That same year, the government passed the Law Against Domestic Violence and launched an education campaigned to raise awareness.
The national action plan also involves protection of victims through safe houses, as well as legal assistance to victims.
But Ms Fatima says violence against women remains alarmingly common and is under-reported.
"The situation hasn't improved," she said.
Domestic violence victims face personal barriers
Ms Fatima says women who experience domestic violence in East Timor face a number of challenges.
"Women are economically dependent on their husbands and that is why they are scared to report their case," she said.
"They are scared their husband will divorce them and they will be unable to care for their children."
Patricia de Araujo Fatima is a legal officer with legal support service ALFeLA. (ABC: Stephanie Boulet)
Furthermore, she says many communities still view domestic violence as a private issue that should not be dealt with in public.
"Some women do not know that domestic violence is a crime," said Ms Fatima.
"Then, when police get reports of domestic violence they keep quiet about it."
Lisa, a victim of domestic violence whose name has been changed for this report, says police did nothing when she went to them for help.
"I had a problem with my husband at home, he hit me and my face swelled up," she said.
"I reported it to police but they sent me back home."
East Timor's peak judicial-system-monitoring NGO, Justice System Monitoring Programme (JSMP), says there is confusion about the role of police, prosecutors, lawyers and the courts.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP), which provides training and support for East Timorese police, says remoteness is another major problem.
"It might take hours or days to get to the police station," said Melita Zielonko from the AFP's Timor-Leste Police Development Program, Gender Equality and Vulnerable Persons Unit.
"One way of dealing with crime is through the village or family, through negotiation."
Court backlogged with domestic violence cases
Monitoring by the JSMP shows that East Timorese courts are clogged with cases of domestic violence.
The JSMP said the system is slow and unreliable and it causes women to lose faith in the legal process.
The Government is conducting workshops in remote districts, such as Baucau. (JSMP)
One woman, known only as Rosa, travelled more than 100 kilometres from a remote district for a hearing at a court in Dili.
"My husband was angry and he hit me, then I reported it to police and they sent my report to the court," she said.
After waiting several hours outside the court room, the judge failed to turn up and she returned home.
"I want my husband to promise to resolve problems peacefully, so we don't have to come back to court again," she said.
JSMP says there are only a few prosecutors, which means that the handling of cases is very slow.
Casa Vida is an NGO that provides permanent accommodation for 60 girls who are victims of sexual assault.
Program manager Grace Pitanuki says the justice system is weak and slow.
"In five years, since 2008 until now, from 178 cases only five of them have been resolved in the court," she said.
"Most of the girls don't want to talk about it anymore, because it is taking some time. They give up."Punishments not deterring domestic violence
Nearly all the domestic violence cases monitored by JSMP result in a suspended sentence, which has not been proven to act as a deterrent.
"The victims are not happy with the punishment the court gives," said Ms Fatima.
"They feel that the crime is not equal to the sentence they are given.
"I accompanied one victim who said, 'My husband hit me many times, he shoved me under the bed, then he pushed me through the window. I wet myself. Why is it only one year jail, suspended for two years?'"
In another case, a man who hospitalised his wife for not preparing his lunch was fined $40 by the court.
A man who kicked and slapped his wife because his clothes had not been washed was given a six-month jail sentence, suspended for one year.
AFP says change will take time
The AFP says when it comes to gender equality, East Timor's government is headed in the right direction.
The East Timor government is conducting workshops in remote districts, such as Baucau.
"The government has been very good and positive on socialising the community about domestic violence," said Ms Zielonko.
"These things take time and I'm sure things will improve."
"It's only a very young police force, established in 2002 and they need to be brought up to speed to dealing with gender-based violence crimes," said Ms Zielonko.
But Armando da Costa of the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality admits rates are still high.
"It needs time to change people's attitude and mentality. It's not an easy thing," he said.
"Step by step, little by little, changes are happening in the community."
''Economic growth begins when seeds are genetically modified and patented, leading to farmers having to buy seeds every season'. (Raminder Pal Singh/EPA)
Limitless growth is the fantasy of economists, businesses and politicians. It is seen as a measure of progress. As a result, gross domestic product (GDP), which is supposed to measure the wealth of nations, has emerged as both the most powerful number and dominant concept in our times. However, economic growth hides the poverty it creates through the destruction of nature, which in turn leads to communities lacking the capacity to provide for themselves.
The concept of growth was put forward as a measure to mobilise resources during the second world war. GDP is based on creating an artificial and fictitious boundary, assuming that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. In effect , “growth” measures the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities.
Thus nature’s amazing cycles of renewal of water and nutrients are defined into nonproduction. The peasants of the world,who provide 72% of the food, do not produce; women who farm or do most of the housework do not fit this paradigm of growth either. A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of patented medicine.
Water available as a commons shared freely and protected by all provides for all. However, it does not create growth. But when Coca-Cola sets up a plant, mines the water and fills plastic bottles with it, the economy grows. But this growth is based on creating poverty – both for nature and local communities. Water extracted beyond nature’s capacity to renew and recharge creates a water famine. Women are forced to walk longer distances looking for drinking water. In the village of Plachimada in Kerala, when the walk for water became 10 kms, local tribal woman Mayilamma said enough is enough. We cannot walk further; the Coca-Cola plant must shut down. The movement that the women started eventually led to the closure of the plant. 'Water extracted beyond nature’s capacity to renew and recharge creates a water famine'. ( Joe McNally/Getty)
In the same vein, evolution has gifted us the seed. Farmers have selected, bred, and diversified it – it is the basis of food production. A seed that renews itself and multiplies produces seeds for the next season, as well as food. However, farmer-bred and farmer-saved seeds are not seen as contributing to growth. It creates and renews life, but it doesn't lead to profits. Growth begins when seeds are modified, patented and genetically locked, leading to farmers being forced to buy more every season.
Nature is impoverished, biodiversity is eroded and a free, open resource is transformed into a patented commodity. Buying seeds every year is a recipe for debt for India’s poor peasants. And ever since seed monopolies have been established, farmers debt has increased. More than 270,000 farmers caught in a debt trap in India have committed suicide since 1995.
Poverty is also further spread when public systems are privatised. The privatisation of water, electricity, health, and education does generate growth through profits . But it also generates poverty by forcing people to spend large amounts of money on what was available at affordable costs as a common good. When every aspect of life is commercialised and commoditised, living becomes more costly, and people become poorer.
Both ecology and economics have emerged from the same roots – "oikos", the Greek word for household. As long as economics was focused on the household, it recognised and respected its basis in natural resources and the limits of ecological renewal. It was focused on providing for basic human needs within these limits. Economics as based on the household was also women-centered. Today, economics is separated from and opposed to both ecological processes and basic needs. While the destruction of nature has been justified on grounds of creating growth, poverty and dispossession has increased. While being non-sustainable, it is also economically unjust.
The dominant model of economic development has in fact become anti-life. When economies are measured only in terms of money flow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And the rich might be rich in monetary terms – but they too are poor in the wider context of what being human means.
Meanwhile, the demands of the current model of the economy are leading to resource wars oil wars, water wars, food wars. There are three levels of violence involved in non-sustainable development. The first is the violence against the earth, which is expressed as the ecological crisis. The second is the violence against people, which is expressed as poverty, destitution and displacement. The third is the violence of war and conflict, as the powerful reach for the resources that lie in other communities and countries for their limitless appetites.
Increase of moneyflow through GDP has become disassociated from real value, but those who accumulate financial resources can then stake claim on the real resources of people – their land and water, their forests and seeds. This thirst leads to them predating on the last drop of water and last inch of land on the planet. This is not an end to poverty. It is an end to human rights and justice.
Nobel-prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen have admitted that GDP does not capture the human condition and urged the creation of different tools to gauge the wellbeing of nations. This is why countries like Bhutan have adopted the gross national happiness in place of gross domestic product to calculate progress. We need to create measures beyond GDP, and economies beyond the global supermarket, to rejuvenate real wealth. We need to remember that the real currency of life is life itself.
The human species must acknowledge that any future that allows us to retain our humanity will jettison capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy - and be based on an ecological worldview, says Jensen.
(These remarks were prepared for a private conference on sustainability, where the participants critiqued corporate farming, "big ag," and "big pharma" and industrialized medicine. There was agreement about the need for fundamental change in economic/political/social systems, but no consensus on the appropriate analysis of those systems and their interaction.)
The future of the human species - if there is to be a future - must be radically green, red, black and female.
If we take this seriously - a human future, that is, if we really care about whether there will be a human future - each one of us who claims to care has to be willing to be challenged, radically. How we think, feel, and act - it's all open to critique, and no one gets off easy, because everyone has failed. Individually and collectively, we have failed to create just societies or a sustainable human presence on the planet. That failure may have been inevitable - the human with the big brain may be an evolutionary dead-end - but still it remains our failure. So, let's deal with it, individually and collectively.
We can start by looking honestly at the data about the health of the ecosphere, in the context of what we know about human economic/political/social systems. My conclusion: There is no way to magically solve the fundamental problems that result from too many people consuming too much and producing too much waste, under conditions of unconscionable inequality in wealth and power.
If today, everywhere on the planet, everyone made a commitment to the research and organizing necessary to ramp down the demands that the human project places on ecosystems, we could possibly create a plan for a sustainable human presence on the planet, with a dramatic reduction in consumption and a gradual reduction of population. But when we reflect on our history as a species and the nature of the systems that govern our lives today, the sensible conclusion is that the steps we need to take won't be taken, at least not in the time frame available for meaningful change.
This is not defeatist. This is not cowardly. This is not self-indulgent.
This is reality, and sensible planning should be reality-based.
Let's Not Deny, Avoid, Evade So, for all the hard-nosed logical folks who regularly complain that so many people in contemporary culture deny, avoid, evade crucial issues; that so many Americans slip past science when that science has bad news; that so many other people won't face tough truths, I have a suggestion: Let's demand of ourselves the rigor we demand of others. Let's not deny, avoid, evade any aspect of reality.
Another way of saying this: The "things-can't-be-that-bad" card that so much of the general public plays to trump difficult data is a dead-end, but so is the "we-have-to-have-hope" card that is used to avoid the logical conclusions of our own analysis.
Hope is for the lazy. Now is not the time for hope. Let's put hope aside and get to the real work of our understanding our historical moment so that our actions are grounded in reality.
My thesis: Our task today is not to scurry around trying to hold onto the world as we know it, but to focus on how we can hold onto our humanity as we enter a distinctly different era of the human presence on the planet, an era that will challenge our resolve and reserves. Call it collapse or the apocalypse or the Age of Aquarius - whatever the name, it will not look like anything we have known. It is not just the fall of an empire or a localized plague or the demise of a specific ecosystem. The future will be defined by the continuing drawdown of the ecological capital of the planet well beyond replacement levels and rising levels of toxicity, with the resulting social conflict exacerbated by rapid climate destabilization in ways we cannot predict specifically, but that will be destructive to human well-being, perhaps even to human survival.
The thesis, restated: For most of my life, my elders told me that the moral challenge to my generation was how to feed 5 billion, 6 billion, 7 billion, maybe one day, 10 billion people. Today our moral challenge is how to live on a planet of 4 billion, 3 billion, 2 billion, maybe less. How are we going to understand and experience ourselves as human beings - as moral beings, the kind of creatures we've always claimed to be - in the midst a long-term human die-off for which there is no precedent? What will it mean to be human when we know that around the world, maybe even down the block, other human beings - creatures exactly the same as us - are dying in large numbers not because of something outside human control, but instead because of things we humans chose to do and keep choosing, keep doing?
If you think this is too extreme, alarmist, hysterical, then tell a different story of the future, one that doesn't depend on magic, one that doesn't include some version of, "We will invent solar panels that give us endless clean energy," or "We will find ways to grow even more food on even less soil with declining natural fertility," or perhaps, "We will invent a perpetual motion machine." If I'm wrong, explain to me where I'm wrong.
But, comes the inevitable rejoinder, even if we can't write that more hopeful story today, can't we trust that such a story will emerge? Is not necessity the mother of invention? Have not humans faced big problems before and found solutions through reason and creativity, in science and technology? Doesn't our success in the past suggest we will overcome problems in the present and future?
That response is understandable, but brings to mind the old joke about the fellow who jumps off a 100-story building and, when asked how things are going 90 floors down, says, "Great so far." Advanced technology based on abundant and cheap supplies of concentrated energy has taken us a long way on a curious ride, but there is no guarantee that advanced technology can solve problems in the future, especially when the most easily accessible sources of that concentrated energy are dwindling and the life-threatening consequences of burning all that fuel are now unavoidable.
Reality-Rejection Stories Necessity may have been the mother of much invention, but that doesn't mean mother will always be there to protect us. The technological fundamentalist story of transcendence through endless invention is no more helpful than a religious fundamentalist story of transcendence through divine intervention. The two approaches, while very different on the surface, are popular for the same reason: Both allow us to deny, avoid, evade. They are both reality-rejection stories.
Our chances for a decent future depend in part on our ability to develop more sustainable technology that draws on the best of our science and on our ability to hold onto traditional ideas of shared humanity that are at the core of religious traditions. Technology and religion matter. But their fundamentalist versions are impediments to honest assessment and healthy practice.
If one agrees with all this, there is one more common evasive technique - the assertion, as one media researcher recently put it, that "disaster messages can be a turnoff." Since most people don't enjoy pondering these things, it's tempting to argue that we should avoid presenting the questions in stark form, lest some people be turned off. We should not give in to that temptation.
First, these observations and conclusions are a good-faith attempt to deal with reality. To dismiss these issues because people allegedly don't like disaster messages is akin to telling people in the path of a tornado to ignore the weather forecast because disaster messages are a turnoff. Just as we can't predict exactly the path of a tornado, we can't predict exactly the nature of a complex process of collapse. But we can know something is coming our way, and we can best prepare for it.
Second, let's avoid the cheap trick of displacing our intellectual and/or moral weakness onto the so-called "masses," who allegedly can't or won't deal with this. When people tell me, "I agree that systemic collapse is inevitable, but the masses can't handle it," I assume what they really mean is, "I can't handle it." The attempted diversion is cowardly.
When we come to terms with these challenges - when we face up to the fact that the human species now faces problems that likely have no solutions, at least no solutions that allow us to continue living as we have - then we will not be deterred by the resistance of the culture. We will work at accomplishing whatever we can, where we live, in the time available to us. Which brings me to the future: green, red, black and female.
Green:The human future, if there is to be a future, will be green, meaning the ecological worldview will be central in all discussions of all of human affairs. We will start all conversations about all decisions we make in all arenas of life by recognizing that we are one species in complex ecosystems that make up a single ecosphere. We will abide by the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, as we understand them today, realizing the ecosystems on which we depend are far more complex than we can understand. As a result of the ecological worldview, we will practice real humility in our interventions into those ecosystems.
Red:The human future, if there is to be a future, will be red. By that, I mean we must be explicitly anticapitalist. An economic system that magnifies human greed and encourages short-term thinking, while pretending there are no physical limits on human consumption, is a death cult. To endorse capitalism is to sign onto a suicide pact. We need not pretend there exists a fully elaborated plan for a replacement system that we can take off the shelf and implement immediately. But the absence of a fully explicated alternative doesn't justify an economic system that has dramatically intensified the human assault on the larger living world. Capitalism is not the system through which we will craft a sustainable future.
Black: The human future, if there is to be a future, will be black. By that, I mean we have to reject the pathology of white supremacy that has for five centuries shaped the world in which we live, and continues to shape us. Do not confuse this with shallow "multiculturalism" - I am not suggesting that by celebrating "diversity" we will magically create peace and harmony. Instead, we must recognize that the existing distribution of wealth is the product of a profoundly pathological system of racial hierarchy conceived of, and perpetuated by, white Europe and its offshoots (the United States, Australia, South Africa).
Female:The human future, if there is to be a future, will be female. By that, I mean we have to reject the pathology of patriarchy that has for several thousand years shaped the world in which we live and continues to shape us. Again, this should not be confused with the tepid liberal and "third wave" versions of feminism that the dominant culture acknowledges. Instead, we must embrace a radical feminism that rejects the hierarchy and violence on which male dominance depends.
My claim is that we must deal with all these systems in a holistic, integrated fashion, that we will not successfully reject one hierarchal system without rejecting all hierarchical systems. Holding onto any system that depends on one group claiming dominance over another undermines our ability to shape a decent future. We should be dismantling any system based on dominator logic.
Green:Our quest to exploit the larger living world is based on an assumption that humans have a right, rooted in either theological or secular beliefs, to dominate based on our sense of being the superior species. Whether we believe the big brain comes from God or through evolution, in cognitive terms we certainly do rank first among species. But ask yourself, within the human family, is being smart the only thing of value? Do we rank each other only on cognitive ability? We understand that within our species, no one has a right to dominate another simply because of a claim of being smarter. Yet we treat the world as if that status as the smartest species is all that is needed to dominate everything else.
Red: If we put aside the fantasies about capitalism found in economics textbooks and deal with the real world, we recognize that capitalism is a wealth-concentrating system that allows a small number of people to dominate not only economic, but also political decision-making - which makes a mockery of our alleged commitment to moral principles rooted in solidarity and political principles rooted in democracy. In capitalism, domination is self-justifying - if one can amass wealth, one can dominate without question, trumping all other values.
Black:Although the worst legal and social practices that defined and maintained white supremacy for centuries have been eliminated, the white world never settled its accounts with the nonwhite world, preferring to hold onto its disproportionate share of the world's wealth that was extracted violently. As a result of that moral failing, the material reality and ideological power of white supremacy endures, modified in recent decades to grant some privileges to some of the formerly targeted populations so long as the dominator logic of the system is not challenged. We have not dealt with this because to deal with it, honestly, would mean a dramatic redistribution of wealth, internally within societies and globally, and an even more dramatic shift in the way white people see ourselves.
Female: It is not surprising that the foundational hierarchy of male domination has remained so intractable - to acknowledge the existence of patriarchy is to recognize that patriarchy's domination/subordination dynamic, which decent people claim to reject, is woven deeply into the fabric of all our lives in every sphere, including sexuality. Taking the feminist critique seriously shakes the foundation of our daily lives. Again, the system's ability to allow a limited number of women into elite circles, as long as they accept the dominator logic, does little to undermine patriarchy.
This sketch of a radical politics does not mean that every person must always be involved in organizing on all of these issues, which would be impossible. Nor does this short summary of systems of domination/subordination capture every relevant question. But, for those who claim to be concerned with social justice and ecological sustainability, I would press simple points: Everyone's analysis must take into account all these aspects of our lives; if your analysis does not do that, then your analysis is incomplete; and an incomplete analysis will not be the basis for substantive and meaningful change. Why?
If the story of a human future is not green, there is no future. If the story is not red, it cannot be green. If we can manage to restructure our world along new understandings of ecology and economics, there is a chance we can salvage something. But we will not be able magically to continue business as usual; our longstanding assumption of endlessly expanding bounty must be abandoned as we reconfigure our expectations.
That means we have to start telling a story about living with dramatically less of everything. The green and red story is a story of limits. If we are to hold onto our humanity in an era of contraction, those limits must be accepted by all, with the burdens shared by all. And that story only works if it is black and female. Without a rejection of the dominator logic of ecological exploitation and capitalism, there is no future at all. Without a rejection of the dominator logic of white supremacy and patriarchy, there is no future worth living in.
When someone says, "All that matters now is focusing on ecological sustainability" (asserting the primacy of green), we must make it clear that such sustainability is impossible within capitalism. When someone says, "All that matters now is steady-state economics" (asserting the primacy of red), we must make it clear that such a steady state is morally unacceptable within white supremacy and patriarchy. When someone says, "Talking about sustainability doesn't mean much for subordinated people suffering today" (asserting the primacy of black and female), we must make it clear that attaining social justice within a rapidly declining system is a death sentence for future generations.
Anytime someone wants to narrow the scope of our inquiry to make it easier to get through the day, we must make it clear that getting through the day isn't the goal. "One day at a time" may be a useful guide for an individual in recovery from addiction, but it is a dead-end for a species on the brink of dramatic and potentially irreversible changes.
Any time someone wants to think long term but narrow the scope of our inquiry to make it easier to tackle a specific problem, we must make it clear that fixing a specific problem won't save us. "One broken system at a time" may be a sensible short-term political strategy in a stable world in which there is time for a long trajectory of change, but it is a dead-end in the unstable world in which we live.
To be clear: None of these observations are an argument for paralysis or passivity. I am not arguing that there is nothing to do, nothing worth doing, nothing that can be done to make things better. I am saying there is nothing that can be done to avoid a serious shift, a scale of change that is captured by the term "collapse." What can be done will be worth doing only if we accept that reality - instead of asking, "How can we save all this?" we should ask, "How can we hold onto our humanity as all of this changes?"
When relieved of the obligation to conjure up magical solutions, life actually gets simpler, and what can be done is easier to apprehend: Learn to live with less. Give up on empty talk about "conscious capitalism." Cross boundaries of race, ethnicity, class and religion that typically keep people apart. Make sure that both public and private spaces are free from men's violence. Recognize that central to whatever projects one undertakes should be the building of local networks and institutions that enhance resilience.
We Have Done This If all this seems like too much to bear, that's because it is. No matter how flawed anyone of us may be, none of us did anything to deserve this. We shouldn't have to bear all this. But collectively, we humans have done this. We have done this for a long time, thousands of years, ever since the invention of agriculture took us out of right relationship with the larger living world.
The bad news: The effects of our failures are piling up, and it may be that this time around we can't slip the trap, as humans have done so many times in the past.
The good news: We aren't the first humans who looked honestly at reality and stayed true to the work of returning to right relation.
The story we must tell is a prophetic story, and we have a prophetic tradition on which we can draw. Let's take a lesson from Jeremiah from the Hebrew Bible, who was not afraid to speak of the depth of his sorrow: "My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me" (Jer. 8:18). Nor was he afraid to speak of the severity of the failure that brought on the grief: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved" (Jer. 8:21)
Along with this prophetic tradition, we also must be willing to draw on the apocalyptic tradition, recognizing that we have strayed too far, that there is no way to return to right relation within the systems in which we live. The prophetic voice warns the people of our failures within these systems, and the apocalyptic tradition can be understood as a call to abandon any hope for those systems. The stories we have told ourselves about how to be human within those systems must be replaced by stories about how to hold onto our humanity as we search for new systems.
We have to reject stories about last-minute miracles, whether of divine or technological origins. There is nothing to be gained by magical thinking. The new stories require imagination, but an imagination bounded by the ecosphere's physical limits. When we tell stories that lead us to believe that what is unreal can be real, then our stories are delusional, not imaginative. They don't help us understand ourselves and our situation, but instead offer only the illusory comfort of false hope.
One last bit of good news: If your heart is sick and your grief is beyond healing, be thankful. When we feel that grief, it means we have confronted a truth about our fallen world. We are not saved, and we may not be able to save ourselves, but when we face that which is too much to bear, we affirm our humanity. When we face the painful reality that there is no hope, it is in that moment that we earn the right to hope.
By SAMANTHA MICHAELS / THE IRRAWADDY A group of adolescent nuns take part in an after-school peer group discussion as part of the Colorful Girls Circles program. (May Ko / Girl Determined)
HLAING TOWNSHIP, Rangoon Dressed in the standard pink robes of a Burmese nun, Nan Tha Zin Oo speaks softly when she remembers her childhood in northern Shan State. “When I was in the village, in the media most of the important people were men. I didn’t like being a girl. I wanted to be a boy,” says the 14-year-old.
After moving to Rangoon, she joined a program two years ago with weekly after-school peer groups for marginalized girls in Burma’s urban outskirts and rural communities who were at risk of school dropout, early marriage, domestic violence and exploitive labor.
The program, Colorful Girls Circles, is run by a community-based organization known as Girl Determined and includes discussions about decision-making, self-confidence, friendship, and cultural and religious differences. More than 1,300 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 participate in the peer groups every week, meeting in the outskirts of Rangoon and Mandalay, as well as the cities of Sagaing and Monywa in northwest Burma, according to Brooke Zobrist, technical director of the organization.
“We also plan to expand in 2014 to some areas of Shan State and Mon State,” she says.
Win Win Nwe, a 13-year-old from Rangoon’s Hlaing Thar Yar Township, joined the program two years ago. “We talk about sexual violence, body image and stress management,” she says.
Sitting beside her, Nan Tha Zin Oo, the nun, says the peer groups have altered her perspective. “I saw that women could form organizations and achieve things like men,” she says. “I knew the strength of being a girl and I was proud.”
In Burma, women face barriers to employment and health care, and they remain underrepresented in politics, with men holding about 95 percent of seats in Parliament. Amid high rates of poverty, adolescent girls say they feel pressured to get a job or stay at home to care for their younger siblings, rather than attending classes.
Last week Girl Determined held its third annual conference in Rangoon’s Hlaing Township, with a focus on girls’ rights in education. About 420 girls, including over 100 young nuns, attended the all-day event, while more than 800 girls went to a conference in Mandalay the week before.
Out of the conference came a statement about gender discrimination in education. Drafted since March by a group of girls from the program, the statement describes the pressure to leave school due to financial concerns, and it calls on the government to provide free education through high school.
Burma’s public schools do not charge tuition, but the education sector remains largely underfunded after decades of military rule, and parents typically pay for books, uniforms and school building repairs. Largely due to these expenses, about one-third of school-aged children in the country never start school, according to Unesco.
During his first month in office, President Thein Sein urged lawmakers to increase student enrollment, and the government has set a goal to implement a free, compulsory primary education system by 2015, although the national budget for education remains limited compared to spending on defense.
“Many girls stay home from school to help take care of their siblingsboys don’t do that,” says Than Than Oo, 14, who wants to attend university but worries she may not get a chance. “I need to take care of my family,” she says.
The girls’ statement also called for legal changes to allow more women to be accepted to medical schools and technical colleges, as female students are currently required to score higher on these entrance exams than their male counterparts.
“In state [basic education] schools, we cannot see very clear inequality, but at university level more boys study professional subjects,” says Biak Chin Mowe, from Irrawaddy Division, who hopes to attend an engineering school when she graduates from high school.
The Burma government reduced the exam requirements for male applicants to medical school because women were earning higher scores and women doctors outnumbered men doctors. But in engineering schools and other technical colleges, male students are in the majority.
During a question-and-answer session at the conference, the teenage girls asked questions such as, “Why don’t they give girls and boys equal rights?” and “Why can’t a woman become president?”
Some said opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had inspired them since she was released from house arrest under the former regime in 2010 and joined Parliament last year.
“My father always listened to the radio and talked about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” says Ma Zar Chyi Win, referring to the democracy icon with a title of respect. The 14-year-old lists Suu Kyi among her top three role models, after her mother and a teacher at school. “I hope she will become the president of Myanmar. She is getting older, but she is still strong. And she can do anything like a man.”
Brunei Darussalam: Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Violated under the new Sharia Penal Code
The groups here listed are deeply concerned by the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalams announcement of a new penal code based on a strict interpretation of Sharia law. We add our voices to the growing concerns of the international community that this move towards stricter Sharia law demonstrates a disturbing disregard of basic civil and political rights of the people of Brunei. Stoning as a cruel form of punishment and discrimination against women Womens rights organisations are particularly concerned that the new penal code includes stoning as a punishment for the crime of adultery. There are 15 countries in which stoning is either practised, legalised, or both, and if this law comes into effect, Brunei will be the sixteenth.
Stoning is not prescribed in the Quran or in any other religious texts. We view the introduction of this penal code as part of a larger retrogressive step for womens rights and gender equality in the country where spousal rape, for instance, is still tolerated under the Sharia law. We reiterate our call that no religion, culture, or tradition should be used to excuse killing and maiming for supposed moral crimes. While stoning is a method of punishment to be applied to both women and men, the victims in reported cases of stoning are overwhelmingly women. This stems from the fact that stoning is primarily used for crimes of adultery or other crimes related to moral or sexual conduct. Patriarchal and misogynist interpretations of religious laws aimed at controlling womens basic freedoms of movement and expression and control over their bodies underlie judicial codes governing sexual relationships and the family .
Human rights and stoning The Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR) is the basis of the two international human rights treaties that Brunei has signed and acceded to: the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). As a State party to these two Conventions, Brunei has the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil these rights to all its citizens.
Under the UDHR, the penal code will be in violation of the right to life, liberty, and security of person (Article 3); the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5); the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law (Article 6); the right to be treated as equal before the law and entitlement without any discrimination to equal protection of the law (Article 7); the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution or by law (Article 8), the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9) and the right to be entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly, where Brunei is represented, called for a worldwide moratorium on executions. Although Brunei has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it is also expected to abide by the standards in this Covenant. For instance, the Human Rights Committee has noted that when the death penalty is applied by a State party for the most serious crimes, it must be carried out in such a way as to cause the least possible physical and mental suffering . The practise of stoning clearly does not fulfill this recommendation.
Given stoning affects women disproportionately, and because it is justified by rules and practices that impair or negate the exercise by women of their human rights, stoning is inconsistent with the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, as recognized under CEDAW. Stoning is also a form of extreme violence against women, which States should, in accordance with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, strive to prevent and eliminate, be it perpetuated by state institutions, private individuals or communal groups.
Our Appeal The groups party to this statement call on the Sultanate of Brunei to immediately cease the implementation of the new Sharia penal code, which allows the penalty of stoning. The penal code is in contravention of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is embraced by all member States of the United Nations including Brunei as the highest moral and legal authority in human rights.
We also call on the State of Brunei to take the following measures:
1. Submit its long overdue report to the UN CEDAW Committee in fulfilment of its State obligations under CEDAW to which it is a State party since 2006; and
2. Sign and ratify the ICCPR and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (United Nations Convention against Torture).
We also call upon the international community, particularly United Nations Member States, to call upon Brunei to halt the enforcement of the new penal code and the practice of stoning and to initiate a UN resolution to totally ban the practice of stoning.
This statement is supported by the following organisations: Aid Centre for Advocacy and Legal Consultation, Sudan Centre for Secular Space Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) Global Sisterhood Network Justice for Iran Salmmah Womens Resource Centre, Sudan Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre, Pakistan Sisters in Islam, Malaysia Solidaritas Perempuan, Indonesia Violence is Not Our Culture Women Living Under Muslim Laws Womens UN Report Network
If your organisation would like to be added to the list of signatories, please email
 Hamid R. Kusha, The Sacred Law of Islam: A Case Study of Womens Treatment in the Islamic Republic of Irans Criminal Justice System (2002), p.279.  In its adoption of resolution 62/149 on 18 December 2007  General Comment 20, Article 7 (Forty-fourth session, 1992)
First read the flyer for venue details, then scroll down to read the oration Media Release by Patmalar Ambikapathy, Children and Women's Rights Barrister and Chair of EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) Tasmania