In Person

Activist Says it’s Critical that More Women Participate in Myanmar’s Peace Process

By San Yamin Aung 20 December 2017

YANGON — Katherine Ronderos, director of LIMPAL Colombia, was invited by the Norwegian Embassy to participate in a Women, Peace and Security workshop in Yangon on Dec. 14-15, conducted in collaboration with Myanmar’s Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process.

LIMPAL Colombia is a branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and a member of the National Women and Peace Summit. It is also one of the leading organizations working to monitor implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which provides a framework for improving women’s participation in the peace process.

She spoke with The Irrawaddy on Friday about her views on Myanmar’s peace process and women’s movement and about how important it is to include women in the peace process.

What do you think about the women’s rights movement in Myanmar?

I am sure there are very strong movements and I am sure they are reaching a lot of women at grass-root level, and I think that’s important to have. We discussed today how we reach those…women and men from other sectors that probably are not interested in the peace agreement or that are not interested in the political issues. But we need to get them interested because it’s also important for them and for everybody.

How important is it for the peace process to be all-inclusive?

We need to include everybody because sometimes when people are in the cities they don’t know much about what is happening in the conflict. That is related to them as well because it’s [about the] future of the country. We need to get them involved, to get them interested in the political issues, to participate, to debate, because I am sure the differences here make a very rich country. But also we need to manage those differences in the different way.

What is important is to talk about reconciliation. It’s about compromising, it’s about tolerance, it’s about respect, it’s about inclusion and how we make our voices heard, how we dialogue with others who are different [from] us, how we resolve the problems in a very positive way without violence, without arms. So, understanding the other, recognizing the other.

Why is it important for women to participate in the peace process?

Women’s participation is very important because we are citizens of this country. We have the right to participate. Nobody should discriminate [against] our participation just because we are women. Secondly, women are the center of the family, are the center of the society, are the ones holding families together, are the ones holding communities together, and they are the ones who know how to reconstruct the social fabric of the society.

Researches show when women participate in peace negotiations there is a better chance that peace is sustainable, that it will last longer.  So we need to make sure that every effort has women’s voices and women’s participation to make sure that it will be sustainable. Because they know the risk society faces when conflicts happen, and we have the right to decide what we want for our country.

What differences do you see between the peace processes in Colombia and in Myanmar?

I think there are a lot of differences. Because although we have been in conflict for sixty years, similar [to] Myanmar, but here in Myanmar it is ethnic-based conflict. It’s been about exclusion [of] some groups to decide and to participate. In Columbia we don’t have [a] variety of ethnic groups. But the conflict is about exclusion of the poor, of the rural people, no opportunity for them, no health, no education, and no job. That’s why, for example, the armed actors and the armed groups in Colombia are requesting political participation. And I guess that could be a similar issue here. We need to start talking about political representation for those representatives of ethnic groups.

You may know that Myanmar has not yet met the target of 30 percent female participation in the peace process, as called for by women’s rights groups. The share has increased slightly but it’s still only 17 percent. How would you suggest raising it further?

There are many ways. One is preparing women to access political spaces. For example, we don’t feel like we are ready to participate politically. You will need to get them education. We need to get prepared to get them knowledge. Two is to have other women’s support. We need our constituency, we need our support groups for women to decide to do that step, to enter the political arena. Three, we need also generous support. We need to break that mindset that women are only able to be in the house, to cook, to look after the children.  We need to break that in the society and to tell the society that women are intelligent.

What advice do you have for men?

I think it is important for men to understand that it is important for the society as a whole to talk about gender equality because in the end the beneficiaries are the [societies] in general. We need men to stop thinking women are not good, women are useless, and start thinking women bring new ideas and new perspectives and new views on how to resolve the problems. Then they will have [a] better society, better family, and children with better education. So we need to start with the family as well.