Help our local partners realise their vision of hope for their communities
On the 16th of June 2014, Burma Campaign UK hosted a special meeting with representatives from community based women’s organisations to discuss the situation of women in Burma today in relation to the current political reform process. Representatives included Tin Tin Nyo, General Secretary of the Women’s League of Burma; Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Director of the Karen Women’s Empowerment Group; May Sabe Phyu of the Kachin Peace Network; Wah Ku Shee from the Karen Women’s Organisation and Moon Nay Li from the Kachin Women Association Thailand. The speakers addressed the need for international advocacy and pressure to be applied to support the implementation of recently signed declarations and the reduction of military power.
The current peace process in Burma is masking the ongoing humanitarian crisis faced by civilians from international attention. The increasing presence of the military in villages in Karen causes community concern as it is closely correlated with increasing incidences of sexual violence and drug use. Sexual violence is prevalent across the country, and remains a constant threat to women and girls. The military is more powerful than the Government, and impunity for sexual violence is deeply entrenched, leaving victims powerless to speak out against their abusers. Women’s voices are severely under-represented in politics, with only 5% female representation in Parliament, meaning that they are unable to participate in the peace process. The need for a change in governance so that women’s voices could be heard and their suffering addressed was highlighted.
Recent continued conflict has seen increased numbers of internally displaced persons (IDPs), of which there are currently 120 000 in Kachin and Northern Shan state. IDPs in Burma do not receive sufficient attention from the international media to ensure that funds consistently reach their camps, as instead international support tends to be directed at the peace process. This means that IDPs are frequently without access to basic human requirements. Camps often foster a range of social problems which are intensified by the shortages. Outside of the country, particularly in China and Thailand, refugees from Burma are at risk from a reduction in already insufficient funding. The lack of humanitarian funding is driving their “voluntary” return to a land that is still dominated by military presence, and far changed from the home country they once knew due to the development of new infrastructure on confiscated land. Young gang groups cause troubles in camps such as drug abuse, sexual violence and even murder which makes life for refugee communities in camps even more challenging. Because of this, return to Burma is the only option for some people, far from the voluntary choice that it is made out to be.
The women warned against allowing the positive external image of the peace process to hide the realities faced by civilians, particularly women and children who remain vulnerable and are absent from political discourse. By signing the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, Burma has made a positive commitment on the international stage; however the country has a history of unfulfilled promises since President Thein Sein came into power. The international community has the capacity to apply pressures that can result in change and therefore must act to ensure that these issues are bought to attention. Particular actions required to ensure the promises made by the Government translate into tangible change for the people of Burma include:
– To amend the 2008 Constitution that condones sexual violence by guaranteeing impunity for sexual crimes.
– To ensure full women’s participation in peace negotiations as well as in political, social and economic development.
– To increase control of the military through constitutional amendment.
– To repeal repressive laws against women, including making rape in marriage illegal.
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The current Government is creating divisions between the people based on religion and ethnicity, which distracts attention from their ruling practices and generates continued conflict. In order to overcome these newly forged tensions, Burma must move towards a truer form of democracy with a civilian elected government that is representative of the diverse population.