In their own voices: Women’s experiences, roles and influence in Community Based Dispute Resolution and Mediation in Myanmar

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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Myanmar’s transition is at a critical point with the social contract between citizen and state shifting, latent and active sub-national conflicts continuing, and the peace process mired in process rather than political dia¬-logue. In this context, inter- and intra-communal conflicts can escalate into violence and quickly take on state/ regional or even national dimensions when the necessary conditions for peace - justice, trust, and stability - are not present. Women and girls suffer disproportionately from the impacts of armed conflict, experiencing death, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, conflict-related sexual vio¬lence, labour exploitation and trafficking (Kamler, 2015), as well as constrained educational opportunities and poor health (AGIPP, 2015) and specific challenges in accessing justice or community-based resolution of disputes (Justice Base, 2016; UN Women, 2016). Women’s participation in conflict resolution process at the national and community level has been very limited.

In the context of inter- and intra-communal conflict, Community Based Dispute Resolution and Mediation (CBDRM) mechanisms are increasingly used to provide negotiated resolution to local disputes. There is a growing body of evidence on how community level disputes in Myanmar are resolved, and emerging evidence on women’s experiences and perceptions on CBDRM. Much of the existing data is not disaggregated nor does it always reflect the different interests, needs and priorities of women and men, and there are few existing interventions that address the gendered aspects of CBDRM mechanisms themselves.

Mercy Corps implements programmes to strengthen the mediation skills of civil society leaders, religious leaders, ethnic leaders and government officials and has recognised that, despite progress over the last five years, understanding of women’s experiences, roles and influence in CBDRM has been limited and an improved understanding will help adapt their programmes to ensure fair outcomes for all women and men. The overall objective of this study is to contribute to the evidence base on gender and CBDRM in Myanmar, so that women’s experiences and perceptions, and a better understanding of women’s roles and influence, can better inform programme design and implementation. The study uses a qualitative approach to explore women’s experiences, roles and influence in CBDRM processes from the perspective of women themselves and from gatekeepers to their involvement. The locations for the research were identified by Mercy Corps based on their programme locations in southern Shan, Mon, and Kayin States and Mandalay Region. Between September and October 2019, a total of 142 key informant interviews took place, 53 at township and 89 at village level, as well as 51 focus group discussions with a total of 339 women and 245 men interviewed. Respondents included women involved in disputes as individual disputants and as mediators, community leaders, community justice providers and justice facilitators, and key actors at the township level such as service providers, women’s organizations, CSOs or legal aid groups in the target communities.