Promoting meaningful participation of women in the peace process

Throughout the long negotiations of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) women working in Myanmar’s peace process fought hard to ensure that their voices were heard. The NCA, which was signed by the Government and some EAOs in October 2015, states it would include a “reasonable” number of women in the subsequent process. The Framework for Political Dialogue, agreed a few months later, went further, specifically stating that 30% of those participating in the peace process should be women.

The reality was, however, that women made up 13% of the participants in the first Union Peace Conference (UPC) and 17% in the second UPC.[1] The Women’s League of Burma, with the support of the Joint Peace Fund, is working to improve this. WLB’s Project Coordinator Mae Su Su Swe says: “We’ve advocated on the 30% gender. It has been well-received, however there isn’t any policy and strategy to implement it.”

Over the next two years WLB is working to address this through a series of workshops and forum at local and State level which will pave the way for an advocacy campaign at Union level to raise awareness of these issues. But achieving meaningful participation means more than just focusing on numbers, says Mae Su Su Swe: “We should not only call for the participation of women but also create opportunities for them, and help improve their capacity where needed.”

For this to happen in an effective way, the women participating need to reflect the vast diversity of experience, ethnicity and political perspectives that together make up the complex nation of Myanmar. Over the next two years, therefore, Women’s League of Burma (WLB), itself an alliance of many different women’s groups, will be starting at the grass roots and working across several States.

These include Kachin, Shan, Karen and Kayah States, where WLB will be training and building women’s knowledge around the peace process, and their right to have a role in it. This coming September, WLB will conduct a three-day women peace forum by inviting about 500 women, from the grass roots level, to Member of Parliaments. Women’s experiences, views and voices will be captured in order to create a powerful advocacy tool in the form of a report and a documentary film.

“We will document the understanding of women from grass roots level on the peace process and analyze their level of understanding on it. Then, we will turn this information into a documentary film and a report. This report will be used to encourage EAOs, political parties and the government to promote bringing women into positions of decision making,” says Mae Su Su Swe.

Promoting the theme of “women helping women”, the advocacy campaign will culminate in drawing the attention of key stakeholders including Government, Ethnic Armed Groups and international organizations and donors toward their responsibility to implement the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in Myanmar’s peace process. She says there is still a lot of work to be done in order to convince men particularly of just how important this is. “Generally, men who are close to WLB understand and recognize it but if we take a look at the whole country, the number who understand this need is still very low. We need to work harder for broader understanding of this issue. However, responsibility lies in everybody, not only us”.

[1] Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security: Women’s Peace Building Strategies Amidst Conflict: lessons from Myanmar and Ukraine