Peace ne­go­tia­tors urged to in­clude more women

Women mem­bers of Myan­mar’s eth­nic po­lit­i­cal par­ties should be given a greater role in the male-dom­i­nated na­tional peace process, ex­perts say.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - THOMP­SON CHAU [email protected]­

MYAN­MAR’S peace process – de­scribed by some as “a di­a­logue be­tween men with guns” – in­volves far too few eth­nic women, and clos­ing the gen­der gap would in­crease the chances of the talks’ suc­cess, cam­paign­ers say.

Gen­der equal­ity has long been a chal­lenge in Myan­mar, and many gen­der equal­ity ex­perts say the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led govern­ment has not done enough to ad­vance fe­male in­clu­sion in the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship: State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the only woman among the 25 min­is­ters and cab­i­net mem­bers. Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in leg­is­la­tures across the coun­try re­mains low, and the same ap­plies to the peace process.

With the sup­port of UK Aid, the Carter Cen­ter and the Women’s League of Burma held a three-day na­tional con­fer­ence for women of eth­nic po­lit­i­cal par­ties (EPPs) last week. The con­fer­ence sought to build on the idea that greater in­clu­sion of the par­ties and their fe­male mem­bers in the peace talks would in­crease their chances of suc­cess.

Those at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence dis­cussed how to strengthen women’s in­volve­ment in the par­ties, pro­mote women’s voices in the peace process, in­crease di­a­logue among the par­ties, and en­able the par­ties to bet­ter rep­re­sent civil­ian voices. On the third day, they were joined by the lead­er­ships of 46 of the 52 par­ties to de­sign ac­tion plans.

“Although women from eth­nic mi­nori­ties in Myan­mar are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by the con­se­quences of sub-na­tional con­flicts, in­clud­ing sex­ual vi­o­lence, the voices of women are largely marginalised from the peace process,” Greg Ke­hailia, coun­try di­rec­tor of the At­lanta-based non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion Carter Cen­ter, said.

“Mean­while, the role of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the peace process has also been con­sid­er­ably lim­ited. Ex­clu­sion of eth­nic women and eth­nic po­lit­i­cal par­ties in­ter­sects, sti­fles civil­ian voices in the peace talks and hin­ders the chances of suc­cess of the peace process. This con­trib­utes to a dy­namic in which the peace process has largely be­come a di­a­logue be­tween men with guns,” he added.

Lway Poe Ngeal, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the com­mu­nity-based Women’s League of Burma, em­pha­sised that now is the time to “con­sider a re­view of the frame­work for the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue in Myan­mar’s peace process”.

The cur­rent frame­work, she ar­gued, hin­ders the par­tic­i­pa­tion of eth­nic civil­ians. “In a coun­try as di­verse as Myan­mar, the role of EPPs in mak­ing the di­ver­sity and mul­ti­tude of voices heard should not be un­der­es­ti­mated.”

“The mean­ing­ful par­tic­i­pa­tion of women is very im­por­tant for re­flect­ing the voice of more than half of the pop­u­la­tion of Myan­mar,” Lway Poe Ngeal said.

So­cial re­searchers say there are sev­eral rea­sons for the pos­i­tive im­pact of women on peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. They in­clude the fact that women may be ex­posed to a greater ar­ray of con­se­quences of con­flicts and women are more likely to be trusted by other cit­i­zens. Also, so­cial re­search has re­vealed that there is a fe­male fac­tor in im­prov­ing the dy­nam­ics within a group of peo­ple.

While it’s dif­fi­cult to be cer­tain about why women’s in­volve­ment in­creases the chances of suc­cess in peace ne­go­ti­a­tions, one thing we know is that it does, ac­cord­ing to Mr Ke­hailia.

Those at the event said that to en­sure a larger role for women in the peace process, it is im­per­a­tive to strengthen stake­hold­ers who are able to con­vey ci­ti­zen’s voices to in­sti­tu­tional ac­tors. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties and civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions are well-placed to gather and con­vey cit­i­zens’ views, but their own roles in the peace process have been par­tially frus­trated.

Fe­male in­volve­ment in the peace process is far be­low the 30 per­cent min­i­mum rec­om­mended by the United Na­tions for gen­der equal­ity. Women are also less rep­re­sented in the gov­ern­ments and par­lia­ments of eth­nic states than in other re­gions.

Since eth­nic po­lit­i­cal par­ties are al­ready side­lined in the peace talks, their women mem­bers are strug­gling with what Mr Ke­hailia called “dou­ble penal­ties”: marginalised both as women and as mem­bers of an eth­nic po­lit­i­cal party.

“Our as­sess­ment is that this is de­priv­ing the peace process of a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity to be more ef­fec­tive, but this sit­u­a­tion could be proac­tively ad­dressed with, very likely, im­me­di­ate pos­i­tive con­se­quences for the peace process,” he said.

The peace process is not the only area where women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion is lim­ited. Across the po­lit­i­cal land­scape, there aren’t enough fe­male voices be­ing heard.

Women ac­count for 52pc of Myan­mar’s pop­u­la­tion, but they make up ap­prox­i­mately 10.5pc of par­lia­ment seats at the na­tional level and 9.7pc of seats in re­gional leg­is­la­tures, in­clud­ing those ap­pointed by the mil­i­tary. These per­cent­ages have more than dou­bled and tripled, re­spec­tively, com­pared to the pre­vi­ous govern­ment.

How­ever, given the dis­crep­ancy be­tween the per­cent­age of women law­mak­ers and women in the over­all pop­u­la­tion, their rep­re­sen­ta­tion in pol­i­cy­mak­ing is still strik­ingly low. Women MPs con­tinue to face dis­tinct chal­lenges such as strong neg­a­tive views of their lead­er­ship abil­i­ties in govern­ment and so­ci­ety, re­flect­ing gen­er­a­tions-old stereo­types.

Photo: Sup­plied

Greg Ke­hailia, coun­try di­rec­tor for the Carter Cen­ter, speaks at the con­fer­ence for women of eth­nic po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

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