Southern Shan Women’s Network looks to break Myanmar’s glass ceiling

The Southern Shan Women’s Network wants to boost female leadership and involvement in public life.

The network, consisting of 25 member organizations and 15 allied organizations, met in Taunggyi on August 25 to discuss how they can better promote gender equality.

Daw Myo Nwe Si, the network coordinator, said women’s organizations must cooperate to level the playing field and increase the scant number of women holding leadership positions.  

“Our main focus is uplifting the capacity of women and enabling them to take part in the leadership sector. We will also try our best to help women who have experienced violence. Women are suffering from both physical and mental abuse,” she said.

Women in Myanmar have long been excluded from decision-making in public life. According to the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process, “The expectation that males are leaders, combined with the social expectation that women play supportive roles, is entrenched in daily Myanmar life.”

While Myanmar constitutionally enshrined women’s right to political participation in 1932, the country also has among the lowest number of female lawmakers in Asia.

Women hold 14.5 percent of the electable seats in Union parliament after the 2015 election, up from under 4% previously, according to calculations from the Asia Foundation.

“In the past, women only stayed at home and took care of domestic affairs. Our aim is to show that they are qualified to lead,” said Daw Than Nwe Aung from the Morning Star Intellectual Disability Group.

U Aung Than Maung, Shan State’s Minister of Bamar Affairs and chair of the Women’s Affairs Committee, said the country needs to work on eradicating traditions, customs and views that have inculcated gender discrimination. He added that rule of law must be enforced to end impunity for perpetrators of violence against women.

The Southern Shan Women’s Network was established with ten organizations in 2014. It now includes 40 member and allied organizations.