Uphill struggle for ethnic women in peace talks participation

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Women from ethnic minorities face an uphill battle to scale up their participation in ethnic political parties as well as in the peace process, a recent study reveals.

The inclusion of women was held back by a gender imbalance work environment and discrimination, where majority of men are in leadership positions, and a lack of public support.

Women’s League for Burma, a local women’s rights organisation, and US-based Carter Center concluded the study “Broadening Participation of Ethnic Women in the Peace Process” earlier this year.

The assessment was conducted over a course of four months, interviewing leaders of 52 ethnic political parties (EPPs) and 49 representatives, to increase stakeholder awareness of the main constraints and opportunities for women’s inclusion and EPPs’ involvement in the peace process, as perceived by women members and the leadership of Myanmar’s EPPs.

The report provides recommendations formulated by EPPs’ women representatives and leaders, on topics such as electoral framework and gender quota, women’s networking, EPPs’ alliances and coordination, state-level peace dialogue initiatives and technical assistance to women leaders.

“There are institutional constraints that make it difficult to broaden the inclusion of EPPs in the peace process, such as the limitation of participation in the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee [UPDJC], which are unlikely to change in the short-term,” Greg Kehailia, The Carter Center’s country director in Myanmar, told The Myanmar Times.

“But there are other obstacles that are easier to address that would create more space for civilian voices in the formal peace process and in its ecosystem, and the idea was to understand what these obstacles are,” he said.

In Myanmar, as in many other conflict areas of the world, women are largely excluded from peace talks. Although women from ethnic minorities in the country are disproportionately affected by the consequences of sub-national conflicts, including sexual violence, women involved in the peace process number far below the 30 percent encouraged by the United Nations and agreed to by the participants in the peace accord.

Then-president U Thein Sein made a plea to the country’s many ethnic armed groups to enter peace talks with the government, initiating the peace process in August 2011.

While peace is a top priority of the incumbent administration, critics say the peace process has foundered and stalled. The government’s goal is to seek final agreement with armed ethnic groups on basic federal principles within this year.

Out of 98 approved political parties, there are more than 50 EPPs, according to the Union Election Commission.

Gender equality has long been a challenge in Myanmar. The National League for Democracy-led administration is criticised as not doing enough to advance female inclusion in the politics.

For example, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is the only woman among the 25 ministries and cabinet members. Representation of women in legislatures across the country remains low, and the same applies to the peace process.

Although women held various positions including as chair in EPPs, the leadership roles were limited, the survey found. In addition, many women were still facing discrimination verbally, physically, or policy-wise in addition to a lack of public support.

As EPPs are in favour of selecting peace delegates based on seniority without taking gender equality into account, this further excludes women because old men are usually chosen instead.

Recommendations

The report presented six recommendations to improve female representation in EPPs.

It said women in EPPs should develop a network which serves to coordinate and work together under a collective voice.

They should also draft a gender policy for adoption by political parties, peace institutions, and electoral bodies. Information about the peace talks must be made available in local language and easily accessible for communities. Women should develop an inclusive channel to bring the unrepresented voices to the negotiation tables and ensure their inclusion.

“The connections that emerged between the women of EPPs throughout this relatively short project were fascinating and confirmed our initial assumption: There is a largely untapped reserve of civilian stakeholders ready and able to contribute to the peace process; they need training, technical assistance, and opportunities for dialogue and networking,” Mr Kehailia said.

Read the full report here.

Myanmar Times

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