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Activists, government push forward bill to prevent gender violence in Burma

Perpetrators of sexual violence in Burma have long evaded justice, but thanks to the efforts of women's rights activists, a bill to prevent violence against women is at last taking shape.

Nyein Nyein


BURMESE women's rights activists and government officials aim to finish drafting a bill by the end of the year to prevent violence against women, activists say.

'Once enacted, it would be the first law to ensure the protection of women from all forms of violence, including physical, mental, sexual and verbal violence,' May Sabe Phyu, a peace activist and coordinator of the Gender Equality Network (GEN), a large network of civil society organisations, told The Irrawaddy magazine on 27 June.

Activists began drafting the bill with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in 2012.

'We are still in the drafting process on the anti-violence against women [bill],' Myat Myat Ohn Khin, the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, told The Irrawaddy. 'We have been drafting bills for disabled people, childhood development and other socio-economic issues, so we are trying our best.'

Thirteen Burmese activists recently joined a Burmese government delegation in travelling to London to attend a summit that raised awareness about sexual violence in conflicts around the world.

At a press briefing about the trip in Rangoon on 27 June, the activists, including May Sabe Phyu, said Burmese victims of rape and sexual violence desperately required greater assistance. They called on Burma to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice, particularly in ethnic areas, where soldiers from the government's army have been accused of using rape as a weapon of war against ethnic armed groups.

Burma is one of 150 countries that have endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, a UN declaration launched last year.

'We welcome that the international community and the Burmese government have endorsed the commitment to end sexual violence in conflict, but we need to be careful that it is not just for show,' May Sabe Phyu said, urging concrete action. 'The voices of civil society groups need to be heard for greater effectiveness.'

The activists said victims of sexual violence in Burma often face threats and other obstacles to reporting their cases, while perpetrators are rarely brought to court. They said Chin women have been threatened with arrest after protesting against military rapes recently in Chin State (see box).

Susanna Hla Hla Soe, an activist from the Karen Women's Empowerment Group who also attended the summit in London, noted that Burmese soldiers accused of rape are not prosecuted in civilian courts.

'Gender discrimination persists in Burma, which harms development, liberty and peace,' she said, adding that it was positive that Burma was one of six countries that pledged at the summit in London to start implementing within the next six months a framework to end sexual violence.

This article is reproduced from the website of The Irrawaddy magazine (www.irrawaddy.org).

Women (box)

Women protest sexual violence by soldiers in Chin State

Nang Seng Nom

ON 24 June more than 130 ethnic Chin women participated in a protest against the Burmese military's alleged use of rape as a weapon of war in Matupi Township.

Protest leaders said the demonstration aimed to draw attention to sexual violence perpetrated by soldiers against women and children in Matupi, as well as to enhance awareness of women's rights issues among local residents.

Al Li, secretary of the Chin Women's Association, said six local women in Matupi had been raped by Tatamadaw soldiers, with the latest case on 10 June.

'The police arrested this rapist soldier, but we don't know yet what will happen next,' the protest organiser said.

Al Li said the Chin activists' initial request seeking permission for the protest march was rejected by local law enforcement, but they were later allowed to proceed.

'The police told us not to march to avoid traffic, but we marched as we said we would, to raise the issue of women being abused,' she said.

Many ethnic Chin women lack formal schooling and are poorly versed in women's rights issues, Al Li said, adding that greater efforts to educate the women were needed.

The local women said increased Burmese Army troop deployments in Chin State since 2010 had left many locals fearing for their safety and reluctant to cultivate their farmlands due to the presence of soldiers in the area.

Burma signed the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1997, but women's rights activists say the government has yet to take meaningful steps to ensure the protection of women's rights.

In a January 2014 report, the Thailand-based Women's League of Burma accused members of the military of raping more than 100 women since 2010. The rape incidents' 'widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression,' the report said.

In April, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also called for the Burmese government to investigate the claims of rape by soldiers.   

This article is reproduced from the website of The Irrawaddy magazine (www.irrawaddy.org).

*Third World Resurgence No. 287/288, July/August 2014, pp 63-64


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