The Role of Women in Local Peace and Development in Monland
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The Role of Women in Local Peace and Development in Monland

By Wagarun Mon

Monday, June 18, 2012

“Peace and development” has become the common phrase in the language of diplomacy for both small and large nations, but “gender equality” is quickly growing in its prevalence. In Burma’s political rhetoric, gender equality was introduced in the late 1990s, when the United Nations and other peace groups began advocating for the increased role of women in the country. Now, the women’s movement for a new, peaceful Burma is gaining momentum. The recent establishment of a new Mon women’s organization, the Shin saw-pu-Association, is a key example of this contemporary civil rights movement that embraces groups from many areas, not just big cities like Rangoon and Mandalay. Without increased participation from local women, it will be difficult to establish reform, change, and national unity. If the union government truly seeks lasting peace and local economic development, it must support this pivotal cause.

Over the last half-century, women have been politically ruling nearly a quarter of the world’s population, largely in India and Britain, while men continue to battle for power with firearms.  Mon women, too, are part of the movement from the past to the present, as their societal role during the great era of Mon civilization, from the early 11th to 17th centuries, remains undiminished today. The growing trend of Mon women influencing social and political action should be allowed greater space and opportunity free from ethnic bias and political partisanship.

Women of Burma have been burdened and severely restricted over the past sixty years under military rule. It is estimated that, since the late 1990s, over half a million women from rural areas fled the country due to political oppression and ethnic discrimination. Starting in the early 1970s, many Mon women left their homes, often at young ages, due to armed conflict, human rights abuses, economic hardship, and other forms of violations in rural Mon areas. Thailand’s booming fishing industry in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon Province has been a major pull for Mon women, while others work in southern Thailand on large rubber plantations.

Despite the emphasis on men and young boys, who are often viewed as the primary victims of armed conflict, women have been suffering more than men in terms of securing education and livelihoods. The majority of Mon women live in rural areas with poor education and limited access to vocational skills. Women in rural areas, especially those affected by armed conflict, have had little choice but to marry young for security and out of fear of sexual abuse by government troops. Peace initiatives developed by local women should be applauded, but also directly supported due to these traditional challenges women face when accessing resources and strengthening capacity. Local education and community development programs will not accurately address community needs unless women are genuinely engaged in providing gender considerations to decision-making and civil society campaigns.

By overcoming significant obstacles and challenges, women have never allowed their voices to be completely silenced in Burma’s social movements. In 1936, a large number of Mon women created the All Mons Rehmonya Association in Rangoon. Since the 1940s, Rangoon-based Mon women based have been the driving force behind the establishment of Mon Buddhist monasteries. In 1988, the Mon Women’s Organization formed on the Thailand-Burma border and was comprised of female students and local women who had fled oppression in rural Mon state in the late 1970s.

Achieving a post-conflict peace settlement in Burma is not as easy as some people may think. Local governments must develop mechanisms to systematically ensure women equal access to resources, wealth, and education, where no such mechanisms existed before. Future opportunities for women must be carefully designed and cultivated, using a quota system like other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, to ensure greater access to education and positions within local government.

Over the past thirty years, many Rangoon-based Mon women achieved middle class status by working in small businesses or establishing their own, despite the lack of financial capital provided by groups like the Chinese and Indian chambers of commerce.  The past few decades have seen achievements by young women in arts and literature, and prominent Mon leaders have acknowledged their increasingly important role. Mon women from Burma and Thailand-based associations have also been seeking to establish local networks to develop better health and education for children in Mon State. In response to this need and to encourage collaboration, the New Mon State Party has given local women greater authority since the ceasefire agreement fifteen years ago.

Mothers are the backbone of our society and culture, and mine turns 70 this year. She gave birth to ten children in a poor, rural village, and it saddens me that she missed out on the blooming opportunities for the new generations of women. However, the resilience shown by the women of Burma, especially those whose husband or partners left them behind while they fought in armed resistance or worked in foreign countries, should be acknowledged and nurtured by women’s associations.

The ruler of Monland in the 14th and early 15th centuries was Mon Queen Shin Saw Pu, or Mi Jow Bu in Mon language, after whom the new women’s organization is named. Known for her compassionate leadership and rule of law, she remains a symbol of hope and empowerment for women. Today, Shin Saw Pu would be tremendously proud of her fellow Mon women.

I humbly congratulate the founding members of the Shin saw-pu Association in my homeland. Peace shall be attained in all community sectors when women’s voices are heard and men listen to the message. Equality is reached when men and women share the pain and share the gain. The journey of our past civilization shall not be ended in the darkness, and the Mon Women’s Association earns a page in history in the 21st century civilization of Monland. Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the courageous lady who paved the way for greater freedom for all women, is a symbol for all women to be brave and seek new horizons. Freedom from fear is the ultimate mission for this movement.


More articles from issue 04/2 More articles from issue 02/3
More articles from issue 04/2

- Divide of Opinion on Proposed Change to Burma’s Electoral System

- Armed Ethnic Conflict Potential Unlike Sri Lanka but Strong Ceasefire Agreements Still Needed for Efficient Peace Process

- Conference and Photography exhibit highlight Dangers of Dawei Seaport

- Land confiscation issue in Mon State addressed in Burma’s Parliament

- More Calls for Political Party Unification as New MDP Office Opens

- Dengue Outbreak in Mon State

- Mon Must Be Ruled by Mon (Interview)

- President To Offer Limited Rights To Teach Mon Language

- Government Denies Permission to Mark Martyr's Day in Ye Township

- “I do not want to let it Burn down like a Mon Monastery” says Ashin Nyanissara

- Mon Education Donations Don’t Reach MLCC Goal

- From Burma to Myanmar: Restoration of Burman Imperial Identity

- MNDF Party Returns after 22 Years with New Name

- AMDP Disagree To Join MDP

- 80 Families Forced To Move in Three Pagodas Pass Township

- NMSP Questions Effectiveness of Ethnic Conference

- Peace and National Army For Mon People

- Mon in Sangkhlaburi Celebrates Culture and Urges Preservation

- Aung Min promises “Death Railway” Reconstruction to Begin After Rain Subsides

- Peace Process Can’t Proceed Without Suu Kyi

- Anti-Drug Day Names Three Pagodas Pass as Key Drug Trafficking Corridor

- Low Salaries and Teaching Restrictions Pose Risks to Mon Literature and Language

- Government Using Development Projects to Eliminate Enemies, Says NMSP

- Rohingya Boat People Imprisoned by Burmese Immigration Authorities

- Mon to Prepare for Ethnic Constituency in Rangoon

- NMSP Holds Community Meeting in Sangkhlaburi

- The Role of Women in Local Peace and Development in Monland

- Still No Justice for Victim of Alleged Police Brutality

- MDP Travels to Naypyidaw to Receive Official Registration

- Can Enemies Become Friends?

- Security Concerns and Cancelled Speaking Engagements can't Dampen Jubilant Crowds at Suu Kyi Visit

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