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Shadow Report on Myanmar for the 64th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

Myanmar is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and, as such, must fulfill its obligations to ensure both de jure and de facto equality for women. Yet, despite these obligations, women and girls across Myanmar face serious obstacles to realizing their rights to substantive equality and non-discrimination. In this Report, the Gender Equality Network (GEN) and Global Justice Center (GJC) highlight multiple barriers facing women and girls in Myanmar and offer key areas where reforms are necessary in order to promote women’s rights and the equal enjoyment of freedoms. This report can be read as a baseline of the situation on key indicators that affect the situation of women and girls in Myanmar, and therefore offers a starting point for dialogue with the newly elected government. The goal of such dialogue is to jointly tackle the systemic hurdles that impede the achievement of women’s equality and reverse some of the repressions under previous regimes. This report highlights general inequalities and discrimination faced by all women in Myanmar, but it must be noted that certain marginalized groups, such as ethnic women, rural women and older women, are not specifically discussed herein, but nonetheless experience additional and intersecting forms of discrimination.

While it is encouraging that Myanmar’s transition to a quasi-civilian government in 2011 has led to limited democratic reforms, increasing engagement with the international community and a sharp increase in foreign direct investment, women have in large part not been the beneficiaries of these reforms. Advances to ensure women’s rights and improve the situation of women in Myanmar have, in general, been noticeably absent from reform efforts, in part due to the absence of women from decision-making positions and in politics. Even the Government’s reporting to this Committee identifies efforts to improve women’s rights as prospective rather than on-going, demonstrating the Government’s lack of political will to prioritize women’s issues. Gender equality continues to be viewed as a marginal area in ongoing democratization and development processes, as well as the peace process resolving decades of ethnic conflict. The Government must make actual progress, and not just present promises, to promote women’s rights and fulfill its obligations under CEDAW.

A number of factors contribute to the current, and historical, lack of focus on women’s rights. Decades of military rule since a military coup in 1962 have marginalized women and deeply-embedded gender stereotypes see women as nurturers rather than leaders in society. As a result, women have historically been excluded from politics and positions of power. Achieving advances to ensure women’s equality in Myanmar is difficult because of an unchanged landscape shaped by a deep history of patriarchy, decades of oppressive military dictatorship and the continued power and influence of the military throughout society. Today, these legacies remain very much alive in the form of fundamental structural barriers that impede genuine legal reform, demonstrated through the presence of legal structures that discriminate against women (including in the Constitution), the lack of legal provisions that guarantee gender equality and the absence of adequate funding to promote policies and programmes that could contribute to women’s empowerment.

The newly-formed government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which took office at the end of March 2016, offers an opportunity to refocus attention on the achievement of equal rights for women in Myanmar. Encouragingly, the NLD Election Platform on Women committed to, among other things, effectively implement existing laws to promote women’s rights, take action to end violence against women and ensure access to justice for women victims.

While there are expectations that the situation of women in Myanmar will improve, it is crucial to be clear now about the significant work that needs to be done and to detail the steps necessary to ensure compliance with CEDAW. To achieve full compliance with CEDAW, the Government must formulate, in consultation with a broad array of civil society actors and women’s groups, and implement concrete, immediately-effective and well-funded policies, regulations, laws and other measures to ensure women’s de jure and de facto equality. Such a comprehensive effort will require coordination, commitment and significant political will, the dismantling of legal and other structures that discriminate against women and a significant reduction in the power and influence of the military.

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