COM­MEN­TARY: Myan­mar has failed women – That is why the Monogamy Law is pop­u­lar

Pa­tri­ar­chal at­ti­tudes, bu­reau­cratic in­dif­fer­ence, and lit­tle sup­port from so­ci­ety leave women feel­ing pow­er­less

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Thin Lei Win Cour­tesy of Myan­mar Now

Let’s set this straight from the out­set - this is not about be­ing an apol­o­gist for the “race and re­li­gion pro­tec­tion laws”. I be­lieve the laws were rushed through the par­lia­ment at the be­hest of na­tion­al­ist lobby groups for rea­sons other than pro­tect­ing the wom­en­folk in this coun­try. Most women I’ve spo­ken to think the same.

But given the num­ber of cases that have been filed – by women – since the Monogamy Law was en­acted only a few months ago, there are clearly many women for whom this law made sense.

The Monogamy Law is the last of the four “race and re­li­gion pro­tec­tion laws” but the first to make its mark.

It’s a slim law, with only six chap­ters and 21 ar­ti­cles, but 29 com­plaints have been filed in Yan­gon Re­gion alone. Un­der the law, those found guilty could be im­pris­oned for up to seven years. The de­fen­dant can­not get bail.

Most of the de­fen­dants so far are Bud­dhist men - not what the drafters of the law had en­vis­aged.

Na­tion­al­ists who pushed for the law tar­geted it at re­li­gious mi­nori­ties among which polygamy and ex­tra-mar­i­tal af­fairs are per­ceived to oc­cur more fre­quently.

In the process of speak­ing to women’s rights groups, or­di­nary women and lawyers, I was struck that al­though many crit­i­cised the sever­ity of the pun­ish­ment,

they sup­ported the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of le­gal pro­tec­tion for monogamy.

It’s easy to see why this law is pop­u­lar with women, once you hear sto­ries of women who felt they’ve been aban­doned twice - first by their hus­bands and then by their own com­mu­nity.

Stigma

“Ta Khu Lut”, a term used to re­fer to di­vorcees, has a neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion in Myan­mar’s con­ser­va­tive so­ci­ety. Loosely trans­lated as “miss­ing a half”, it sums up the per­cep­tion so­ci­ety has of women whose mar­riages have failed for what­ever rea­son – that some­how they are in­com­plete and bring­ing shame on the fam­ily.

It’s worse if you have nei­ther the power nor money to pro­tect you from the loose tongues. Of­ten it is the poor­est and most marginalised women that need the most pro­tec­tion.

In one of my in­ter­views with a young woman whose hus­band left her for an­other woman, she cried as she ut­tered the word “Ta Khu Lut”.

“Neigh­bours said he left be­cause I wasn’t good enough. How much bet­ter (be­haved) should I have been?” she asked, wip­ing away tears.

The young woman blamed the ad­vent of cheap sim cards and mo­bile phones in Myan­mar for her plight. Her hus­band met and planned clan­des­tine meet­ings with the new woman via a mo­bile mes­sag­ing app.

I, how­ever, blame a hyp­o­crit­i­cal so­ci­ety that dis­crim­i­nates against and stig­ma­tises women.

Con­flict­ing mes­sages

For one thing, we live in a coun­try that gives out mixed mes­sages.

The back­ers of the laws say Is­lam threat­ens Bud­dhist-ma­jor­ity Myan­mar and th­ese laws are needed to pro­tect Bud­dhism and Bud­dhist women. Yet polygamy and ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs have been around for cen­turies.

Any­one who has vis­ited the replica of the Man­dalay Palace could be for­given for think­ing the big­gest perk of be­ing a Burmese king was to have as many wives as one wished.

Th­ese same kings were also de­vout Bud­dhists, and not in­dulging in sex­ual mis­con­duct is one of the five moral pre­cepts Bud­dhists must live by ev­ery sin­gle day.

To­day the myr­iad say­ings about strong, vir­ile men at­tract­ing women still abound, cre­at­ing a handy ex­cuse for when men stray. I haven’t been able to find any equiv­a­lent quo­ta­tions about women.

There’s also the well-worn be­lief that one should not get in­volved in dis­putes be­tween hus­band and wife, par­ents and chil­dren, and sib­lings.

It’s an idea that both the so­ci­ety and of­fi­cials seem to hold on to tightly ex­cept when pass­ing judg­ment, usu­ally to­wards the women.

It is against this back­drop that the Monogamy Law is making its mark.

Women are turn­ing to it be­cause so­ci­ety has left them with­out sup­port.

Now the women of Myan­mar are get­ting their own back.

T-shirt seller in Yan­gon. Photo: EPA

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.