Today, at Summit Parkview Hotel in Yangon, Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) launched its thematic report entitled Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles: Women’s testimonies from southeast Myanmar which projects the voices of local women from southeast Myanmar and aims to present a comprehensive picture of their changing roles and experiences in this time of ceasefire and democratic change. The report comes ten years after KHRG published Dignity in the Shadow of Oppression, a report highlighting the abuse and agency of women in a highly militarised context during the conflict period. Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles highlights issues such as gender-based violence, militarisation, land confiscation, access to healthcare and education, and how continued human rights abuses in southeast Myanmar affect women and men differently, an aspect often overlooked. In addition, it highlights the agency strategies that women employ for self-protection and the challenges women in southeast Myanmar face when attempting to access justice for abuses.
Key issues discussed by KHRG’s Programme Director, Naw Htoo Htoo, during the report launch were that: “In former conflict areas, after the signing of the ceasefires and return of men to their villages, women’s participation in positions of authority actually decreased.” She recommended that: “As women make up half of the population, regardless of any situation, women, from different ethnic backgrounds, should be consulted and equally represented at all levels of governance, decision-making and dialogue”. Another important issue raised by panellist Naw Jasmin, Advocacy Officer for KHRG, was that “despite the ceasefire in place, women continue to feel insecure because of armed actors being present near their villages, which exposes them to an increased risk of gender-based violence”. A prominent panellist, Daw May Sabe Phyu, women’s rights activist, leader of the Kachin Peace Network and senior member of the Gender Equality Network (GEN) Myanmar, discussed the issue of discrimination of women in Myanmar and gave her advice.
Recommendations in Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles make reference to Myanmar’s treaty obligations under the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The recommendations target the Government of Myanmar, armed actors, civil society organisations and the international community active in southeast Myanmar, urging them to promote women’s rights and ending discrimination against women. Throughout the report KHRG noted agency strategies employed by women to mitigate the effects of abuse and barriers that they face when accessing justice, as well as their perspectives on a range of daily situations that they face, such as one woman from Dooplaya District who stated that: “I want leaders who will stand up and look after the people. The leaders must be honest and keep their word; [they must] be leaders that accept their mistakes and take responsibility for what they do. If the leaders can lead in a correct way, people will follow them. Why are we poor? Why are we uneducated? Because there is too much corruption, and for this reason, our country has become a poor country.”
The launch of KHRG’s report was around the same time as the CEDAW Committee published their Concluding Observations on Myanmar’s state report and therefore we hope that Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles will bring additional attention to women’s rights and discrimination against women in Myanmar. KHRG hopes that this report will assist relevant actors in Myanmar and on the international level to gain a more in-depth understanding about the continuing struggles women are facing, while also recognising their strengths and agency tactics when facing situations of injustice and abuse. KHRG is also looking forward to working towards achieving the recommendations made in the report with the support of the identified stakeholders.
Naw Htoo Htoo