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Interview

Mar Mar Cho: ‘I Don’t Want Women’s Participation Just for Show’

Mar Mar Cho of the Women’s Organization Network of Myanmar talks about the role of women in modern Burma, where she says discrimination persists.


RANGOON — Mar Mar Cho is the coordination officer of the Women’s Organization Network of Myanmar (WON), a network providing training on women and peace, gender equality and women in leadership. She recently shared with The Irrawaddy her views of the role of women in modern Burma, a country that she says still has a long way to go on the women’s rights front.

What is WON working on at the moment?

We are an advocacy group working on the advancement of women, including their role in the peace process and politics, gender equality, women’s rights and justice.

What areas does WON focus on most in educating women?

We mainly educate on the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW]. The Burmese government says there is no violence or discrimination against women in Burma. But it does exist until now, and women themselves do not know that it exists. We are also educating women to better enable them to participate in politics.

What difficulties does your organization face in providing leadership training to women?

We have been calling for the participation of women in decision-making processes and 30 percent of seats reserved for women in Parliament, and providing related training and education. As a result, women now recognize their leadership abilities and the need to participate in decision-making. Women are now encouraged to take part in ward and village administration. Yet there remains discrimination. Since we are traditionally not the breadwinner, we are rejected from taking ward/village administrator posts. We are only allowed to take lower positions.

What benefits do you think leadership training for women can deliver?

We ourselves have received training and have then shared what we learned with others. So, many women come to recognize that they have leadership skills and are ready to take leadership positions. I believe many women will be able to take part in administration, from ward/village level to the national level in 2015. We are also preparing to contest the 2015 elections.

Do you think a quota of 30 percent of Parliament’s seats for women is achievable?

To make it a reality, we have to speak in a single, united voice and bring it forward to the Parliament. There are lady lawmakers in Parliament now, but they are not the ones who we want to be there. What we want is women engaged in civil society, female staffers in government departments and women elected by the people.

What measures are you taking to win support for a reserved bloc for women in Parliament?

We need to rally support for it. We are taking steps to advocate for it in Parliament and we need to do it through a campaign.

How many members are there in WON?

We cover the entire nation. We have links with many networks. For example, WON in northern Shan State is composed of 23 networks. We are networking with most women’s organizations.

Some female military representatives entered Parliament this year to replace their male counterparts. What do you think of that?

They are women, but from the military. It shouldn’t be that all female lawmakers are from the military. We are also providing capacity-building training for women so that women engaged in social welfare work can join the Parliament.

Do you think the women planning to contest the 2015 elections have the right leadership skills for it?

They currently are taking charge of women’s networks. Some of them are from Karen and Shan states and Dawei [in Tenasserim Division]. We are providing relevant training to them. If necessary, we have a plan to offer intensive training. Currently, there are around 10 women members of our network who will contest the 2015 elections.

What else do you want to say about women’s participation in society?

Apart from female staff in the government, I would like to call for the participation of women from civil society and women with leadership abilities in all decision-making processes. Women in government departments do not represent the entirety of womanhood. I also don’t want women being allowed to participate just for show. I would like to stress that harmonious and collaborative efforts are necessary for national development.