Before last year's election, fewer than 5 per cent of parliamentarians and 0.11 per cent of village heads were women. In the run up to the election, Oxfam worked with women candidates, political activists, and local women's groups in order to support women's campaigns. The number of women parliamentarians has now more than doubled. This is an incredible gain for women and men across Myanmar. However, despite this progress, only 12 per cent of MPs are women. A lack of political representation prevents women from accessing their basic human rights. For example, in May 2015,
before the election, a population control law was passed which forces women to leave three years between pregnancies. No women were consulted on this bill before it was made law. Although Myanman women are now banned from having children at certain times, it is also illegal for women to end their pregnancies through abortion. Human rights groups worry the bill could allow authorities to force women to take contraception, and could be used to target minority ethnic groups.
How we're helping
It is now vital to build upon progress made in the 2015 election to create lasting change. Oxfam has been working in Myanmar since 2008, when we supported communities in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. Since then, we have run long-term development programmes, and we are currently working to empower women to claim their human rights, take on leadership positions, and contribute meaningfully to political decision making. The project forms an essential part of this work, and will:
- Build the capacity of women's groups to engage in politics.
- Support women politicians to develop their skills and confidence, and push for gains in women's rights.
- Increase support for women's human rights within parliament.
So far, 25 women's groups have been formed and have taught women about their right to vote. The importance of this work can be seen from the fact that some women expressed surprise at their right to vote, noting that they were previously unaware they had the same rights as men.
Moe Myat Myat joined the project as a village mobiliser last year. After a series of training sessions from the project, she became inspired to run for office. Moe was successfully elected, and has now been appointed as Karen Affairs Minister for the Ayeyarwady region, responsible for representing the Karen ethnic group at a regional level.