Pushing the Limits on Burmese Women in Politics

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 8 October 2013

NAYPYIDAW — Foreign and Burmese female lawmakers gathered last week in Naypyidaw to discuss the role of women in politics.

National League for Democracy parliamentarian Phyu Phyu Thin, who is also a well-known campaigner on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS, spoke with The Irrawaddy reporter Kyaw Hsu Mon about being one of only 20 women in the 659-seats of both the upper and lower houses.

Question: It’s been more than one year you become a member of Parliament in the Lower House. Have you seen any discrimination against women during that time?

Answer: It seems to me there is no discriminated by male parliamentarians. Although there are very few women parliamentarians here, all are integrated and working together.

Q: You are over 40, but we can say you are rare as a young female MP. Do you have any difficulties in Parliament because of your age?

A: In the Burmese houses of Parliament, older MPs are holding more seats in total. Actually, their age shows you they are experienced, but, on the other hand, we need more strength from the youth as well. As in other similar countries, Burma needs both elders’ experience and the young people’s force for the country’s development.

Q: Why do you think that we have very few young parliamentarians in Burma, while there are many young MPs in other countries in Asia?

A: Of course, woman MP Nan War Nu is 36, as well as newly elected NLD lawmaker Zay Yar Thaw, who is also only 35. But we need more practical training for young people to get involved in Parliament. There will be more energetic young MPs who can lead in Parliament if we can systematically support people who are interested in politics.

Q: Why are women hesitant to get involved in politics?

A: There are a lot of difficulties that effectively prevent women from getting involved in the political field. Some people say that Burmese women are still behind men in terms of education. Because we have been under the military government for more than 50 years, the women’s role has not been at the front of things. We should give them chance to be at the front, depending on their abilities.

In the past, there were a lot of risks for women involved in politics. They might be jailed. They might be beaten and killed. That is why most women don’t have any involvement in politics. But I believe that if women attempt to actively be involved in political activities, they can be ahead in the sector.

Q: How do male parliamentarians and military representatives behave around women?

A: I’ve seen that all are acting equally, like siblings. But some people—unconsciously—are not impressed by female politicians. I heard in some internal training people telling us we need to try harder if we want get a position. They are just trying to influence us. Actually, they should help us practically rather than telling us to ‘try hard’. We have to ask whether we have gender equality here, because we still can’t perform to the best of our abilities. I feel that men are still scornful of women in politics.

Q: What are the abilities you are unable to perform?

A: Some women have no chance to perform their abilities in politics. For example, some have the business sense—more than men—but Burmese culture limits them. For example married women have to do only jobs around the house. It’s the same with political jobs—women are limited by their families and environment. So they can’t perform their abilities as much as they are capable of in this field.

Q: As a woman MP, what can you do for the country through your position in Parliament?

A: The best example is Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, she is an idol for women here. She is an MP as well as a political leader. She can lead women in society and she is a capable woman. Women’s force is still weak in every sector here. We can say that by comparing women’s involvement in development, anti-corruption efforts and reducing poverty. We need the rule of law to protect Burmese women, and to fight gender discrimination. Women MPs can work for women rights, and we know what our rights are.