NAYPYITAW — The ruling National League for Democracy does not support the implementation of a quota system for women in positions of political leadership. However, party chairwoman Daw Aung San Suu Kyi believes women could take up such roles when they have the necessary skills, said Dr. May Win Myint, the head of the NLD’s Central Women’s Committee.
Thus, the party is focusing more on empowering its women members, she told reporters in Naypyitaw on Monday, the last day of the NLD women members’ three-day meeting.
“We do not accept a quota system [for female participation in leadership], and neither does Daw Suu [Aung San Suu Kyi],” said Dr. May Win Myint, also a lower house lawmaker. She said she met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on the first day of the Women’s Committee meeting [June 30] “and she told us to empower women and to build up their skills and not to talk about a quota.”
But Dr. May Win Myint reaffirmed that “if our women become more interested in politics and are capable, we will take up to 50 or 60 percent (of the leadership positions), not only a 30 percent quota. She [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi] also stressed that if a quota is implemented for women but those women are not capable, it “would attract more condemnation of them.”
Given her position as the de facto head of the state, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not physically participating in the NLD party congress or this meeting. This was the first such gathering held by the NLD of its approximately 800 representatives of its women’s committees at the township, state and regional levels. They were also joined by the party’s central executive committee members. The women exchanged views about their activities in their respective regions and how they could be empowered by financial procedures, the law, health and the peace process.
The committee’s chairwoman said they could not include women leaders at the village and ward levels this time due to difficulties related to the venue, but promised they would try to include them in their second meeting after 2020.
The NLD’s stance of not pushing for a quota for women raised doubts among some advocates as to whether the party understands their needs and the significance of having a stepping-stone to bring more women into politics, especially in this period of peacebuilding. Women organizations have been long calling for more women participating in the peace process so that women could represent the voices of their more vulnerable peers and women in conflict zones.
Nang Phyu Phyu Lin, a women’s rights advocate, said that when enough information is shared among the women representatives and their will to push their case is supported, it will help change perspectives.
“If those women delegates who have the right to speak for others are provided with the information on the political sector as well as on gender equality, and if they discuss these issues effectively, there won’t be questions on why women are central to the peace process,” she told The Irrawaddy.
Dr. May Win Myint acknowledged the suffering of women in conflict zones and noted that the peace talks would only be “comprehensive” when the voices of those war-displaced women are heard.
The role of women in politics is not a simple one, however, as they are not always equipped with the skills they need to perform ably, in addition to struggling to win acceptance from the community. Women have been village-heads in conflict-torn Karen State for the past four to five decades and a few women continue to take up the top roles in local administrations nationwide, either as village heads or as the head of wards in each community, in the cabinet and in the legislature.
The 2008 Constitution does not specifically state that there should be a quota for women in leadership positions. Unlike in Nepal, where a quota for women is enshrined in the Constitution, Myanmar does not have such a legal stipulation, added Dr. May Win Myint.
“When people gain trust in women, they will vote for them,” she said, referring to women administrators, “thus, we have to empower our women first.” In Myanmar, there are currently 89 women village or ward administrators who were elected by their communities, up from 87 in 2017.
Dr. May Win Myint recalled that even though Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her party always prioritize women and youth in the selection for candidates when their skills are equivalent to those of men, as a result of the selection process at the ground level, the NLD currently has very few women representatives in the party.
The NLD leadership has been upholding its policy that the constitutional changes will be made through peace negotiations and the peace conferences. However, in the upcoming third session of the 21st Century Panglong peace conference, only the gender equality issue under the social affairs sector and the economics, land and environmental sectors are in focus, as it has been agreed the key federal principles in the political and security sectors would not be discussed during the planned six-days talks next week.
Despite the NLD’s efforts to amend the charter, under which a quarter of parliamentary seats are reserved for military appointees, Dr. May Win Myint also cautioned members about talking about removing Tatmadaw appointees from the legislature.
“I would like to warn you not to say anything about soldiers because it is a causes friction,” said the NLD lawmaker. “In our history, the Tatmadaw has always been involved in politics and we cannot remove them, thus we don’t accept it [removing them].”
Meanwhile, news that the NLD had selected the wife of an incumbent major as its representative from the Sagaing Region on its committee had caused a dispute over whether to accept someone affiliated with an active member of the military.
Dr. May Win Myint added that she was amazed to learn about the woman and she had no comment as the local members from Sagaing had selected her as their representative.
Written by Nyein Nyein. The Irrawaddy reporters Htet Naing Zaw and Moe Moe, who are based in Naypyitaw, contributed to this.