NAYPYIDAW — The inclusion of women in peace talks slightly increased during the second session of the 21st Century Panglong conference with an estimated 20 percent representation, although it has not yet reached the minimum target threshold of 30 percent.
Overall, an estimated 146 of the total 740 delegates (19.73 percent) were women, according to the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP), which published its evaluation paper on Monday.
Government spokesperson U Zaw Htay said that they would continue to strive to reach 30 percent women’s representation, as is outlined in the framework for political dialogue. However, AGIPP’s numbers remain an estimate, as government representatives could not provide an official number or percentage of the women delegates present during the recent conference, despite being asked about the issue by numerous reporters.
Women at the recent peace conference participated as delegates, facilitators and issue-specific experts and observers. They were undoubtedly visible, but conference observers noted that many of the women present at the event were not there in a decision-making capacity, instead serving as police officers, administrative support staff, and cleaners.
AGIPP reported in 2016 that in the conference’s first session, held in August and September, there were 97 women out of 663 total delegates (14.6 percent). The majority of these women represented the ethnic armed organizations, many of which did not attend the most recent session because the groups have not signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).
This year, the female delegates were from only eight ethnic armed organizations—the NCA signatory groups—as well as the government, Parliament, Burma Army and various political parties.
Government spokesperson U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy last Friday that the government had instructed each ministry to carefully select the women representatives for the peace conference, choosing those who were “experts on the issues and who could contribute fully to the process.”
He said that most of those women were from the social welfare sector, and therefore the government had stronger female representation in the discussion on the social sector than they did on the political and security sectors.
Fifty-six women out of 167 total delegates participated in the proceedings surrounding the social sector, sharing their perspectives on the reintegration of refugees and internally displace persons from Burma’s civil war and various natural disasters. Arguably missing from this discussion, and the basic social sector principles agreed upon, was a focus on education and health.
According to the delegates, women also actively participated in the economic sector discussion, in which federal economic policies were discussed.
The basic principles outlined in the land and environment sector ensured the equal ownership of land by both men and women in accordance with land laws, one of the women’s key concerns.
The fewest women were present in the security sector discussion: 13 participants out of 133. Yet, AGIPP described these individuals as “highly active” in the talks.
Delegates who participated in the political sector discussion told The Irrawaddy that there was no consensus concerning the theme of gender equality during the discussion.
“Gender equality, which is under the equality principle, was left to proceed in discussions for the next rounds of talks,” said Naw May Oo, the stakeholder representing the Karen National Union, “as it is not attractive during the talk, even though it is under the equality principle.”
“As long as we think gender equality should not be a priority, we [the country] will be behind, because we, women, are 51 percent of the total population,” she added.
In its paper, AGIPP also urged the government and relevant stakeholders to pay attention to the recommendations of the CEDAW (Convention on the End of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) committee in drafting future laws and state constitutions, so as to ensure gender equality and prevent the discrimination against women.
The delegates are optimistic that greater inclusion of women in the peace talks “will help ease hindrances” which cannot be solved only between men.
“Now women’s voices for peace have become loudly heard, and everyone pays attention when it comes to peace,” said Daw San Wint Khaing, the Pa-O ethnic affairs minister in Mon State, who attended the conference as the Mon State representative.
“The stakeholders have become aware that peace is key for creating a good future for the women, young children, and the elders,” minister Daw San Wint Khiang told The Irrawaddy on Monday, adding that peace would be implemented sooner for the sake of women, children and the elderly.
Daw Htoot May, a Lower House lawmaker representing the Arakan National Party told The Irrawaddy that at least 30 percent of women lawmakers joined the peace conference and took part in the discussions.
She is hopeful that as long as the federal principles agreed to can address the political problems, women’s participation and the role of women in decision making will follow.
“We did not see a women’s section created, as the key theme was how to form a federal state,” she said. “When we can create a federal system, I don’t think there will be discrimination against men or women.”
The second 21st Century Panglong peace conference session concluded with the signing of 37 of 45 basic principles negotiated during the six-day event, but key principles concerning those of equality, self-determination and the secession were left to be addressed in future negotiations.