More Efforts Needed to End Violence Against Women in Myanmar

By Moe Moe 28 November 2019

According to reports by the Ministry of Home Affairs, sexual violence against women has been increasing year by year in Myanmar.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, an annual international campaign aimed at ending violence against women, kicked off on Wednesday in Naypyitaw. The event was attended by government officials, representatives from local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs and INGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs) and women’s rights and human rights activists.

The campaign begins each year on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and runs until Dec. 10, Human Rights Day.

The participants acknowledged ongoing efforts but stressed the need to accelerate the awareness campaign on a wider scale both in urban and rural areas of the country.

The Irrawaddy reporter Moe Moe interviewed several officials about their views on gender-based violence in Myanmar.

Dr. San San Aye

Director-General, Social Welfare Department 

Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement 

We provide help and necessary services to those who suffer from [gender-based] violence. We give them social support and the Ministry of Health provides them with medical services. The Myanmar Police Force, the Union Attorney General’s Office, the Supreme Court of the Union and the Parliament also provide them with legal support. We have now adopted the practice of providing them with help through committees [formed by officials in the relevant departments].

We are also taking measures to prevent these problems. This is the reason why we organize movements like this 16-day campaign. Only with public participation and public awareness can these problems be averted.

We can’t allow sexual violence, especially child rape. So we are conducting the 16-day campaign with the theme “Unite to stop rape.”

We conduct these activities annually, but we need to review their impacts. We have received an increased number of complaints [about sexual violence]. We still need to expand the phone network [of hotlines, making it easier to file complaints]. There are still a lot of difficulties in providing services and the ministry is ready to cooperate with all sides.

Police Lieutenant Colonel Daw Mi Ni Oo

Human Trafficking Squad, Myanmar Police Force  

Women suffer from various types of violence including domestic violence. Human trafficking is also a form of violence. The number of child rape cases [we receive] has also increased recently. Besides sexual violence, there are also cases of psychological abuse against women.

When a woman files a complaint about sexual assault, she is interviewed by a female police officer, so we are working to enhance the capacities of female police officers.

Workshops on responding to gender-based violence are being held in 15 regions and states [including Naypyitaw] under the plan of the UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime]. Those workshops will enhance the capacity of police officers to be able to help victims of psychological and sexual abuse.

Daw Waing Sandi

Project Manager, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

We organized the 16-day campaign last year. We had worked out action plans through panel discussions in last year’s campaign. We’re focused on expanding outreach to victims and we also work in cooperation with UN agencies, NGOs, INGOs and CSOs to design the Protection and Prevention of Violence Against Women Law (PoVAW). We also make sure victims receive appropriate remedies and we work to improve our attempts to secure these remedies.

Today’s event is organized by the Social Welfare Department. But as many agencies and organizations that provide help for victims of gender-based violence are attending the event, this will provide us with a platform to review shortcomings in our work and discuss how to improve our services.

Dr. Khin Soe Soe Kyi

Chairperson, Women and Child Rights Committee of the Lower House

We have been working to pass the PoVAW law. We have received recommendations from the Union Attorney General’s Office on the draft of the PoVAW law. We, representing the Lower House Women and Child Rights Committee, will discuss challenges to implementation of the PoVAW and budget constraints in dealing with women’s issues.

We have budget constraints. The combined budget for all the three departments under the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement is just 1.38 percent [of the total Union Budget]. We have a lot of things to do for women and children. We have now started children’s programs in seven regions and states. We have to use the budget to cover that as well as social pensions.

Daw May Sabe Phyu

Director, Gender Equality Network

Every year, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence event is organized from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10. It is held not only in Myanmar; different forms of public awareness activities are held across the world during this period.

We have organized this campaign since 2012. This year, we women’s organizations will organize the “forever white ribbon campaign” for all 16 days.

Despite the fact that we have been conducting public awareness campaigns on a wide scale, [sharing the message] that violence against women is a crime and a violation of human rights, such awareness is still limited. But it is fair to say that awareness has increased compared to the past, because we have seen increased reports about sexual violence in the media these days.

The more women understand that they can file complaints about sexual abuses, and it is not an embarrassment, the more they have filed complaints with us and reported [abuses] to the media.

But the major obstacle is that [women] don’t understand what actions amount to [sexual] violence. There is still no law in place that can effectively prevent those things. The existing laws are not sufficient and there is a tendency to blame the victims. If perpetrators are punished, this will act as a deterrent for them against committing crimes in the future. If the victims receive the services they need in a systematic way, they will be able to maintain their dignity in the society.

Much remains to be done. We have been working to raise public awareness, but we need to put much greater efforts into it if we are to raise awareness in both urban and rural areas across the country.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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