Women in the corridors of power
Defying the odds in a country where most high-ranking positions are held by men, more women are slowly climbing the ladder in government service. But their path remains strewn with obstacles and women say that powerful relationships are often necessary for success.
Census data released earlier this year showed that there are 1.7 million more women than men in Myanmar. Even though they comprise a bigger share of the population, women are severely underrepresented in government and the country remains ruled by men.
A recent report by the Gender Equality Network, an inter-agency alliance working for women’s rights, shows that two of the 36 Union-level ministerial positions are held by women: at the state and regional level, women hold four ministerial positions.
At the Union level, women head the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement and the Ministry of Education, conventional portfolios for women, and six women are deputy ministers.
There are a total of 26 women in the nation’s parliaments, not including three unelected military MPs: two in the lower house and one in the Yangon Region parliament.
Women have also been appointed to government committees and commissions and while they are well represented in the judiciary,there are no women Supreme Court judges.
Myanmar is ranked eighth out of the nine East Asian countries listed the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index in East Asia and the Pacific, performing better only than Laos. Although Myanmar acceded to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1997 and is a member of the ASEAN Committee on Women, there are contradictions in the constitution on the subject of equality.
The constitution says appointments to the public service shall not involve discrimination based on race, birth, religion and gender but the same constitutional provision stipulates that “nothing in this section shall prevent appointment of men to the positions that are suitable for men only”.
An organisation that has fostered some successful women is the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, a government-staffed NGO that implements the policies of the Myanmar National Committee for Women’s Affairs. Former presidents of the MWAF have been appointed to important government positions.
Daw Myint Kyi, the first president of the federation who was not the wife of a prime minister, is a member of the Union Election Commission. She was succeeded by Daw Thet Thet Zin, who is Deputy Minister of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, who was in turn followed by Daw Mya Mya, who was appointed to the Myanmar Human Rights Commis- sion after the government replaced seven of its members in late September.
The presidency of the federation is itself a prominent role and was held by the wife of the prime minister until 2009, when the government asked that this tradition ended. Since 2011, the wives of the president and the two vice-presidents have had ceremonial roles as patrons of the organisation.
The federation’s new president is Daw Khin Mar Tun, whose appointment was announced in October.
Daw Khin Mar Tun has a PhD in Chemistry and was a professor for years until being appointed pro-rector of Yan-