existing gender roles and relations that deny women full participation in society.
To better understand what #BalanceforBetter means to women living in Mon State, HURFOM spoke with Mi Cherry Soe, the Program Director of the Jeepyah Civil Society Development Organization ‘s (JCSDO) Women Empowerment and Child Rights Program.
When commenting on women’s participation in politics and the decision-making process, Mi Cherry Soe had the following to say:
“For me, I want to see gender parity throughout government with women holding 50 percent of the seats. This is what we hope to achieve, and it would be great if voters could begin to focus on equal representation so this can become a reality. This way, we will achieve the equal participation of women in the political process.”
Moving away from politics, Mi Cherry Soe also addressed the obstacles women confront in the social and economic spheres of their lives:
“Gender-based discrimination can no longer be justified as being part of our tradition or culture. In the workplace too, gender-based discrimination in terms of compensation and benefits must end. By closing these gaps, we will create a better society for future generations.”
The issues raised by Mi Cherry Soe speak to a political reality where women are shockingly underrepresented despite making up 52 percent of the total population, and highlight the challenges regularly faced by women across Mon State and throughout Burma/Myanmar.
Based on the data currently available, women hold only 10.1 percent of seats in the House of Representatives, 10.2 percent of seats in the House of Nationalities, and 16.1 percent of seats in the Mon State Parliament. The underrepresentation of women in ministries and parliament may shed light on why the long-awaited Prevention and Protection of Violence Against Women Bill, first proposed in 2013, continues to collect dust.
By increasing representation at all levels of government, laws, policies, and practices that have historically been designed by men can be reimagined and created anew to reflect the diverse needs and priorities of women, families, and ethnic minorities, and ultimately move Burma/Myanmar toward becoming a society that not only protects women but guarantees women equal opportunity in all areas of social life.
#BalanceforBetter also means working to change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that prevent women from reaching their full potential. The frequency with which violence against women is reported provides a sobering example of how the lives of women and girls continue to be undervalued. In fact, between 2017 and 2018, there was a 31.1 percent net increase in reports of sexual violence against women and children in Mon State.
The stigma and shame associated with sexual violence coupled with hush payments and a culture of victim blaming often keep survivors from coming forward to seek justice. However, since March 2018, at least 6 girls between 12 and 16 years of age have had the courage to speak out and hold their attackers to account. In their refusal to remain silent, these young women have begun to dismantle a system of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that threaten the safety, security, and well-being of women everywhere.
On this International Women’s Day, HURFOM pledges to work everyday to challenge the existing gender roles and relations that deny women full participation in society and wishes to acknowledge the tireless work of women human rights defenders in Mon State, Burma/Myanmar, and across the globe working to create a world where women’s rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled.
View this original statement HERE.