Student Unions and the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) have formed the Nationwide Federation of Student Unions which will meet Education Minister Dr Myo Thein Gyi at the Higher Education Department on May 29.


On a recent April morning, Aung Kyaw Soe got off the bus near the University of West-Yangon after spending some 2 hours in traffic to reach the campus located on the city’s outskirts.

Myanmar’s government has published its first ever Public Expenditure Review, which details recent ramp-ups in health and education spending and outlines a range of challenges to improving public spending.

Stung by criticism after one of its members refused to credit the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government of Aung San Suu Kyi with securing the release of dozens of student activists last Friday, the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (ABFSU) has issued a statement expressing gratitude for the move.

The European Union has welcomed the release of student protesters in Myanmar, according to a statement issued April 9.

Immediately following her appointment as State Counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi announced plans to secure the release of political prisoners and detained activists “as soon as possible.”

Jailed student activists standing trial for taking part in education reform protests have slammed the head of Burma’s permanent mission to the United Nations for describing them as mere criminals.

In October 2013, we commented on the need for the reform of agriculture and closely related fields, including veterinary science, in Myanmar (see “Agricultural Reform: It Don’t Come Easy”). In particular, we raised the urgent need to merge the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation with the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development. We also suggested reform of the training of graduates who support agricultural, veterinary and related fields by creating a comprehensive university to train them.

In 2012, during the early days of Myanmar’s transition to democracy, U Gambira sat in the front row of a crowded hall at Yangon University and listened while U.S. President Barack Obama delivered an historic speech.

One in five children aged 10 to 17 in Myanmar go to work instead of school, according to figures from a census report on employment published on Monday.

On March 10, 2015 hundreds of student protestors were at a standstill near the city of Letpadan in Myanmar.

They had reached the eighth day of a standoff between largely peaceful activists marching for academic freedom, and the police forces who were blocking their path when, suddenly, things came to a head. Police began beating students violently, including those who had fallen to the ground. Some tried to flee, and hundreds were arrested.

Myanmar’s incoming finance minister said Wednesday he was shocked to discover his PhD is fake after netizens pointed out he had been a victim of a high profile scam run out of Pakistan that ensnared thousands of others.

Goldsmith Thinkha told Mizzima that he would provide free goldsmith training to unemployed youths who had little job opportunities in honour of newly elected President Htin Kyaw from National League for Democracy (NLD).

Burma’s President-elect Htin Kyaw told parliament on Monday that a proposal he put forward last week to reorganise the country’s administrative structure would save money for use in underfunded sectors.

Detained students from the student protest column and civilian supporters have announced that they will boycott and refuse to cooperate with the unfair justice system at upcoming court hearings.

Myanmar’s military released 46 children and young people from service, the United Nations said in a statement on Monday, in its first discharge of underage recruits this year.

On March 10, 2015, about 200 students marching toward Rangoon in protest of a new education law were halted by police just outside the town of Letpadan. The officers attacked the protesters with batons and sticks, taking more than 125 into custody and quashing months of peaceful demonstrations. One year later, 53 are still detained.

In the years after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest ended in 2010, she has gone about reacquainting herself with the wider world. Among all the usual high-level meetings – presidents, prime ministers and more – she has ended up spending a fair bit of time with university leaders.

Already displaced by conflict between rebels and the Burmese army, more than 150 Arakanese villagers are now facing a water shortage as the hot season bears down on the impoverished and conflict-ridden state.

It has been uplifting and inspiring to see the many strong stories about women in the media this week in the lead-up to International Women’s Day.

Naturally, many articles focused on the challenges facing girls and women across the world, a large number of which are highly relevant to Myanmar: gender-based violence; blatant cultural and institutional discrimination; and the insidious, confidence-draining, quiet-but-debilitating messages from so many quarters that girls are simply not as important as boys.

Other stories celebrated women, including lots of inspiring Myanmar women, who have succeeded despite those challenges and pointed to strong female role models in developing and developed nations.

But among all those valuable and positive articles and messages was a smaller number – mainly from Western commentators – decrying International Women’s Day. Some suggested it was simply not relevant to women in wealthy nations. Others felt offended by the idea that all women should be lumped together. Some even went so far as to point to the fact that girls are outperforming boys academically and to suggest that somehow feminism was to blame for this and had become an enemy of equality.

Now it’s natural that whenever a big deal is made about something, some people like to make themselves out to be different or cool by criticising it. It’s also true that some media commentators spout a lot of provocative nonsense in order to generate a reaction.

But what is not cool, what is actually highly pernicious, is to take something that has proved to be a day of positivity and strength-gaining for so many people who face marginalisation, discrimination and worse, and try to tell them their day of celebration isn’t relevant or important, or is just yet another example of women getting uppity.

And it’s definitely not cool to suggest – as the editor of the UK’s Spectator magazine did in his blog this week – that it’s somehow feminism’s fault that fewer boys are applying to university. Naughty girls! Imagine working hard and having ambition and doing well.

If somehow the number of boys passing exams and applying to university in the UK was dropping as the number of girls increased, there might have been a little more force to the argument. But that’s not the case. The tables published along with the commentary showed that more students of both genders are achieving better grades and applying to university, although more girls are doing so than boys.

Now, I wouldn’t labour what was a clear reference to the UK, had it not got some resonance for young women in Myanmar and elsewhere. Here a system exists that deliberately discriminates against girls wanting to pursue certain degrees, including engineering, requiring them to gain more academic points than boys in a bid to redress girls’ better exam results.

It is a form of “positive discrimination” that is certainly not returned in the majority of fields, including politics, where women are vastly outnumbered by men.

It is certainly cause for concern that boys, particularly those from poor backgrounds, are no longer matching girls in academic achievement. This is not only happening in the UK – it is a growing global trend.

That needs to be investigated and support given. We must aim for all young people to fulfil their academic potential.

But to turn girls’ success into a negative thing and lay blame on that, rather than the wide range of social factors that affect boys’ school achievements, is reductionist and borders on the misogynistic.

Boys do not automatically lose out when girls achieve, and anyone who suggests they do is promoting a dangerous and fallacious correlation.

A 10-year study of 1.5 million 15-year-olds from around the world published last year by researchers at the University of Missouri in the US and the University of Glasgow in Scotland found that girls were outperforming boys in 70 percent of the countries studied, regardless of gender or the level of political, economic, or social equality – including in countries where women’s liberties are severely restricted.

In other words, it is certainly not feminism that’s to blame for boys lagging behind girls in academic achievement.

As for those women in developed countries who said they didn’t feel the message of International Women’s Day related to them, well, of course, it is their right to say so.

I can understand why some women might feel uncomfortable about a day which focuses on their gender as their defining characteristic. Some women may also genuinely feel that gender has not been a barrier for them personally. Certainly gender equality issues in many countries have improved significantly in recent years.

But women in many developed countries still face far too many examples of gender-based violence, discrimination and interference in their reproductive rights, as has been widely evidenced in the many reports out this week. And I defy any woman, in any country, even if she doesn’t believe she has personally faced gender discrimination, to say she doesn’t personally know women who have.

As for women in developing countries, including Myanmar, the need to highlight and address gender inequalities and promote the rights of women and girls is of vital importance, as I have written many times in these pages.

So let’s all be a bit gracious about this. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and you don’t want to celebrate International Women’s Day, then just don’t celebrate it. There is no need to condescend to or criticise those who do, or imply that it’s somehow anti-male.

But maybe also think again about whether you really want to turn your back on other people reaching out for support and inviting you to join them in celebrating their own and others’ successes in the face of hardship, abuse and discrimination.

Concern, support, encouragement, and recognition of people’s rights and achievements are positive things. The more we do those, the better it is for everyone in society.

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