Breadcrumbs

Myanmar is in transition after its first democratic elections and a nationwide ceasefire agreement with eight ethnic armed groups in 2015 (Radio Free Asia 2015). Despite some promising steps, fighting continues, the military still plays a major role in government, and laws restricting individual freedoms remain in place. While women’s parliamentary representation has risen from below 5 percent in 2012 to about 10 percent in 2016, Myanmar still lags behind neighboring Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Viet Nam. Women account for less than 5 percent of regional parliamentarians and have virtually no representation (0.25 percent) among village-level administrators (Human Rights Watch 2017a).

Women were largely excluded from peace negotiations; only 2 of 32 negotiators in the Nationwide Cease- fire Agreement were women (Asian Development Bank etal. 2016). Gender discrimination, housework, and family responsibilities impede women’s entry into the workforce (Kanayde 2016). Women fare better in education settings. Mean years of schooling is about seven, and gender parity has been achieved at primary and secondary school levels (Asian Development Bank et al. 2016). However, there are concerns over low retention rates, student performance, and the quality of education, and national averages also mask regional inequalities.

The constitution ostensibly guarantees equal rights and protection before the law, yet the 2015 Race and Religion Protection Laws discriminate against women. These laws restrict reproductive rights by imposing birth spacing requirements and restricting the right of Buddhist women to marry men of other faiths. As elsewhere in the world, crimes of intimate partner violence often go unreported in a culture of silence and victim blaming (Dinmore and Myint 2015; Aung 2016). There are no laws criminalizing spousal abuse or marital rape. Recent conflict has been associated with reports of sexual violence, as well as exploitation and trafficking of women (U.S. Department of State 2015; Human Rights Watch 2017a). Yet because the military adjudicates crimes committed by its own members, as in many countries around the world, there is impunity for military perpetrators in many sexual violence cases (Women’s League of Burma 2016).