After cease­fire, Karen women marginalised

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­times.com

Women are find­ing them­selves squeezed out of vil­lage lead­er­ship roles they had been cho­sen for when men were in­volved in civil con­flict, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port by the Karen Hu­man Rights Group.

WOMEN are los­ing po­si­tions of com­mu­nity lead­er­ship as cease­fire agree­ments see men re­turn home from fight­ing, a new re­port by the Karen Hu­man Rights Group has found.

The re­port, “Hid­den Strengths, Hid­den Strug­gles: Women’s tes­ti­monies from south­east Myan­mar”, said that women in Karen ar­eas of south­east Myan­mar ex­pe­ri­enced a num­ber of changes in their lives since the 2012 cease­fire be­tween the Karen Na­tional Union (KNU) and the Myan­mar gov­ern­ment (see re­lated story page 19).

One of the key find­ings was that women who had taken on po­si­tions of lead­er­ship in their wards and vil­lages while men were away in­volved in civil con­flict were now be­ing squeezed out of those roles.

“In our re­port there are eight key is­sues we fo­cus on, but [one of the most sig­nif­i­cant] find­ings was that in the past women had to take lead­ing roles, but after the cease­fire that lead­ing role was handed back to men. Women ex­pressed the feel­ing that after the cease­fire they were no longer be­ing given a role,” said Eh Taw, a spokesper­son for KHRC.

The re­port cites a 20-year-old woman from Kyaikto town­ship, in Tha­ton District.

“In the past, if the peo­ple called a meet­ing, most of the vil­lagers who par­tic­i­pated in the meet­ing were fe­male, there­fore, they se­lected a woman as the vil­lage head in the con­flict pe­riod. They se­lected a vil­lage head who could speak Myan­mar [lan­guage] and had self-con­fi­dence to speak with the Tat­madaw.”

She added, “After the peace process, fe­males and males are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the meet­ings, so when they se­lect the vil­lage head most of them are male … [The men] did not at­tend the meet­ings [in the past] be­cause of the con­flict pe­riod.”

As well as the gen­der im­bal­ance in vil­lages dur­ing the con­flict pe­riod, rea­sons given for the high num­bers of fe­male vil­lage heads in­cluded the fact that vil­lagers be­lieved mem­bers of the Tat­madaw would be less likely to beat a woman.

Re­spon­dents told re­searchers that while some women had con­cerns about tak­ing on the role of vil­lage head, par­tic­u­larly when it re­quired deal­ing with mem­bers of the mil­i­tary or armed groups at night, oth­ers be­lieved it had brought them sta­tus.

A res­i­dent of Tha­ton District in north­ern Mon State de­scribed such a scenario. “One vil­lage sec­re­tary, we called her mo gyi [aunt], she opened her heart to me when I vis­ited her vil­lage and she said that, ‘Now the [2012 pre­lim­i­nary] cease­fire has been signed ... no one [armed ac­tor or author­ity] comes and cares about us. In the past, when the Tat­madaw came, they called me a mo [mother] and gave me food, such as milk, as they asked me to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their de­mands. And when the KNU came, they too of­fered me a bag of rice, say­ing that [I spoke for them]. Now how­ever, when peo­ple [armed ac­tors or au­thor­i­ties] come to see a mo, they do not care about me any more, and they just ig­nore me.’”

The re­port also found that be­cause of the con­tin­ued pres­ence of armed men in their area, women re­main fear­ful, in­clud­ing over the threat of sex­ual vi­o­lence. Land­mines were also iden­ti­fied as a fur­ther dan­ger lin­ger­ing after the con­flict, one that con­tin­ues to re­strict women’s ac­cess to land and ser­vices, as well as pos­ing a di­rect threat of death or in­jury.

Other changes re­ported fol­low­ing the cease­fire in­volved in­creased land grab­bing – par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to road con­struc­tions as moves to­ward de­vel­op­ment were ac­com­pa­nied by demand for in­fra­struc­ture.

In their con­clu­sion, the re­port au­thors made a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions, many of which re­late to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of The Con­ven­tion on the Elim­i­na­tion of all Forms of Dis­crim­i­na­tion Against Women, to which Myan­mar is party.

The rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude pro­vid­ing train­ing and build­ing the aware­ness of lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fices at town­ship and ward/vil­lage tract lev­els on is­sues of gen­der in­equal­ity and ru­ral women’s rights, in­clud­ing on the right of women and men to jointly regis­ter their land.

It also calls for more work to be done to achieve equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in lead­er­ship po­si­tions, from vil­lage to Union level – in­clud­ing women from dif­fer­ent eth­nic mi­nor­ity back­grounds and women who have re­turned after be­ing dis­placed.

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