Women’s Federation to Undergo Overhaul

By Htet Naing Zaw 27 December 2016

NAYPYIDAW — The Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation (MWAF) will be restructured as an independent organization that represents the country’s women, announced the Myanmar National Committee for Women’s Affairs (MNCWA).

The MWAF was formed in December 2003 as a non-governmental organization by wives of senior government officials and military officers under the military regime.

At that time, the wives of then Snr-Gen Than Shwe, then Vice Snr-Gen Maung Aye, and then Gen Shwe Mann served as honorary patrons while the wife of former Gen Khin Nyunt chaired the MWAF.

Wives of state leaders have continued to act as honorary patrons and presidents of the MWAF under successive governments. The federation was widely viewed as affiliated with the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), which became a political party ahead of the 2010 election.

In the current structure, wives of the heads of general administration departments take chairperson positions in women’s affairs associations at division, state, and township levels while the central executive commission member positions are reserved for wives of senior leaders.

“It needs to undergo a restructuring if we want to see it as an independent civil society organization,” said Dr. Win Myat Aye, chairperson of the MNCWA which was formed in 2013 as a government committee for the advancement of women.

“We have held discussions with the MWAF and said that it needs to be reorganized with active and independent individual women,” said Dr. Win Myat Aye, who is also the Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

Following the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) resulting from the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995, the first ever MNCWA was formed on July 3, 1996 to ensure security and development for women.

However, the committee’s limitations eventually led to the formation of the MWAF on Dec. 20 the same year.

According to its website, the MWAF has six departments and six working groups engaged in the prevention of trafficking and violence against women and promotion of their livelihoods and social status.

Daw May Sabe Phyu, a women’s rights activist and director of the Gender Equality Network, has welcomed the move, suggesting that a complete overhaul of the federation both in terms of policy and membership is necessary.

She criticized the current top-down structure and said she hoped an independent organization not affiliated with any political party or the government would be able to serve the interests of women.

“Though our country now has a government and citizens that want change, there are still many people who resist change,” she told The Irrawaddy, expressing her concerns about the viability of the plan.

Lawmaker Daw Ei Ei Pyone asked the government if it had a plan to transform the Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MCWA) and the MWAF as independent organizations in the Upper House session on Nov. 17.

Union Minister for Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe promised to transform the MCWA into an independent organization, but said that he was not responsible for the MWAF.

Daw Ei Ei Pyone pursued her question with the Union government where Dr. Win Myat Aye replied that he would take action in cooperation with the MWAF for restructuring in line with rules and regulations.

“It does not matter who takes the chairperson positions, what is important is she must be a woman activist dedicated to the welfare of women,” Dr. Win Myat Aye told The Irrawaddy.