Burma: Junta-backed courts & women’s groups blamed for failing to improve women’s lives Print E-mail

 Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Burmese Women Celebs Urge Struggle to Close Gender Gap


A woman holds a sign from the Free Burma Coalition during International Women's Day march in Manila

As the world marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day on Tuesday, prominent women working in a variety of fields in Burma called for greater efforts to achieve equality between the sexes.

“Men don’t want to give important decision-making positions to women,” said novelist Nu Nu Yi, winner of the 2007 Man Asian literary prize. “As a female writer, I sometimes face discrimination from others.”

The solution to this problem, she said, is to make women in Burma more aware of their rights.

“If women don't know their own rights, they can't see how the way they are treated diverges from the principles of human rights,” she said.

Shwe Zin Htaike, a well-known former actress who heads a mass-media marketing campaign to encourage condom use as a means of preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, also emphasized the need to change the way women think about themselves.

“As a first step, women need to learn that they they are in control of their lives at the personal level. Then they need to recognize their role at the community level. And from this point, they can extend their influence to the national and international level,” she said.

Kyi Phyu Shin, the winner of the “Best Short” award at the 2008 All Roads Film Festival organized by the National Geographic Society, said that encouraging women to be more independent is the key to raising their status in society.

One area where women are conspicuously absent from leadership positions is politics. In last year's Nov. 7 election, fewer than eight percent of the candidates were women, who won a total of just 20 out of 659 seats in both houses of Parliament.

“Fear and lack of political awareness are the main reasons so few women participate in politics. Many think that politics is not their concern,” said one female MP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Despite the limited involvement of women in formal politics, however, many have played a prominent role in the country's pro-democracy struggle. According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoner, 173 of Burma's more than 2,200 political prisoner are women.

Critics of the country's ruling junta say that the regime has failed to raise the status of women, despite a provision in the 2008 Constitution that guarantees women the same rights as men. They also fault junta-backed organizations such as the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation and the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association for not doing enough to protect women.

Burma's courts have also been accused of not upholding the rights of women. In a recent high-profile court case, actress Pan Phyu has attempted to sue her former partner, Zaw Win Shein, the managing director of the Ayar-Hintha Company, for reneging on a promise to marry her after she agreed to live with him.

Her case has been rejected by courts at the township and district levels, highlighting the plight of women who are abandoned by men after receiving promises of marriage from them.