YANGON — Participants of the Women, Peace and Security Forum in Yangon last week urged for more women to be included in Myanmar’s peace process.
In particular, female delegates must be involved in security discussions, one of the five key sectors of the 21st Century Panglong Union peace conference that currently sees little or no women participating, attendees told The Irrawaddy.
The two-day forum organized by the Myanmar Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS) at Yangon’s Panda Hotel was attended by 180 representatives from different states and regions with discussions on female participation in the peace process, preventing sexual violence in conflict areas, and combating discrimination against women.
Military men on both sides dominate peace discussions that focus solely on military issues and rarely touch upon issues affecting women and children in conflict zones, said attendee Daw Lu Mai of the Waingmaw Township Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).
As almost all victims of sexual violence during conflict are women or girls, their voices must be included, she told The Irrawaddy.
“Women know more about the problems in communities than men do,” she said, using food shortages in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps as an example.
According to government figures, of the 910 attendees of the 21st Century Panglong Union peace conference in May, only 154 were women—17 percent.
“If women lead, there are successes—they have the capacity to take leadership roles,” said Naw Mildred, vice-chairperson of Tanintharyi Region’s Joint Ceasefire Monitoring Committee, praising the recent inclusion of women in the committee and advocating that more women should be involved.
She said women also play a role in helping other women and children scarred by conflict: “In my work, I help process cases of rape, including of children. Women are in a better positioned to comprehend the feelings of those victims,” she said
Attendees from Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Mon and Karen states and Tanintharyi Region discussed how to further female participation in security issues, the peace process and promote the role of women in preventing conflicts and violence against women.
Director of MIGS Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo told The Irrawaddy that women’s opinions and needs differed across the states and regions and said it was crucial to include all their voices in strategies for peace.
“Perspectives on security from Karen women would not be the same as that of their peers in the Irrawaddy Region—local people from respective areas should be included when talking about the security of a specific region,” she said.
Women from across the country discussed improving protection for women and providing counseling and rehabilitation for those affected by trauma, as well as how to face up to family and community members who believed women should not be involved in politics.
Kachin participant Mung Hkawng Tu said: “It is important that men understand the rights of women—only then will they be more willing to protect women.”
Daw Khin Ma Ma Myo said they planned to compile a book on voices at the forum to be used as a reference for drafting strategies for women, peace and security.
They hope to publish the book before the International Day of Peace on September 21.