Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue December 2012 Opinion: ‘Myanmar’s Current Peace Processes: a New Role for Women’

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

Last week, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue published an interesting report on the role of women in Myanmar’s current peace processes. The ‘opinion’ which is entitled ‘Myanmar’s current peace processes: a new role for women?’ is written by Ja Nan Lahtaw and Nang Raw of the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation and forms part of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue’s project, ‘Women at the Peace Table – Asia Pacific’. This project brings together women active in peacemaking across the Asia-Pacific region to identify and employ strategies for improving the way in which women participate in and contribute to peace processes.

Reasons for historic lack of inclusion of women in peace processes

The report notes that one of the significant features of the current era of peace processes in Myanmar  is the inclusion of a few women from several of the armed groups at the peace table. Although believing that this gives hope that the inclusion of women may be increased in the future, the report’s authors describe how the inclusion of women in the peace process is still relatively minimal. They explain how the reason for this generally lies in the culturally entrenched perceptions of gender roles.

The role of women in peace processes is gradually shifting

The report continues by showing that the role played by women in peace talks is gradually shifting. It provides examples of instances where women have formed part of an armed group’s negotiating team or have played important ‘observer’ roles at peace talks. It also reports instances in which women have played a role in influencing regional authorities, for example by being a bridge between a local authority and a particular armed group.

The report provides several examples of instances in which female national peacebuilders have advised the leaders of armed groups as well as key governmental personnel on how the peace processes should be shaped to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. It tells how some of these peacebuilders have facilitated and coordinated the meetings of armed groups in order to prepare a national level peace plan. In the opinion of the authors of the report – who have both played such peacebuilding roles – the adoption of such roles by women may contribute to changing attitudes to the role of women in peace processes and creating a more gender-balanced view.

Results of opinion survey on the roles of women in various peace processes

One particularly interesting aspect of the report is its presentation of the results of a survey which was conducted among 86 top-level and mid-level leaders of civil society organisations by the Nyein (Shalom) Foundation. The survey was apparently intended to provide a snapshot of the roles of women in various peace processes and peacebuilding more generally. Some of the survey’s key findings are as follows:-

  • Only 4% of the CSO respondents had tried to ensure women (including themselves) were included at the peace table in previous peace negotiations
  • 40% of the respondents indicated that they had tried to get access to the peace table in more recent peace processes
  • Inside armed groups, women reported that they had had to push themselves forward to be heard by the male-dominated leadership
  • There is an increase in the number of women taking the initiative and approaching armed groups as well as the regional and union governments (by sending recommendation letters, appeal letters and signed petitions) from 5-12%
  • The number of efforts by women to lobby public perspective to the government and consulting the local authorities regarding the will of the concerned armed group has increased from 0-14%
  • Women’s participation in awareness-raising activities relating to peace negotiations has increased from 9-37% since the early 90s
  • About 71% of respondents stated that women’s perspectives and opinions on conflict and peace are different from those of men

The report makes the important observation that given the complexity of the 20 different ongoing peace negotiations in Myanmar, the level of women’s participation differs from one ethnic group to another.

Conclusions & Recommendations

The report identifies two main factors explaining the change in attitude regarding the role that women can play in peace processes. The first is the establishment of women’s networks and ethnic-based women’s organisations which the authors see to have played an important role in highlighting the importance of women’s role in peace processes and strengthening the ability of women to collaborate in peace initiatives. The second is the country’s changing political environment and the close monitoring of Myanmar’s transition by the international community. The report concludes by providing general recommendations and recommendations for donors on how to support peace making through women’s participation.

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