An alliance of women’s rights organizations called on Friday for greater inclusion of women in Burma’s peace process, citing social factors and a lack of will as causes of underrepresentation throughout the negotiations to date.
Only about 7 percent of participants in a recent Union Peace Conference were women, according to the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP), an eight-member group advocating for a much higher 30 percent representation in decision-making roles.
Nearly 700 people took part in the conference, held from Jan. 12 to 16 in the capital Naypyidaw. The much-publicized event marked the start of a political dialogue following the signing of a multilateral ceasefire agreement reached in October between the Burmese government and eight of the country’s more than 20 non-state armed groups.
AGIPP presented a policy briefing on Friday assessing women, peace and security in Burma’s peace process, finding that efforts to date proved insufficient and recommending a clear-cut policy for enhancing the role of women particularly in decision-making roles.
At the end of the four-day Union Peace Conference, attendees agreed on a four-point path forward, including a vague commitment to “enable at least 30 percent participation by women at different levels” in accordance with the ceasefire agreement. The text of that agreement calls for a “reasonable number of women” to participate in the dialogue.
Throughout the whole process to date, however, women have remained grossly underrepresented, according to AGIPP. Since negotiations began in 2011, only two women were among 16 chief ethnic negotiators; two were part of the 52-member government negotiation team, the Union Peacemaking Work Committee (UPWC); and three are among the 48 members of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).
No women were included among 11 members of the Union Peacemaking Central Committee, 16-member Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting or the 26-member Union-level Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, according to AGIPP.
While the turnout of women participants has been low, ethnic Karen technical advisor Naw May Oo Mutraw said those who were involved spoke loudly on behalf of those left out.
“We are still far from the 30 percent goal we have always talked about,” she said, “but that 7 percent put in a lot of effort.”
Unfortunately, speaking didn’t seem to be enough. Much of what women contributed to conversations throughout the Union Peace Conference was simply omitted in the daily records and meeting minutes, according to Khin Ma Ma Myo, managing director of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security Studies.
“My discussions were not noted,” she said, despite taking part in three separate discussions, speaking to each issue for a full 15 minutes. Comments on freedom expression made by Ma Thida, a renowned writer and former prisoner of conscience, were also stricken from the record, she said.
“When the records were out, the names of all the women in the discussions were missing,” she said. As an added frustration, on the final day of talks, she said she waited patiently through a whole morning of discussions among the men before given a chance to speak. When her turn came, she said, the moderator said it was time for a lunch break. She had requested half an hour after the break to discuss judicial procedures for rape cases, but instead was afforded only 15 minutes.
As if there were not enough obstacles for women who wished to be more involved in the process, Naw May Oo Mutraw—who is also the mother of a 2-year-old girl—said there is minimal support for women trying to balance work, political participation and family commitments.
“The social and economic status of women is directly related to our availability and ability to lead,” she said. “I assume the reason we don’t see bright women in leading roles is because of these challenges.”