RANGOON — A historic women’s forum wrapped up in Rangoon over the weekend, with activists calling for greater legal protections for women and amendments to the country’s Constitution.
At the Myanmar Women’s Forum, a three-day event organized by the Thailand-based Women’s League of Burma (WLB) and the Burma-based Women’s Organization Network (WON), more than 400 activists and policy makers came to discuss gender equality as well as the role of women in Burma’s peace process.
“Women have been suffering from sexual harassment and violence at the domestic level, community level and state level,” San Nyein Thu, a patron of the WLB, said in a statement on Tuesday. “To ensure promotion of women’s life and equality, and to ensure the legal protection of women, the current 2008 constitution needs to be reviewed and amended in accordance with the CEDAW.”
The CEDAW, or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations and is described as an international bill of rights for women. Burma has committed to the convention, which defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end discrimination.
As Burma reforms after nearly half a century of military rule, the women’s forum was the first to be organized in cooperation from ethnic women inside and outside the country. Women lawmakers, peace activists and ethnic leaders attended the event, including Susanna Hla Hla Soe of the Karen Women’s Action Group (KWAG).
“It is important that women take up leadership roles in the peace process. At the same time, there is an urgent need to bring justice to women who suffered from wars and to cure their resulting trauma,” she said in the statement.
Shwe Shwe Sein Lat of WON added, “In order for women to take political leadership roles, there is a need to put in place specific legal provisions.”
Participants at the forum have also agreed to send a signed petition to President Thein Sein calling for the immediate and unconditional release of women activists including Naw Ohn Hla, Bau Ja, Mi Mi Khine and Myint Myint Aye.
The women’s forum comes on the heels of a seminar last week on gender and development organized by the World Bank and co-hosted by Burma’s Ministry of Social Welfare and Relief and Resettlement. The World Bank was launching two reports on gender equality and development globally and regionally.
“Since these reports explore key gender issues around the world and in the region as well as provides recommendations for policy enhancement, we will make a connection between our current policies and guidelines with these recommendations,” Myat Myat Ohn Khin, minster for social welfare, relief and resettlement, said in a statement.
The World Bank said a series of reforms were under way by the ministry to empower women in the country. However, it said major challenges remained, including high maternal mortality rates and unequal pay for women, as well as low representation of women in politics.