At the same time as its army is accused of carrying out barbaric acts including rape and murder in Rakhine, Kachin, and Shan State’s (See: Mehdi Hasan’s Barbed Attack on Aung San Suu Kyi Over Rohingya Riles Burmese), in Yangon the Myanmar government is moving towards laws aimed at protecting the rights of women.
The bastion of ultra-conservative Buddhism, which last year introduced laws restricting marriage between Buddhist women and men of other faiths, is now aiming at equally strict laws relating to domestic abuse, gang rape, and abandonment.
According to an AFP report the bill currently being drafted for presentation to the Myanmar lower house of Parliament (Pyithu Hluttaw) will make gang rape and domestic violence a capital offence.
Naw Tha Wah director of Myanmar’s social welfare department told the news service the government was “drafting a bill to protect women and prevent violence against them”.
Among the increased protection the Prevention and Protection of Violence against Women bill aims to provide for women is:
- A seven year jail term for a man who refuses to marry a woman he impregnates
- A five year jail term for a man who refuses to marry a woman after they have lived together
The bill is also expected to lay-down regulations relating to sexual harassment in the workplace, and make domestic violence a criminal offence. Currently the Myanmar Penal Code makes no reference to marital rape, which is exempted unless the wife is under 13!
“Women can complain if they are bullied into not getting married after living together. We will give them protection under the law”, Ms Tha Wah said.
In July this year the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHRs’) 64th Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), was told the bill was at the Union Attorney General Office for legal vetting, indicating that passage through the parliament might not be that far away.
The Prevention and Protection of Violence against Women bill forms part of the Myanmar National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (2013-2022) (NSPAW) which aims to empower women in Myanmar and enable them to enjoy their rights with the support of the government.
In December 2015 Myanmar’s Gender Equality Network (GEN) undertook a qualitative research study on the drivers of gender inequality. Titled ‘Raising the Curtain: Cultural Norms, Social Practices and Gender Equality in Myanmar’, the study found that:
“Violence against women is a serious and reprehensible human rights violation that affects the health, livelihoods and opportunities of women in Myanmar.”
Myanmar: last in Asean to protect women
Myanmar remains the only country in Asean without laws protecting women from violence at home or from sexual harassment in the workplace, neither does it allow women to seek restraining orders against violent men. While the law currently provides for up to ten years’ jail for rape, the penalty is often not enforced.
Despite Asean having introduced the ASEAN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the ASEAN Region on June 30, 2004, violence against women goes largely unreported and rarely investigated in many Asean countries. A World Health Organization (WHO) described violence against women as a ‘problem of epidemic proportions’.
In a 2015 Reuters report Kay Thi Myint Thein, a senior coordinator at GEN said: “Most women are told not to make one form of shame (rape) into two with a legal case. That kind of attitude still exists in both remote places and big cities”.
Citing Burmese media figures, the same Reuters report said that there were ‘654 rape cases in Myanmar in 2012, making it the second most frequently reported serious crime after murder (1,323 cases). There were 605 reported rape cases in 2011 and 377 in 2010.”
According to the report an estimated 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner, or sexual violence by a stranger, with 42 per cent of those assaulted suffering physical injuries.
A woman, the report found, is more likely to be murdered by her partner than by a complete stranger – 38 percent of all murders of women were committed by intimate partners, versus 6 per cent of murders of men.
According to a UN study on the economic effects of the cost of violence against women in Vietnam found 30 per cent of women reporting physical, sexual, or psychological harm. The report says it is stripping about 1.78 per cent from Vietnam GDP, or about $2 billion a year.
A separate UN study several years ago found one in four men in the Asia-Pacific region admit to rape, with 5 per cent of Cambodian men admitting to gang rape.
The feature video at the top of this story was uploaded to Facebook earlier this year and shows an actual domestic violence abuse committed in that country. The video posting attracted more than 3.9 million views.
An email sent to Myanmar’s social welfare department asking weather Rohingya or Shan women (or other minorities) would be protected from rape and gang rape by the Tatmadaw once the law was passed was not responded to by time of publication
Feature video Human Rights Watch
- Myanmar activists demand law to ban violence against women (Reuters)
- Myanmar men may face jail for not marrying pregnant women (Yahoo News)
- A silent emergency: Violence against women and girls (The Global New Light of Myanmar)
- Violence Against Women Takes a Big Toll in Asia (RFA)
He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.
He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.
In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.
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