The Irrawaddy

‘Lack of Awareness’ Hinders Fight Against Workplace Discrimination

Workers iron and arrange clothing at a garment factory at Hlaing Tar Yar industry zone in YangonMarch 10, 2010. Western sanctions that have decimated Myanmar's once-thriving garment sector have led to a rare spate of strikes that have unnerved its military rulers, fearful of civil unrest in the run-up to long-awaited elections. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun (MYANMAR - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS MILITARY CIVIL UNREST) - RTR2BG0I

YANGON – The Myanmar Center for Responsible Business (MCRB) launched its research on combating discrimination in the Myanmar workplace on Thursday at the Rose Garden Hotel, Yangon.

Lack of awareness, director Vicky Bowman said, is the biggest obstacle in this regard.

“Awareness is not coming through education, not coming through leadership, not coming through law and government,” she explained, adding that students in Myanmar schools are “not taught about diversity and inclusion,” which then continues into the workplace.

“We would like to see all companies combat discrimination and make a commitment to having inclusivity, diversity and equal opportunity as core business values,” Ms. Bowman said.

The briefing paper presented at the event aimed to help companies address discrimination in hiring practices, and provides practical recommendations to companies to address challenges, including forging a policy commitment, implementation, and grievance mechanisms.

It was highlighted that within Myanmar, groups vulnerable to discrimination by authorities, society, and legal mechanisms include women, ethnic and religious minorities, the LGBT community, people living with HIV, and those with disabilities.

Program director of the Myanmar Deaf Community Development Association, U Kyaw Kyaw said he has experienced this first-hand.

“I have faced numerous types of discrimination in society and the workplace. It become my strength; it pushed me to be a rights defender for disabled people,” he explained, calling on all people to collaborate to build a community based on equality.

Vicky Bowman acknowledged that people with disabilities have more barriers to confront and face discrimination in education, infrastructure, and in the needs that go unmet in the workplace and through cultural practices.

The paper stated that out of 17.2 million children in Myanmar, 1.35 percent—or more than 232,000 are living with disabilities. According to the 2014 census, of these, 65 percent are not enrolled in formal education. The lack of education opportunities clearly has a significant negative impact in later life of the children with disabilities.

In June 2017, MCRB held a consultation meeting in order to air concerns on discrimination, and formed recommendations to businesses in the briefing paper

Executive director of Colors Rainbow, Daw Khin Ma Ma Aye, stated at Thursday’s launch that it is common for LGBT people to experience discrimination in the hiring process, as they deal with problems with ID cards and self-stigmas.

“It’s important to have awareness and understanding of diversity of gender in the workplace from an HR session,” she said.

Some individuals face discrimination for multiple parts of their identities, for example women who are members of ethnic minorities, or women with disabilities.

The paper is a part of a series published by MCRB. Other papers include “Indigenous People’s Rights and Business in Myanmar,” and “Land,” and “Children’s Rights and Business.”