Initial analysis of the gender balance at the recent 21st-century Panglong Conference offers some fascinating insights into attitudes toward women among different sectors of those involved in the country’s peace process.

Overall, only 14 percent of official participants in the high-profile event were women, and just 9pc of those sent to represent the government, according to an analysis of figures provided to The Myanmar Times by the Myanmar Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process (AGIPP).

The numbers – 97 women out of 663 official representatives, according to the AGIPP – apparently mark a step forward from a pre-Panglong meeting held in January, when only 7pc of those at the table were women. But the huge imbalance remains disheartening.

A 30pc minimum quota of female delegates has been recommended by experts, including UN special rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee, if the country is to meet international conventions on women, peace and security.

An AGIPP spokesperson cautioned that the true number of women who took a place at the peace table might even be slightly lower than 14pc, as the alliance is still seeking clarification over whether some ethnic armed organisations may have included a small number female technical and support staff in their women representative tallies in addition to officially invited participants.

However, she said any change to the final numbers would be minor.

According to the AGIPP’s figures, 20pc of official representatives sent by ethnic armed organisations (36 out of 175) were women. That compares to the 6pc of the Tatmadaw delegation who were women – although it is worth noting that the Myanmar military’s 10 female representatives (out of 150) at the latest peace talks were 10 more than in January, when not a single woman was included among their numbers.

The parliamentary contingent included 15 women, 20pc out of a total of 75 MPs participating.

That the government managed to send just seven women among its 75 official participants illustrates the contempt the National League for Democracy-led administration has for women and for its obligations under UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security to ensure their representation in peace talks.

Numerous studies show the importance of women’s involvement in negotiations if peace agreements are to last. However, it is not just folly but also arrogance of the highest level that allows senior politicians and other leaders in society to act as if the views of more than 50pc of the population do not matter.

It is also concerning that the government is so readily willing to avoid its duties under UN resolution 1325 – an issue that was highlighted at the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The military elements in the current government were unlikely to ever champion women’s rights or pay much heed to the international conventions that seek to protect them.

But the fact that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian-led administration also chooses to ignore internationally defined obligations to uphold women’s rights highlights concerning questions about the state counsellor’s commitment to rights conventions in general when she considers them irrelevant or inconvenient to achieving her goals.

Of course it is not just the government that continues to marginalise women from the peace process. The AGIPP figures show just 16pc of those representing political parties – and only 11pc of civilian ethnic representatives – were women.

According to the AGIPP, its relatively successful achievement in persuading the ethnic armed organisations to include more women representatives was the result of intense advocacy efforts. Members said that while it was often hard to persuade the men to listen, it was comparatively easy for individuals from ethnic women’s rights organisations to access the ethnic armed leaders to advocate for their inclusion.

Reaching senior government figures has been much more difficult, women’s advocates report. Yet when they are given an opportunity to speak to ministers, they have seen positive results – as was the case with an official from the Ministry of Social Welfare who, after meeting them, raised the issue of women’s participation in his Panglong Conference speech to cheers from female audience members.

With the recent peace conference tipped to be just the start of a long-running series of negotiations, the AGIPP is calling on the media and international actors to put more pressure on the government to do its duty when it comes to ensuring women’s inclusion in the peace process.

As Myanmar’s progress toward democratic reform comes under international scrutiny during Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the United States, the continued failure of the government to protect and uphold the specific rights of women in all aspects of life, including these crucial peace talks, should be raised as a matter of utmost concern.

Link: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/opinion/22573-govt-failing-its-duty-to-protect-women.html