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Myanmar's long hard road to gender equality

Women still regarded second class citizens in conservative Myanmar

Myanmar's long hard road to gender equality

A woman carries a basket on her head in Dala township near the Myanmar city of Yangon in this file image taken Nov. 11, 2015. (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

John Zaw, Mandalay

March 8, 2017

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As Myanmar emerges from 70 years of military rule, women activists seek concrete changes that will address gender-based discrimination in their country.

Nang Phyu Phyu Lin and other women's rights activists said there still is a perception in society that women are lower than men.

"Women can't overcome the cultural and traditional barriers that are deep-rooted in Myanmar's society," said Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, a steering committee member for the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process, a coalition of women's rights groups. "To prevail in gender equality, actions and implementation are the key factors," she told 

Women's groups have welcomed Myanmar Women's Week on March 6-12 but are pushing for actions and implementations beyond the symbolic. In the Social Institutions and Gender Index 2014, Myanmar was placed among countries with a high level of discrimination in social institutions. While progress has been made in increasing female presence in official institutions, normative assumptions still hamper their access to high level positions, according to the Asia Development Bank.

"We must see human beings first and gender second and we need to see the value of giving up conservative attitudes and mindsets," said Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, an ethnic Shan-Kachin woman who added that gender issues should be a part of the school curriculum.


A young woman walks in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. (Photo by Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)


May Sabae Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Myanmar, said that the country has a long way to go to overcome social, cultural and legal barriers despite changes that have come under the new civilian government.

"Women's involvement in politics, peace and security is still limited so practical actions must be implemented," said Mae Sabae Phyu , who was named an International Woman of Courage by the U.S. State Department in 2015. 

May Sabae Phyu said that Myanmar society regards men as the breadwinner of the households and women as playing a supplementary role.

She said that in the construction and agricultural sector women cannot get equal payment  despite using the same energy and effort as anyone else on the workforce.

"We are demanding women's rights as we are yet to have equal rights in Myanmar and the most important thing is how to tackle the lack of gender quality," she said.

Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, an lawmaker from the ruling National League for Democracy party, said that gender awareness was needed at the grassroots level especially in rural and remote areas.

"In farming, men go to the bank and take loans and purchase pesticides and most women do not see it as their job. They are not aware of their rights," said Shwe Shwe Sein Latt.

"We need a delegation of tasks among men and women so that gender equality will prevail and we can avoid a male-oriented society," Shwe Shwe Sein Latt, a rights activist-turned-politician told

She added that there has been some progress under Aung San Suu Kyi's civilian government in domestic violence and the government has had more engagement with the women's groups.

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