Abuse of Women Both Common and Concealed, Say Activists

By Yen Saning 24 November 2014

RANGOON — Many forms of violence against women continue in Burma’s homes and public spaces, despite increased awareness and availability of support. Preliminary research by a leading women’s rights network, published on Monday, revealed some of the less conspicuous but equally traumatic brands of abuse that continue unabated.

“There are still many people who think that only beatings constitute violence against women,” said May Sabae Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network (GEN), which has just published a briefing paper summarizing qualitative research undertaken throughout the last year. The research examined the types of violence experienced by women in their daily lives, a pervasive problem that has gone mostly undocumented in the past.

“Just a few people understood that there are such things as psychological violence, economic violence and using customs and traditions to restrict the lives of women,” she continued.

Publication of the briefing paper, entitled “Behind the Silence: Violence Against Women and their Resilience,” was timed to coincide with the UN-designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which falls on Tuesday. Research was based on interviews with 38 women who had experienced intimate partner violence in Rangoon and Moulmein, Mon State. Focus groups were also conducted in five other sites across Burma.

What distinguishes GEN’s research from previous studies is its focus on non-conflict related abuse; subjects recounted experiences that are commonplace in the lives of Burma’s women, even in times of peace and in stable regions. Most of the interviewees had suffered emotional, economic or physical abuse from their intimate partner, and almost all had experienced more than one kind of abuse.

More than half of the study’s participants experienced intimate partner sexual violence or marital rape, which is not punishable under Burma’s Penal Code.

“This is violence behind the scenes,” said Dr. San Shwe, one of the reports’ lead researchers. “There are lots of psychological consequences. Sometimes a victim is angry and wants to hit a wall or commit suicide. These effects can prevent women from being able to care for their children or their families.”

Many women who experience abuse in Burma stay silent, May Sabae Phyu said, because of social stigma and a chronic cultural habit of victim-blaming. The tendency to fault women for abuses committed against them is not only ingrained in cultural norms but reinforced by laws that activists consider highly unfair to women.

Aye Thiri Kyaw, another researcher who contributed to the report, said that GEN hoped to influence policy and create a better understanding among lawmakers about the actual experiences and needs of the nation’s women, who make up nearly 52 percent of the total population and only 5 percent of its legislature.