MYANMAR: Calls for Quota to Get Women Into Positions of Authority

Thursday, June 19, 2014
Myanmar Times
South Eastern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

The report said Myanmar has no female township administrators and just 0.11 percent of ward and village-tract administrators are women.

The study is part of a series of papers on sub-national government funded by the Asia Foundation and the Myanmar Development Resource Institute's Centre for Economic and Social Development (MDRI CESD).

Presented by author Paul Minoletti in Yangon on June 17, it pointed to significant challenges faced by women wishing to participate in state and community level politics.

“There is a growing body of evidence that women's meaningful participation in [sub-national] governance in Myanmar is extremely low,” said Mr Minoletti.

The report recommends “serious consideration” be given to introducing quotas, adding that “the elected positions of state and region MP and village administrator would seem to be particularly suitable” for such a system.

Myanmar has signed a number of international initiatives aimed at ending gender discrimination, including the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

However just 5.79pc representatives in national parliament are female, by far the lowest in ASEAN. The second lowest is Malaysia at 10.36pc, while Phillippines has the highest at 27.34pc. In Singapore, Lao and Vietnam around a quarter of national MPs are women.

The report, based on interviews in Kayin and Kachin states, Yangon Region and Nay Pyi Taw, found women faced a range of barriers to holding positions of authority, including a lack of experience in public roles, low-decision making power within their families, time constraints because of traditional views regarding their household duties, and restraints on travel imposed because of safety fears and cultural norms.

“In many communities in Myanmar men are unwilling to take on what's seen as women's work. Being able to bargain within the household is important to taking on [community and local political] work,” Mr Minoletti said.

He said women who have a job have greater bargaining power. However, doing paid work on top of household duties also means they often have less time for political activities.

“Time constraints are a major barrier to women's governance in Myanmar and women are more likely than men to face criticism from wider society if they spend time on business or political matters instead of family,” he said.

Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, a program adviser on gender at the INGO Care, who was speaking at the launch, pointed out that a major reason women did not become village administrators was that there is a requirement whoever takes up that position has to be “household head”.

She said culturally it is difficult for many men to accept the household head is a woman.

“We need gender [equality] awareness-raising for men [too],” she said.

Having a quota system for a time would encourage more women in general to take up roles in governance.

“It's just temporary; it will encourage more women to enter the field.”

Calls for a quota system were also backed by Daw Nyo Nyo Thinn, a representative in the Yangon Region Hluttaw who appeared on a discussion panel at the report's launch.

She is just one of just six women in Yangon's 123-member parliament. Across Myanmar, there are only 25 women MPs in Myanmar's state and region parliaments, which collectively have 883 seats.

Daw rejected the common assertion that there are not enough qualified women in Myanmar to take up positions in politics, saying there are many with the right skills.

“One common matter the ruling and opposition parties agree on is that there should not be a quota system, but I feel sorry for Myanmar women. Why are they saying Myanmar women are not really qualified to be politicians?” she said.

“I am an educated woman with a degree in law. The women who are qualified and skilled have a responsibility to raise their voices for all women.”

The report found that some major events, such as the impact on communities of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and later exposure to international aid and development workers in the aftermath, had allowed women to take a more active role in local governance.

It also found that in areas where men were absent due to conflict, work migration or drug addiction, women had some greater opportunities to take on more roles in governance. However the reality of their heavy responsibilities in generating income and running a home without assistance made it difficult for them to do so.

Mr Minoletti concluded that while any kind of quota in governance system would have to be “carefully” planned, Myanmar offered good prospects for such an initiative to work. He said where quotas had failed in the past it was often because women in the countries involved did not have sufficient educational skills to work without assistance. This left them open to manipulation from better educated men, a prospect he said was unlikely here.

“Myanmar is a country where quotas are likely to be effective,” he said, “because of the high levels of equality in education.”