Myanmar may finally pass legislation to criminalize domestic violence and marital rape
An estimated one in five women experience abuse in Myanmar, a number that is likely an underestimation of the true scope of intimate partner violence in the nation. Progress towards addressing this issue, however, is now in the pipeline of the nation’s government’s pipeline. In late November, officials from the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement announced that the Law for Protection from Violence against Women, legislation women’s rights activists have advocated for since 2013, will likely be enacted in 2019.
If passed, the legislation would criminalize domestic violence and marital rape, which is still legal in Myanmar, as is spousal abuse. The bill would also provide legal and medical support to survivors of violence and protect women from being subjected to sexual violence and workplace harassment, according to the Huffington Post.
While addressing violence against women is crucial, experts and feminist activists on the ground in Myanmar have said that such legislation will still only do so much to achieve gender equality in the country, which is still largely in denial about the issue. “Gender inequality and discrimination against women has never been acknowledged as a cause for concern in this country,” women’s rights activist Yee Mon Htun told The Burma News International on December 4. “The blanket denial that men and women enjoy equal opportunity has persisted since colonial times.”
Like other countries around the globe in which gender inequality persists, gender-based discrimination in Myanmar is largely rooted in strict gender roles, specifically called “hpon,” which is “a deeply held social belief that considers men to be holy, glorious and spiritually superior,” according to The Conversation. Gender segregation in Myanmar is common in both private and public spaces, from Buddhist monasteries to individual homes. Men especially dominate in the public sphere, composing the majority of political, legal and criminal justice institutions. These factors not only maintain inequality in the nation, but specifically inhibit women from reporting violence and from improving their social status overall.
There have been some points of progress for women in Myanmar, such as women’s education; Girls’ enrollment in both lower and upper education has increased in recent years. Additionally, individual women have achieved success in male-dominated spaces, like Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the country’s first democratic elections for the position of State Counsellor, which is a role equivalent to Prime Minister, in 2015. But even her achievements are indicative of how deeply internalized misogyny is even among women in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi might be at the helm of the country, but she’s also overseen and condoned the genocidal violence perpetrated against the Rohingya minority, which according to a report released in August, has involved the Myanmar military committing “the gravest crimes under international law,” including gang-raping Rohingya women and perpetrating other forms of sexual violence and torture.
Despite this bleak reality, women’s rights activists in Myanmar still believe that a different future, one of peace and stability, is possible. “I've been in the thick of these different communities with women from different religious backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds, social status, class, and they're able to see and understand each other and come together to work for change,” women’s rights activist Yee Mon Htun added in the aforementioned December interview, adding, “No matter how hard the battle is, how much the odds are against them, I am in awe of their resiliency and determination to keep going until everybody is able to realize their fundamental human rights.”
More articles by Category: Politics, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Asia, Criminal justice, Domestic violence, Rape, Law, Gender Based Violence, Sexualized violence