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Status of Myanmar Women

by MNCWA

In Myanmar 50.3% of the total population are women. Thus the women outnumber the men. The status of Myanmar women has always been high since the days of the Myanmar Kings. They enjoy equal rights as men. They do not take the name of the father or husband after marriage. Her name is her own and the name is known from birth to death unless she changes it of her own accord. With regard to education, the literacy rate of women is 73%. There is no gender discrimination in the education system. The government is making concerted efforts to promote the education status of women and children especially in the rural and remote border areas. With regard to health, the government places special emphasis on family health, the most basic and integral unit of society. The health coverage is extended to the rural and far-reaching border areas. Myanmar is changing to the market economy and as such, not only the government sector, but also the private sectors are playing an important role. As such, more women are entering the private sectors, contributing a significant labour force. The legal system of Myanmar provides equal rights to women and men in the area of business and commerce. With regard to women in the profession, women outnumber men in the field of education and nursing, while 50% of women are doctors. In Myanmar family, there is no preference for boys. Both boys and girls are equally loved. Some may attach more values for girls. There is a Myanmar saying: When a daughter is born parents' usually say, "assurance of an additional dish on the dining table". In Myanmar family, the husband and wife share equal household responsibilities. The husband provides the financial needs and it is the woman who manages the family decision making in providing food, clothing and schooling etc. The women may go out to work for the social development; they still have the major responsibility to look after the family. The two responsibilities must be balanced for a woman who wishes to lead a harmonious and happy life both at home and in the society. One must be careful not to go against the cultural norms and values attached to our families.

National Machinery for the Advancement of Women in Myanmar
The government is striving towards the emergence of a peaceful, modern and developed nation and it attaches a high priority for the child's development and the advancement of women.

A Myanmar delegation attended the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. The outcome of the Beijing Conference was the Beijing Declaration, highlighting the Beijing Platform for Action basing on the twelve critical areas of concern for women's advancement.

The government is committed to the Beijing Platform for Action and to implement it in accord with the national political, economic and social objectives. The government also recognizes the important role of women force in the national development.

As a fulfillment of the commitment made in Beijing, the government formed a National Machinery for the Advancement of Women, namely: The Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs on 3rd July, 1996. The patron of the committee is the Secretary -1 of the State Peace and Development Council, Lt. General Khin Nyunt and it is chaired by the Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, because, this Ministry is designated as the focal point for Women's and Child's affairs. The Committee members are the deputy ministers of the ministries related to the women and child welfares and representatives from the notable Non-governmental organizations. It is a high-level inter-ministerial policy making committee on women's affairs including the girl child and instrumental in providing the mechanism for intersect oral collaboration and coordination. |

The working committee was formed on the 7th October, 1996 and was followed by the formation of State/Division, District and Township level (grass-roots) Working Committee for women's Affairs. These committee are the operational committee.

Their main objective is to systematically implement the programmes for the advancement of women. The working committee at the central level identifies the nine critical areas of concern for the advancement of women in Myanmar.

The operational committees work alongside with the government departments, the NGOs and the communities.

The First critical areas of concern was the need to form the National Machinery for Advancement of Women. It was formed on the 3rd July 1996, namely, The Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs (MNCWA). The 3rd of July, the founding day of the MNCWA has been designated "The Myanmar Women's Day" with honour, in 1998, for the committees' formation is a historic undertaking.

The second area is to promote the educational status of women and children through formal education (at least to complete primary education), non-formal skills- based education and vocational training programmes especially for those who cannot afford to pursue higher education, to gain easy access to employment and to enhance income-generation.

The third area is uplifting of fitness and family health, focusing on the reduction of the infant and maternal mortality.

The fourth area is to protect women and children from violence, trafficking and abuses. Violence is present in Myanmar but it is not a major issue. The research findings on the marital component of Domestic violence revealed that the magnitude is comparatively low, more mental violence than physical, the commonest causes are, inadequate financial provision for the family, excessive and habitual drinking, disharmony with in-laws in the extended families and adultery. Interviewers also found out that women are not aware of the existing laws that protect them.
Basing on the research findings, advocacy meetings, educational talks and radio talks are being held on the research findings and the laws protecting the women in all townships. Myanmar is fully aware of another form of violence against women, trafficking of women, which leads to abuse and forced prostitution. The victims are usually simple and innocent girls who are lured by the unscrupulous traffickers; since the trafficking network operates not above the ground, it is difficult to get accurate data. However, the government in collaboration with the UN agencies local and international NGOs and the community are addressing the issues. Although there are some unreported cases who cross the 3800 miles of porous borders, there are trafficking cases reported from the judicial sector. Prompt actions have been taken against the traffickers who were punished with up to ten years of imprisonment.

A National Task Force on Trafficking in Women and Children, comprises personnel from the Police Force, Attorney Generals' office, Health, Immigration, Social Welfare, Border areas department, NGOs and MNCWA.

To reduce VAW, the following strategies are adopted and implemented

(1) Preventive strategy

Awareness raising talks on trafficking, suspected traffickers, their ways of recruiting, trafficking routes and the fate of the victims, are held at school as well as in the community. Traffickers are also warned of the legal consequences.

(2) Protective and enforcement strategy

Training of police, judicial, immigration and related officials to understand the nature of trafficking to help them in prosecution; and restrictions laid down in border crossing trans-national co-operation has been established.

(3) Prosecution Strategy

Advocacy meetings are being held for prosecutors and judges to be aware of the amended trafficking laws and urged to speed up prosecutions and trials. Transnational assistance are being sought for to prosecute traffickers.

(4) Reintegration Strategy

The responsible departments are being urged to receive the victims warmly, give vocational training and any other needs to strengthen their capacity building for reintegration into the society.

Training programmes for service providers such as police, prosecutors, judicial personnel, Health officers, Social Welfare officers and MNWCWA members, Administrative officials to increases the awareness of the causes, consequences, mechanism of violence.

Counseling centers have been established in each township to help the victims. Complaint letters from the victims of violence have been scrutinized, channeled to the respective sectors to take prompt action and replied to the victims.

Young women under 25 years of age are not allowed to cross border unless accompanied by a guardian.
The local and International NGOs are combating trafficking by giving vocational training progarmmes to uplift income generation. The agencies are also giving credit and loan schemes to start micro-enterprises.
The Sub- committee on Violence Against Women is planning to hold a series of workshop to write up a manual: The Myanmar Initiative Against Trafficking

The fifth area is women and economy. Myanmar women have been active in both fields of agricultural and commerce since ancient days. But now as Myanmar is integrating more into the world's market economy, more Myanmar women have become involved in the business sector, where they enjoy equal status as men. The economic sub-committee enhances rural women's income generation potentials by providing such courses as sewing, knitting, weaving and cooking. Non-traditional income- generation activities like auditing, computer science, driving, English language speaking, fruit carving, costume jewellery-making and secretarial courses are given to gain easy access to employment. Credit and loan scheme.

The sixth area is women and culture. As Myanmar opens its doors to the world, foreign influences have entered and to a certain extent, Myanmar cultural norms have come under pressure and this is now a concern to society. Therefore the cultural sub-committee, through video and radio plays, has made concerted efforts to preserve and safeguard the cultural heritage and national characters of Myanmar society. The sub-committee encourages young Myanmar women to uphold Myanmar cultural norms, to love and respect the country and its people, to honour and value parents, teachers and elders, to cherish family and society and safeguard their honour and dignity.

The sub-committee encourages young women to participate in the Traditional Performing Arts Competition which is held annually, and sponsors fashion shows on National Attires. Talks by prominent literary figures, summer courses on religion, culture and tradition are held at schools and in communities.

The seventh area is women and environment. Myanmar women are very much aware of the existence of the National Commission for Environmental Affairs, its policies and issues. Every year, to welcome the national larbour month, tree planting ceremonies are organized through out the country by the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs. Saplings are planted to honour the Myanmar Women's Day which falls on the 3rd of July.

The auspicious day is celebrated by the entire mass of Myanmar women down to the grass roots levels. Myanmar women are also engaged in environmental sanitation activities, prevention of home air pollution, water pollution and in the increasing the availability and accessibility of safe water supply, under the supervision of the State and Divisional Working Committees for Women's Affairs.

The eight area media in Myanmar gives a positive image of women in her varied roles as mother, friend and life-partner. Thus the media gives women an equal status as men. Gender sensitive issues are being made aware to the media personnel. The activities of Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs are regularly featured in periodicals, television and radio for public awareness of their aims, strategies and efforts and what they have accomplished. Some of them are produced and directed by women, themselves. More women are encouraged to take-up journalism and some have reached decision-making levels in the media. Women are also trained to enhance their skills, knowledge and access to information technology. National media are used to support education and training programs for women.

The ninth area is the girl-child. There is no discrimination against the girl-child in Myanmar
The government attaches a high priority to the development of children because they are the potential leaders of tomorrow. The Child's Law was promulgated in 1993 to implement the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child . Myanmar ratified the Convention and it became a member state.

A national mechanism for implementing the rights of the child was estiblished, namely a National Committee, State and District Committee on the Rights of the Child have been formed to protect and safeguard the child's right, including the girl-child. All the critical areas stated above are also concerned with the developement and protection of the girl-child.

The department of social welfare, in collaboration with the NGOs and INGOs is responsible for the welfare of disadvandaged children and children in especially difficult circumstances which also includes girl-child. Special training programmes tailored to their needs are provided at the respective institutions.

The Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs (MNCWA) held the First and Second National Women's Conference in November, 1988 and June 2001 respectively. At the First Conference, the National Plan of Action for Advancement of Women was discussed and adopted.

At the Second Conference, the works implemented by the State/Division Working Committees for Women's Affairs, at the grass-roots levels were reviewed, the constraints encountered were discussed and the future Plan of Actions recommended.

The MNCWA also observe the International Women's Day and celebrated "The 3rd July Myanmar Women's Day", every year.

Myanmar hosted the Regional Consultation on Women's Health and Developement Initiative: Country Profiles, organized by the Ministry of Health, the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs and the South East Asia Regional Office of World Health Organization in 1988.

Regional workshop on Violence Against Women and the Role of the Health Sector was held in Yangon, Myanmar in 1999, sponsored by the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs, Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.

Copyright August, 2001 - MNCWA



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