Myanmar’s quest for women’s empowerment in times of crisis
The International Women’s Day is observed worldwide on Monday 8th March. Since the first international recognition in 1977, this special day has been providing an important opportunity to celebrate women's achievements in terms of political empowerment, raise awareness about gender equality, and think of ways to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life, as the world is committed to in the Sustainable Development Goal 5 of the Agenda 2030.
Like millions of men and women around the world, people in Myanmar have been commemorating the day in the past. This year, the day will unfold in a very different context. The past month has brought many unforeseen changes to the country. However, even under these circumstances, it is essential to highlight the significance of gender equality and women’s empowerment in Myanmar.
Despite the progress made in the past decades, gender inequalities remain in many countries around the globe. Myanmar has not been an exception. Many of the persistent challenges women in Myanmar face are common. Women have been underrepresented at senior levels in government and in elected office at the national and sub-national levels. While employment opportunities for women have increased and the gender wage gap has become narrower, women continue to earn far less than men. Women have less access to essential health services. Women are less likely than men to hold land rights and ownership. Moreover, the year-long Covid-19 crisis has hit women hardest, with many losing jobs and most carrying the overwhelming burden as caregivers.
The current state of emergency and political developments in Myanmar have shed new light on deeply-rooted barriers for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The newly-elected union parliament and regional assemblies that were prevented from formally convening have a record number of women representatives. Soon after the military seized power, hundreds of thousands of men and women took to the streets across Myanmar and joined a movement to fight for democracy. What is striking is that women and youth have been at the forefront of efforts to defend democratically elected institutions as well as in the protests, undeterred by violence and despite significant risks. In the course of the events, gender has played an important role. The movement is a manifestation of the people’s discontent and their determination to restore a democratic government. At the same time, bringing together everyone, regardless of age, gender, cultural, religious, or ethnic background, the movement represents the enormous potential of Myanmar to become a more inclusive, democratic society where men and women can enjoy equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities.
Democratic transition in Myanmar may face difficult challenges ahead. However, finding solutions to those challenges through the empowerment of women and girls can make the country a stronger, more resilient, and better place for all.