Calls for More Women in Peace Process on European Study Tour

By Nyein Nyein 2 May 2016

GENEVA, Switzerland — Bringing more women into Burma’s peace process and construction of a federal state is crucial, several of the country’s female leaders said during a training tour in Europe last month.

The women have played various roles in Burma’s peace process and were invited to Switzerland and Norway to learn more about federalism, peace and security issues, and women’s empowerment. Both European countries are staunch supporters of conflict resolution in Burma.

The participants reflected on how a political dialogue could be conducted in Burma and how federalism could enrich the country’s young democracy.

Naw Zipporah Sein, the vice chair of the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic armed organization that signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government last year, said: “A federal system is best-suited to Burma to ensure equality and democratic rights.”

“Our public needs to understand how to share power, resources and tax revenue,” she said. “Participation from the people in these core aspects of the federal state is essential.”

Meanwhile, Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said last Wednesday that the government was planning to hold a 21st century “Panglong-style” conference within the next two months, referring to a 1947 agreement Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, forged with several major ethnic minorities.

“[This conference] would be a good venue to talk about federal principles,” Zipporah Sein said, adding that she hoped the government “creates a space” to include all of the country’s ethnic groups, even ones that did not participate in last year’s ceasefire signing.

Zipporah Sein said that the commitment of the Burma Army, also known as the Tatmadaw, would be important to building genuine peace and a federal union. Additionally, there needed to be reforms within both the Tatmadaw and the ethnic armed organizations, she continued.

Chin Chin, an ethnic Chin peace negotiator and the director of the Nationalities Brotherhood Federation, agreed that power sharing among the states and the central government was important to creating a truly federal system like the one used in Switzerland.

“We are now able to talk about federalism, something which had been barred from discussion under the military regime,” she said. “That makes me satisfied.”

The delegation is the fourth group to study federalism in Switzerland and was made up of women from ethnic armed organizations, political parties, lawmakers, peace envoys, civil society groups, women’s affairs organizations and journalists.

Ja Seng Hkawn Maran, a Kachin State parliamentarian from the Kachin State Democracy Party, said that in order to have more women participate in decision-making processes, “We have to change our mindset [that only men can lead], which has been deeply ingrained in us.”

“Not just the men, but we women too must change our attitudes so that we can learn and lead,” she said. “We must cooperate and share responsibilities so that we can achieve equality and basic human rights.”

Tin Tin Latt, the vice chair of the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, said that the knowledge she gained about conflict resolution and federalism during the trip would help her as a participant in Burma’s peace process.

“The information [about federalism] is all new to me,” she said. “We can take some of these practices and apply them [to building our country].”

The Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation (MWAF) is the largest women’s organization in Burma and boasts the wives of generals and high-ranking military officers as its leaders.

“I am now going to share this knowledge with other women in the MWAF, so that they know when building a federal government, collaboration and respecting minority rights are key,” Tin Tin Latt said.

Switzerland, a federal state, previously hosted three delegations: the Karen National Union (KNU), the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and representatives from the Burma Army. Both the KNU and the RCSS signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in October 2015.

Last month’s delegation focused on Switzerland’s federalism, the role of the police and the army in state building, power sharing among the central government and regional counterparts, ceasefire processes and minority rights protection under a federal state.

Co-organized by SwissPeace and the Burmese NGO Nyein Foundation, and supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the delegation stayed in Switzerland for 10 days and attended two days of seminars in Norway with support from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

Editor’s Note: The author of this story was among the women’s delegation visiting Switzerland and Norway.