A musical showcase will be held in Rangoon on Mar. 8, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, as part of efforts to promote and protect the rights of women in Burma. Organized by Oxfam and the Women’s Organizations Network of Myanmar, the ‘Advancing Opportunities for Women’ event will feature a performance by famous ethnic Chin singer Sone Thin Par, who recently spoke to The Irrawaddy’s Yu Mon Kyaw about gender inequality, domestic violence, and the need for greater female participation in the workforce.
Question: What made you decide to take part in the musical performance and other activities organized by Oxfam?
Answer: Oxfam invited me. At first, I did not much about them, but later I came to know that they provide much support to women, and I accepted their invitation gladly. The first activity I took part in was a song composition contest. There were many songs and we had had great difficulty in choosing the best of the best. We chose four songs and I myself sang one with younger singers. Since then, I hadn’t been involved in Oxfam activities for a long time until I accepted the decision to sing on International Women’s Day a week ago.
I am an ethnic woman and I am proud that I was able to work with an organization that is working for women. I am glad that I had the chance to participate. It is worthwhile singing the songs if Myanmar women who listen to the songs get positive encouragement. Though we are calling for the advancement of women, it is impossible without the participation of women. I hope that women gain more leadership positions than now and hold important positions in any field they choose.
Q: Do you think that women share equal rights with men in Burma?
A: When I joined Oxfam, I had a chance to see accurate data, and I now feel sorry that the roles given to women are too limited. I am proud that they do very well in the roles they take, but the numbers are too small. So, I feel like I am also responsible for it.
Q: You are an ethnic person and also a woman. Have you ever been treated unfairly?
A: Generally, I think whether a girl is mistreated or not depends on her own family. I am interested in both music and sports and my father supported me a lot. His support was a driving force for me. He is my hero. So, I think it is determined largely by one’s family. In my circle, there is no mistreatment of women. I don’t feel inferior because my family is on my side. I went to school when I was four, and my elder brother only began at six. We went to school together and we grew up together, and so I never feel inferior for being a woman.
Q: You mean you have enjoyed equal rights with men since you were a child?
A: Yes, in my case. Personally, I think it is a long way before women enjoy equal rights with men. Much more remains to be done for women to be able to participate in important sectors f society. The number of able women either in business or politics is very small. So, I don’t want women to feel depressed, but I also want to say that their opportunities are in their hands.
Q: In which social classes do you believe women are suffering from mistreatment? What measures do you think should be taken to reduce inequality?
A: Mistreatment exists in every social class. Housewives especially are subjected to mistreatment. Many able women have to devote themselves to their household chores after they get married. They make no more use of their skills. I have seen this happen to women around me. They subjugate themselves to the needs of their children. That concept is wrong. They can do many things while raising their children if they divide the duties with their husbands.
I met a female trainer at Oxfam who was very smart. Her husband is also an educated man. She said when she decided to do a degree that was higher than her husband’s qualifications, he did not allow her to do so, saying he would divorce her if she did. In the end she divorced her husband. She said they went along with each other when her educational status was lower than his, but they did not see eye to eye when her status was higher than his.
Q: It is said that housewives with no income are more likely to be mistreated by their husbands. What is your impression?
A: I think it is more concerned with attitude of men than the whether or not housewives are earners. Some men do not want to physically harm women. They are virtuous. Others are not. Domestic violence is the worst type of abuse. It is not a fight between two men. A man who bullies his wife tarnishes his own dignity. It is to do with the attitude of men and their environment.
Q: What about your marriage? How is your life as a singer, housewife and a mother?
A: My husband is like a friend to me. He supports me in whatever I do and I also want his support. I want to share my achievements with him and I also want to be beside him when he succeeds. I take care of my baby when I am at home, but when I am at work and away on a trip, he takes care of him. Women who work take pride in who they are, and our husbands need to understand us.
Q: How important is it that husbands understand their working wives?
A: In my case, I got married after I became a singer, so he understands my job. It is not that he loves my voice, but he respects my job and vice versa. I don’t mean our marriage is a perfect one, but we at least try to respect each other. When I had our baby, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able sing any more, but my husband and my mother encouraged me.
Q: What do you want to say about International Women’s Day?
A: Though we are talking about women’s rights, it is not only the concern of women. Men would be very lonely if there were no women in this world. In taking this opportunity, I want to urge men to support and create opportunities for women.