Bago Chief Minister Accused of Encouraging Harassment of Myanmar Village Teachers

By Zarni Mann 16 October 2019

MANDALAY – The Myanmar Teachers’ Federation (MTF) says it will complain to the National League for Democracy (NLD) asking for action to be taken against the chief minister of Bago Region, U Win Thein.

The chief minister’s comments about housing for the teachers in remote areas went viral on social media.

At an event in Damangae Village of Nattalin Township, U Win Thein was asked by residents about the lack of housing for teachers.

“If the teachers have to live in the village, they will get married to the villagers. They will stay in the village forever. If not, they will move away and the area will need another teacher. The villagers need to propose to the teachers. That will make the teachers fall in love with the villagers and make them stay forever,” he said on Oct. 5.

People said the teachers had to stay in villagers’ homes.

The chief minister again urged villagers to propose to teachers to persuade them to stay forever, adding that they should do the same for nurses who work at the village clinics.

A recording went viral, leading teachers to demand answers from the chief minister.

“He should not say things like that. Teachers are working in these remote areas with a low salary and sometimes limited safety, especially if they are women,” said Dr. Zaw Myo Hlaing, the secretary of the MTF.

The federation said the chief minister was inviting sexual harassment of vulnerable teachers.

“We will send the complaint to the NLD’s central office. We hope the NLD will show it cares for teachers who are already facing many difficulties,” he said.

The MTF called on the Ministry of Education to provide reasonable housing for teachers, especially female staff.

“We read that the chief minister apologized but we want a public apology, not just through the media,” Dr. Zaw Myo Hlaing added.

Some villages offer teachers housing but it is often so poor they are sometimes forced to move in with villagers instead.

Many teachers reportedly leave their jobs because of poor transport, communications and accommodation, low wages and safety concerns.

The federation said there have been cases of teachers being raped and forced into marriage by villagers. There were also reports of thefts from teachers.

“A teacher was killed after she refused a proposal last month in Taungdwingyi Township. There are many incidents of teachers being raped and forced to marry their rapists,” said Dr. Zaw Myo Hlaing,

A 34-year-old widow and a mother of two teaching in Tatpuaung Village in Magwe Region was murdered in late September by a 20-year-old villager after she rejected his advances and informed the village administrator.

“Since there are many miserable incidents and difficulties for village teachers, the careless words of Chief Minister U Win Thein sparked anger, intense emotion and disappointment in teachers,” said Dr. Sai Khai Myo Tun, a lecturer in international relations at Yangon University.

“As a chief minister, he must not make a joke out of the difficulties of the teachers at basic education schools, especially because they are mostly women in desperate need of safe and proper housing,” he added.

The NLD said it would review the case.

“I think he had no evil intentions, but as a chief minister, he should not have made the comments. But we still do not know all the details,” said U Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for the NLD.