YANGON — In order to promote social cohesion between Muslim, ethnic Arakanese and Hindu communities in northern Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township, the Union government has approved the construction of a women’s center, said social welfare minister Dr. Win Myat Aye.
The minister said the government believes that the center will play a vital role in confidence building, as well as providing development and job opportunities. Women from different communities will be able to exchange opinions on a number of different issues at the center, Dr. Win Myat Aye said.
Daw San San Aye, the director general of the social welfare ministry who is assigned to women’s projects across the country, said the center was a plan made by stakeholders in Maungdaw rather than the ministry.
Over the past two weeks, the Rakhine Women’s Network held a women’s forum in downtown Maungdaw and invited community leaders, government officials, and the prominent South African politician and businessman Roelf Meyer, who is said to have coined the women’s center project.
Daw San San Aye stated that the project would be funded by an international donor and that the site has not yet been selected.
She told The Irrawaddy to reach out to the Center for Diversity and National Harmony for more information, as it has been an active participant. The CDNH could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
“This is the first project of its kind in Maungdaw and the government expects good outcomes,” Daw San San Aye added.
Daw Yin Myat Oo, who organized the women’s forum in Maungdaw, said the center would likely be located between Myo Thu Gyi village and the entrance of Maungdaw town. She added that initial meetings between Muslim and ethnic Arakanese participants focused on combatting domestic violence, tackling unemployment among women in the region, human trafficking, and a free exchange of views between the two sides to promote harmony.
Rohingya Muslim women in Maungdaw face many restrictions and do not have much access to education. This exchange could help them realize what they need, said Daw Yin Myat Oo.
Daw Nu Nu Khin, a Muslim community leader said that Muslim women are restricted from freedom of movement and that their lack of education could be attributed to discrimination in government schools.
She estimated that the literacy rate of Muslim women in Maungdaw could be as low as 1 percent and added that even after graduating, these women are unable to obtain jobs in government departments. She hopes this will change in the future.
Daw Nu Nu Khin told The Irrawaddy that women have been trying to implement such a center in recent years, but that it was put on hold following Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacks on border guard posts in August 2017 and subsequent Myanmar Army clearance operations in Rakhine State that forced some 700,00 Rohginya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The army has been accused of widespread extrajudicial killings, rape and arson. A UN report stated that the Myanmar Army acted with “genocidal intent” and the international community has called for accountability.
Daw Nu Nu Khin elaborated that the majority of Muslim women, particularly in northern Rakhine State’s strife-torn Maungdaw district, are unable to explain properly even where they lived and worked in their daily lives. They were by far the most vulnerable group in the wake of 2017 Rakhine crisis, she said.
According to government statistics, nearly 430,000 Rohingya women lived in Maungdaw and Rathedaung Township before the 2017 conflict. It’s unclear how many Muslim women remain in these towns.
In terms of the women’s center in Maungdaw, prominent Myanmar women’s rights and peace activist Ma May Sabe Phyu, also director of the Gender Equality Network, remarked that initiating trust building between women from different communities is beneficial, as women are more flexible and better negotiators than men.
Women in conflict zones face numerous challenges in their daily lives and they will come together to share resources and avoid clashes post conflict, she said.
“Hatred indiscriminately targets all women, no matter what they believe,” said Daw May Sabe Phyu.