Gender Equality in Myanmar

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Myanmar
flag_Myanmar.png
Flag of Myanmar
Population (in Mil.) 52.80
Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB) First argument to number_format must be a number
Sex Ratio (m/f)
Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m) 1.063492063
Fertility Rate
Estimated Earned Income (f/m)
Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m) 11
Women in Parliament (in %) 6
INDICES
Human Development Index 149/187
Social Institutions and Gender Index 44/86
Gender Inequality Index 149/186
Gender Equity Index 164/168
Women’s Economic Opportunity Index /128
Global Gender Gap Index /68
More information on variables

Social Institutions

Myanmar was administered by the British as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony. Independence from the Commonwealth was attained in 1948. The country’s history has been marked by political unrest and struggle against the ruling military junta. In 2008, Myanmar was struck by Cyclone Nargis which official estimates claimed left over 80,000 dead and 50,000 injured. Parliamentary elections held in November 2010, considered flawed by many in the international community, saw the junta remain in power.[1] The Constitution adopted in 2008 took effect in March 2011 when the new parliament convened.[2] The new President also took office and has since freed a number of political prisoners including Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi.The World Bank classifies Myanmar as a low income country.[3]

The status of women in Myanmar has been significantly shaped by decades of military rule and more recently it has been particularly affected by the cyclone. Violence, particularly sexual violence in the context of armed conflict, has been reported as widespread and systematic, with perpetrators enjoying impunity.[4] Further, women are disproportionately affected by the lack of investment by the military regime in basic services such as health and education. Rural women and girls are subject to extreme poverty, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.[5] Gender equality is also undermined by a number of discriminatory customary laws concerning marriage, property ownership and inheritance rights. These laws often serve to entrench stereotypes of women as child-bearers and men as decision-makers.[6] Chapter 8 of the Constitution includes a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex in the appointment of Government posts or duties but adds that “nothing in this section shall prevent appointment of men to the positions that are naturally suitable for men only.”[7] Myanmar ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1997. In 2011, the Human Development Index for Myanmar was 0.483, placing the country at 149 out of 187 countries.[8] Under the Gender Inequality Index, the country’s score is 0.492 (96 out of 146 countries).[9]

Discriminatory Family Code

In 2007, the government reported that marriage was governed under multiple laws including the Myanmar Buddhist Woman Special Marriage and Succession Act 1954, the Islamic Law, the Christian Marriage Act, and the Hindu Customary Law.[10] In 1999, the government reported that the legal age of marriage for women was 20 without the consent of parents.[11] However, the Buddhist Women Special Marriage and Succession Act provides that a non- Buddhist man who has reached puberty can marry a woman of 14 or older with the consent of her parents.[12]

The law states that all marriages shall be based on mutual consent, and officially recognises cohabitation – with the intent to marry – as sufficient for couples to legally be considered husband and wife.[13]

The Multiple Cluster Indicator Survey data shows that 7 % of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed in 2010. Compared to 11%in 1991.[14] In 1973, 22% of girls aged between 15 and 19 were married, divorced or widowed which indicates that societal acceptance of early marriage has declined in recent decades.[15] The World Health Organisation reports that 43% of married women aged 15 have started childbearing, by 19 years this number reaches 74%.[16]

Polygamy is permitted under Myanmar customary law, but is socially frowned upon and generally unpopular.[17] The Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation (MWAF) points out that in polygamous unions, the law stipulates that the second wife must be given an equal social status with the first wife.[18] In 2008, the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women expressed concern that polygamy was not prohibited in Myanmar.

With regards to parental authority, fathers are perceived as the head of the household and have the duty of providing for their wives and children.[19] In practice, women bear primary responsibility for child-rearing, as well as caring for her parents and her husband’s parents.[20]

In the event of divorce, it is common that custody of boys is awarded to the father and of girls to the mother, but the children may be consulted in the decision-making process. Very young children, regardless of sex, are usually placed in their mother’s care.[21]

The government reported in 2007 that according to customary law, both grant men and women equal rights to inheritance. There is no discrimination between men and women, husbands and wives, widows and widowers, sons and daughters, or grandsons and granddaughters.[22] According to the MWAF, variations in inheritance rights are based solely on the degree of relationship with the deceased.[23] However, women’s non-government organisations report that discriminatory inheritance practices persist. For example, an example is provided of the Palaung traditions from rural areas of Shan State when if a man dies his property goes to his male relatives rather than his wife. In the event of divorce, a woman loses all jointly held property.[24]

Restricted Physical Integrity

Rape is prohibited under the Penal Code.[25] If the victim is under the age of 14, sexual intercourse is considered rape with or without consent. Spousal rape is not a crime unless the wife is under 14.[26] According to the US Department of State, there are no specific laws prohibiting domestic violence, although there are laws related to committing bodily harm against another person.[27] The Penal Code prohibits sexual harassment and imposes fines or up to one year's imprisonment.[28]

Violence against women is reported to be one of the most pressing human rights violations in Myanmar. Although there is no prevalence data, non-government organisations report that women suffer high levels of violence committed by family members, the community and particularly by the state.[29] Women’s experiences of violence have been exacerbated by armed conflict, displacement and the cyclone. It is reported that women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence in the northern Rakhine State and those areas affected by Cyclone Nargis.[30]

Violence at the hands of the military regime is reported to be a particular problem, particularly in ethnic areas.[31] In 2009, one women’s organisation documented more than 4,000 cases of abuse over the past few years.[32] The abuses included rape, killings, torture, and forced labor in more than 190 villages by government troops from more than 40 government army battalions. Young women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence.[33] For example, in 2009, the media reported the rape of a 15 year-old girl in Shan State by a government army patrol as she and her sister were on their way to look for livestock.[34]

Rape is reported to be used as a military strategy to humiliate and intimidate rebels and opposition groups.[35] Non government women’s organisations report that women are systematically raped on a daily basis when they are used as forced labour, when they taken as guides for the military, when carrying out daily chores, such as collecting vegetables for cooking, when looking after cattle in their fields, gathering firewood or bamboo shoots outside their village, or walking to markets and nearby villages. There are a number of reports of women being killed after rape.[36]

The US Department of State and women’s organisations report that the government does not enforce the law on violence against women effectively.[37] There are also reports of police complicity in violence[38] and there are reports of threats, intimidation and punishment of victims of violence.[39] As such, perpetrators enjoy a culture of impunity, silence and acceptance of their actions.[40]

Further, the constitution includes a provision that provides amnesty for all members of the regime for all crimes which leaves women without proper access to justice in the event they experience violence at the hands of the military regime.[41]

Trafficking within and from Myanmar is reported to be a significant problem. Women and girls, particularly from ethnic minority groups are trafficked to China and Thailand. Young women and girls are at the highest risk of trafficking for sexual exploitation.[42]

Female genital mutilation is reportedly not practiced in Myanmar. Limitations on women’s reproductive rights also infringe upon women’s physical integrity in Myanmar. Under the Penal Code of Myanmar, abortion is generally illegal and any person performing an abortion is subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and/or payment of a fine.[43] The latest survey by the UNICEF and the Department of Health in 2005 found that Myanmar's maternal mortality ratio is persistently high at 316 per 100,000 live births. Nearly 10% of all maternal deaths are abortion-related.[44] Another government survey found the proportion of married women who use modern contraceptive methods has increased from 32% in 2001 to 38% in 2007. In urban areas, 49% of married women use modern contraception, compared with only 34% of rural women. Modern contraceptives such as the birth control pill are also more widely available and easier to access in urban areas. The survey also found that 18% of married women had an unmet need for contraception for either preventing or spacing births.[45]

Son Bias

Gender disaggregated data on child nutrition and mortality is not available for Myanmar. UNICEF data on primary school enrolments does not indicate son preference in access to primary education.[46] There is no gender disaggregated data on child labour, but as noted in the previous section, girls are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for sexual exploitation and sexual violence. Whilst this does not necessarily indicate the preferential treatment of sons, it does draw attention to the general lack of protection of young girls.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2011 is 0.99.[47] There is no evidence to suggest that Myanmar is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

Restricted Resources and Entitlements

There is a lack of data on the law regarding women’s access to land, however land could be considered property and subject to the legal provisions described below. There is also no data on women’s land ownership. There are reports that women are victims of confiscation of land by the regime for military bases and income-generation projects.[48] Civilians are used as forced labour to build and maintain on this land.[49] Women also have equal rights as men to acquire, administer and dispose of property.[50] In marriage, women jointly own the property accumulated during the period of marriage together with their spouses. The Married Women’s Property Act protects the rights of women in property. Section 5 of the Act states: “Any married woman may effect a policy of insurance on her own behalf and independently of her husband; and the same and all benefit thereof, if expressed on the face of it to be so effected, shall ensure as her separate property, and the contract evidenced by such policy shall be as valid as if made with an unmarried woman.”[51] Women and men have equal legal rights to apply for bank loans and engage in other types of contracts.[52] The MWAF operates a micro-credit scheme that specifically targets women. In 2006, this scheme provided temporary loans of MMK 72.4 million (USD 11 million) to a total of 8 608 women.[53] The government reports that a similar programme run by the Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association has provided loans totalling close to MMK 180 million (USD 28 million) to more than 45 000 women with a desire to manage small-scale businesses or breed livestock.[54] However, non-government women’s organisations report that as women have complained that they are financially exploited, as the schemes chard women interest on the loans at the same rates as the moneylenders and the individuals running the schemes profit the interest. Further, women who are unable to pay are threatened with arrest.[55]

Restricted Civil Liberties

Civil liberties are quite restricted in Myanmar, but this is true for all citizens.[56] Freedom of movement is very limited. As noted in the physical integrity section, women’s freedom of movement is disproportionately curtailed by the threat of violence, particularly from the military. However, all citizens need a passport from the Ministry of Home Affairs and a departure form from the Ministry of Immigration and Population to travel outside the country. The government also hinders or restricts international travel for young women under the age of 25, in part to address the problem of human trafficking.[57] According to the US Department of State, the government also controls the movement of all Muslim Rohingyas (men and women), who are not considered to be citizens.[58]

Women’s movements and organisations are severely restricted in Myanmar. In 2008, the United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women expressed concern that women’s civil society organisations experience constraints in being able to advocate or openly comment on government policy. Few non-governmental organisations have the opportunity to officially register and the registration process and criteria for associations are unclear.[59] Women’s political participation is restricted. The Constitution reserves 25% of seats in the legislature as well as key ministerial positions to the all-male military.[60] The US Department of State reports that women are excluded from political leadership. In 2009, there were no female members of State Peace and Development Council (the government), cabinet, or Supreme Court.[61] The prominent female pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had various restrictions placed on her activities since the late 1980s. She was released in 2010 following the elections.[62] In terms of workplace rights, the government reports that women and men have equal opportunities without discrimination in employment under the Law Defining the Fundamental Rights and Responsibilities of Workers. This includes the right to equal pay between women and men. The government reports that women have paid maternity benefits under the Leaves and Holidays Act and the Social Security Act, however there is no detail on the length and amount of payment.

References

  1. Central Intelligence Agency (2011) The World Fact Book: Sex Ratio, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html, accessed 7 February 2012
  2. Reference 1
  3. World Bank (n.d.) Online data: Myanmar, available at http://data.worldbank.org/country/myanmar, accessed at 7 February 2011
  4. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2008) Committee Concluding Observations 42nd session 2008 Paragraph 24, 34, 38, 46
  5. Reference 4 Paragraph 24, 34, 38, 46
  6. Reference 4 Paragraph 24, 34, 38, 46
  7. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women) (2008b) Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Myanmar, CEDAW/C/MMR/CO/3, New York. p.3
  8. United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Complete.pdf, accessed 29 February 2012. p.129
  9. Reference 11 p.141
  10. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (2007), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Myanmar, Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/MMR/3, CEDAW, New York, NY. p.50
  11. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) (1999), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Myanmar, Initial Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/MMR/1, CEDAW, New York, NY.p.21
  12. Reference 13 P.24
  13. Reference 13 P.16
  14. Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2010)
  15. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2008) World Marriage Data 2008, available at http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WMD2008/Main.html, accessed 10 October 2010.
  16. World Health Organisation (n.d.) Myanmar and Birth Spacing: An Overview, available at http://www.searo.who.int/LinkFiles/Family_Planning_Fact_Sheets_Myanmar.pdf, accessed 7 February 2011.
  17. MWAF (Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation) (n.d.), Rights of Myanmar Women Endowed by Myanmar Customs and Traditions, MWAF, Yangon, http://www.mwaf.org.mm/Activities/Paper%20Read/Eng8.pdf, accessed 7 February 2011. p.5
  18. Reference 20 p.5
  19. Reference 20 p.5
  20. Reference 13 p.17
  21. Reference 14 p.21
  22. Reference 13 p.17
  23. Reference 20 p.11
  24. Women’s League of Burma (2008) CEDAW Shadow Report, available at http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/Women_Burma42.pdf, accessed 7 February 2011.p.21
  25. CEDAW (United Nations Committee on Discrimination Against Women) (2008a) Responses to the list of issues and questions with regard to the consideration of the combined second and third periodic report: Myanmar, CEDAW/C/MMR/Q/3/Add.1, New York p.5
  26. US State Department (2010) 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Burma, Available http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2009/eap/135987.htm, accessed 31 January 2011.
  27. Reference 30
  28. Reference 30
  29. Women of Burma (2008) In the Shadow of the Junta, available at http://www.womenofburma.org/Report/IntheShadow-Junta-CEDAW2008.pdf, accessed 19 March 2012)p.3
  30. Reference 1 p.6
  31. Women of Burma (2008) In the Shadow of the Junta, available at http://www.womenofburma.org/Report/IntheShadow-Junta-CEDAW2008.pdf, accessed 19 March 2012)p.3
  32. Reference 30
  33. Reference 28 p.75
  34. Reference 30
  35. Reference 28 p.75
  36. Reference 28 p.75
  37. Reference 30; Reference 28
  38. Reference 33 p.63
  39. Reference 1p.6
  40. Reference 1p.6
  41. Burma Lawyer’s Council (n.d.) A grim perspective for Burmese of women, available at http://www.socwatch.org/node/11603, accessed 7 February 2011.
  42. Reference 30
  43. United Nations Populations Division (2007)’World abortion policies’, data downloaded from http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/2007_Abortion_Policies_Chart/2007_WallChart.pdf (accessed 21 October 2010)
  44. Integrated Regional Information Networks , Myanmar: Abortion a leading cause of maternal death, 10 March 2010, available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4b9a1e821e.html, accessed 8 February 2011.
  45. Reference 44
  46. UNICEF (n.d.) Online Data – Myanmar, available at http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/myanmar_statistics.html, accessed 2 February 2011.
  47. Reference 1
  48. United Nations Human Rights Council (2010a) Summary prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (c) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1: Myanmar, A/HRC/WG.6/10/MMR/3, Geneva, para 65; United Nations Human Rights Council (2010b) Summary prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with paragraph 15 (b) of the annex to Human Rights Council resolution 5/1: Myanmar, A/HRC/WG.6/10/MMR/2, Geneva para 64.
  49. Reference 28 p.9
  50. Reference 14 p.21
  51. Reference 14 p.19
  52. Reference 14 p.19
  53. Reference 13 p.44
  54. Reference 13 p.13
  55. Reference 28 pp.25-26
  56. Reference 30
  57. Reference 30
  58. Reference 30
  59. Reference 1 p.5
  60. Burma Lawyer’s Council (n.d.) A grim perspective for Burmese of women, available at http://www.socwatch.org/node/11603, accessed 7 February 2011.
  61. Reference 30
  62. BBC (n.d.) Burma Country Profile, available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/country_profiles/1300003.stm, accessed 13 March 2011

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