Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Myanmar and Women's Rights

Myanmar is soon to see the latest version of its Prevention of and Protection from Violence Against Women (PoVAW) introduced in parliament. Legislation that aims to protect women against violence in Myanmar is  long overdue, but it is raising concern among human rights advocates about the inadequate definition of rape, vague definition for “consent”, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rhetoric.

The Global Justice Centre (GJC), an international human rights and humanitarian law organisation focusing on advancing gender equality, has pointed out that the legislation falls short of addressing violence against women.

According to GJC, the language used in the law borrows from colonial Myanmar’s 1861 Penal Code and thus perpetuates antiquated understandings of rape, such as; considering rape as violence committed only by men, the definition of “rape” constituting only of vaginal penetration, and no acknowledgement of marital rape.
“The Myanmar government has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that is exacerbated by broader structural barriers with respect to Myanmar’s military justice system, and a lack of robust domestic options for accountability,” the GJC analysis has claimed.
Khin Ohmar, an exiled human rights advocate from Myanmar and founder and chairperson of the advisory board of Progressive Voice — a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organisation rooted in civil society, with strong links to grassroots and community-based organisations throughout Myanmar    shared how sexual violence in the country is used in a “systematic pattern to target ethnic women and girls”.
Ohmar was speaking at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict, where she further reiterated how the military in Myanmar has carried out “unspeakable crimes” against ethnic minorities in the country.
 Akila Radhakrishnan, president of GJC explains:
"We’re really talking about laws that haven’t been updated so with the political transition there was a moment when women in civil society saw the opportunity to think it’s time we had a comprehensive law on violence against women, updating progressive positions in the penal code and bring in things like protective orders or a more robust categorisations of kinds of sexual and other types of violence. And in some ways, the military continues to perpetrate mass sexual violence. Some of the key things that civil society has been pushing for is bringing the military under a mandate of the law, which is antithetical to the military’s interest as well."
 Radhakrishnan continued, "Aung San Suu Kyi is no feminist. She has certainly in the past made stronger statements on sexual violence than she currently takes on but she’s very much seen certain types of political reform as her priority. If you look at the trajectory of the laws that were initially passed through the transition, most of the laws were really wound around issues that enabled foreign investment, for example. There were certain laws that were due to be changed around issues such as certain types of press freedoms, many of which have been regressing in recent times in any case. There was never kind of a feminist priority set from the leadership."

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