‘No Religion Sanctions Violence Against Women’: Interfaith Leaders

By Nyein Nyein 7 March 2016

RANGOON – Religious leaders from four of Burma’s major faiths have called for a change in community attitudes in order to end discrimination and violence against women and girls.

On Saturday, days before International Women’s Day on March 8, religious leaders served as panelists at a discussion entitled “Step up Action to End Discrimination and Violence against Women and Girls: Reflections from a Religious Perspective.” The event was co-organized by UN Women and Religion for Peace (RfP) Myanmar.

Panelists included Dr. Tin Nwe of the Buddhist organization Ratana Metta; Cardinal Charles Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon Archdiocese; Al Haj Aye Lwin, the chief convener of Rangoon’s Islamic Centre; and U Hla Tun, the coordinator of the Hindu Sanatan Dharma Swayamsevak Sangh.

No religion has teachings intended to discriminate against women, said the organizers and panellists, who highlighted how their respective religions call for the equal treatment of every human being, regardless of their gender.

Yet violence and sexual assault against women and girls is still prevalent, as well as discrimination against women in the workplace; participants in the discussion said that behavioral changes are key to ending these practices.

Out of more than 100 participants in the panel discussion, women made up the majority and were also joined by foreign diplomats. They emphasized the need for education to improve women’s leadership at the decision-making level.

Myint Swe, chairman of Ratana Metta Organization and a panel attendee, said that women’s capacity should be utilized beyond the household level.

“Despite it being said that religions praise equality, there is discrimination in reality,” Myint Swe said. “We must change those attitudes. It is not an easy task, but we have to raise awareness that a woman should no longer seen as a baby-maker, a cook or someone to be locked in the house. If we keep [women] in the kitchen, our country will remain behind in development.”

Ratana Metta is a member of the RfP coalition, which has worked to prevent conflict between different faiths, as well as for the social advancement of women and girls in Burma.

Dr. Than Nwe, of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission’s (MNHRC) Policy and Law section, told The Irrawaddy that a widespread campaign to raise awareness on the issue of gender-based violence and discrimination is much needed within Burmese society.

Like others who participated in the discussion, she said that a change in men’s perspectives is crucial in order to educate and empower women.