By SU MYAT MON | FRONTIER
YANGON — Men have an important role to play in bringing women in from the margins of the peace process, leading rights activists said following a gender equality conference in Yangon yesterday.
The nationwide ceasefire agreement mandates that women fill 30 percent of positions during political negotiations, but at the 21st Century Panglong conference they made up just 13 percent of overall participants. Ethnic armed groups had the highest proportion of women, at 20.5 percent of their delegates.
Jean D’ Cunha, the head of UN Women Myanmar, said on Monday that men are “not the problem” but need to be “part of the solution” to gender inequality in the peace process.
Stereotypes of masculinity oppress both men and women, she said, adding that men and women need to be able to speak openly to one another.
“Democracy cannot be achieved without women,” she said.
The event, organised by UN Women and the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process, took place at Yangon’s Inya Lake Hotel, with 75 participants. Its objectives are to support an increase in both the number and influence of women in the peace process, and the consideration given to women’s views on peace-related topics during the political dialogue process.
Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, a noted women’s rights activist and National League for Democracy lawmaker, said parliament leaders were working to improve gender rights among lawmakers, but the issue was still poorly understood.
“A lot of lawmakers in the parliament are [former] political prisoners. They were in the prison for such a long time and lacked access to information, so they don’t even know the word ‘gender’,” said the upper house lawmaker, who is also secretary of the parliament’s Women and Children’s Rights Committee. “We need to give them more awareness about it and also need to be patient.”
Susanna Hla Hla Soe said her committee was urging the government to take a stronger approach on abuses of women’s rights, and to enact laws to protect women. As an example, she said the committee was working on a law to protect domestic workers, who are overwhelmingly women.
Daw May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network, agreed that a better understanding of gender equality was needed. She noted that while the situation had improved, there was still much more progress to be made, and men have an important role to play.
“The involvement of men in this issue is very important and if men do not understand it then it will be a long time with difficulties for implementation to bring about equal rights for men and women,” she said.
Daw San San Aye, a deputy director in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, said the former government did little to enhance the rights of women.
The current government should work with civil society and non-government organisations to introduce policies and laws on the issue.