Burma Launches National Plan to Empower Women

By The Irrawaddy 7 October 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s government has launched a national strategic plan to empower women, in a country where about 95 percent of lawmakers are male and women face major barriers to employment and health care.

The National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (NSPAW) was developed over three years and launched in Naypyidaw last week. The 10-year plan suggests practical ways to address challenges in a dozen priority areas, including initiatives to improve access to education and health care as well as the development of better laws to eliminate gender-based violence and policies to promote equal rights to jobs, credit and resources. It also suggests ways to increase women’s political leadership and harness the media to reduce gender stereotyping.

“Myanmar has a responsibility to ensure that women’s rights are guaranteed. This includes women’s equal access to resources, opportunities and services, and their representation and participation in decision and policy-making at all levels and in all spheres of society,” Myat Myat Ohn Khin, the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, said in a preface to the plan. “It is an ambitious yet achievable plan that will require the political will and commitment of all ministries, non-government organizations and Myanmar’s development partners.”

The plan comes amid calls for greater participation of women in politics by the country’s best-known female lawmaker, Aung San Suu Kyi. Speaking in Naypyidaw on Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate told a forum of female lawmakers from around the world that women in Burma continued to face widespread discrimination and lack sufficient representation in politics, with just 20 female lawmakers in a 659-seat Parliament, according to official statistics. In Burma’s government, women also account for only a handful of the country’s 200 ministers, union ministers and deputy ministers.

The Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement began developing the national strategic plan in 2010, with support from the Gender Equality Network, an inter-agency network comprising dozens of NGOs, UN agencies and civil society groups. The network said the government had never before developed a long-term plan to empower women.

Among initiatives to improve women’s livelihoods, the plan calls for an analysis of women’s inclusion in land and agrarian reform, as well as the establishment of vocational training centers and information centers where women can look for work.

Education initiatives could include the addition of school curricula focused on human rights and gender equality, along with the provision of scholarships for women, while suggested health initiatives include efforts to disaggregate health data by sex and to provide free contraception for women living in poverty, among a number of other projects.

The plan calls to boost the capacity of the police force, judicial officers, health care staff and volunteers to actively respond to and prevent all forms of violence against women and girls; as well as the opening of one-stop services to provide counseling, legal services, health care services and other social services for women who are affected by and vulnerable to violence.

Other planned initiatives include research into wage disparities by gender and sexual harassment in the workplace; activities to boost women’s engagement with the electoral process; mentoring programs for female parliamentarians to improve leadership skills; and the application of quota systems to ensure women’s participation in legislative, judicial and executive bodies.

Government agencies are tasked with implementing the plan along with national and international NGOs, UN agencies, private agencies and civil society. For each priority area, a subcommittee will be established comprising ministry officials and other stakeholders. A five-year operational plan will be developed to coordinate and prioritize the implementation of strategic policies, plans and legislative reforms.

The launch of the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women follows a historic women’s forum in Rangoon last month, with hundreds of activists and policy makers gathering to discuss women’s rights. The forum ended with calls for amendments to the Constitution to ensure gender equality and greater legal protection for women.