Photo credit: The Myanmar Project Collective, Visualrebellion.org
“Ensuring accountability for past actions, developing mechanisms for transitional justice, enshrining the principles of equality and protection of rights of all ethnic, religious and gender minorities, including Rohingya and other marginalized groups in Myanmar’s future federal constitution and combating all forms of injustice are vital for democracy and constitutional reform in a country and failing to uphold these principles could threaten the country's entire populations.” Wai Wai Nu, Democracy and Human Rights advocate
International IDEA under the Myanmar MyConstitution programme conducted a webinar on "Inclusion and Gender Equality in Post-Coup Myanmar: Strategies for Democratic Constitutional Reform” on 7 July 2022. Representatives from Myanmar’s interim democratic institutions, including the National Unity Government (NUG) Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs and members of the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) including civil society and democratic activists working on gender equality, youth participation and ethnic minority rights discussed and exchanged views on strategies for inclusion in Myanmar’s post-coup constitutional transition.
International IDEA also presented key recommendations from a new Constitution Brief “Inclusion and Gender Equality in Post-Coup Myanmar: Strategies for Constitutional and Democratic Reform”, which highlights the challenges to gender equality and inclusion in Myanmar, including the role and demands of the pro-democracy actors in Myanmar’s post-coup political landscape. It analyses how inclusive Myanmar’s legitimate interim government institutions are and what the revised Federal Democracy Charter states about gender and inclusion.
Panelists and webinar participants highlighted that inclusion has always been a challenge in Myanmar, especially for women, youth, and ethnic minorities due to decades of autocratic military rule and multiple barriers such as discriminatory norms and conservative values, limited access to political rights and violation of human rights which further marginalize these groups from formal political processes. When the military staged a coup in 2021, these groups played a key role in the civil disobedience movement by driving mass protests, mobilizing public support, and demanding the establishment of an inclusive federal democracy union that guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms and equitable society.
VIEWS FROM PANELISTS AND PARTICIPANTS
The following perspectives and strategies were offered by panellists and webinar participants which can be summarized as follows:
- The concerns and voices of Myanmar’s women should be taken seriously and considered based on the principles of the Federal Democracy Charter (FDC) and its affirmative measures as well as the principle of non-discrimination when Myanmar’s interim government institutions – such as the National Unity Government (NUG) and the Joint Coordination Committees for Federal Affairs and Gender equality - define gender policy and draft the transitional constitution, which should include measures such as gender budgeting and effective mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of gender equality in future institutions.
- Young people’s representation in political processes, institutions and mechanisms in Myanmar have traditionally been weak. In the post-spring revolution, young people should not just be seen as driving the revolution, but their demands must be channelled into the institutions which will be built.
- A positive and inclusive narrative of self-determination, separation of powers, and the definition of the union system in the future Myanmar are very important, since these political terminologies tend to be viewed as having negative implications that may lead to the nation's separation. It is vital to counter wrong perceptions related to self-determination and separation of powers and to ensure these are discussed widely when drafting a new constitution so that all people living in a free and sovereign country enjoy the right to be politically and socially independent.
- Myanmar's decades-long human rights violations have significantly impacted on gender equality and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, subjecting many women and LGBTQ+ members to sexual violence by the military. Exclusionary policies can never create democracies that accommodate inclusion and gender equality. All marginalized communities must have a chance to participate in the future executive, legislature and judiciary of federal and state governments. The constitution must also include language and provide for effective mechanisms that ensure the country's commitment to international treaties, which must be ratified and implemented.
KEY STRATEGIES FROM THE CONSTITUTION BRIEF
Key strategies for inclusion from the constitution brief “Inclusion and Gender Equality in Post-Coup Myanmar: Strategies for Democratic Constitutional Reform” :
- A priority in Myanmar’s democratic reform should focus on ensuring inclusive political participation through open dialogue and consultations wherein all groups, especially women, youth and ethnic minorities are fully engaged in political processes led by the CRPH, NUG and NUCC. The NUG must work closely with the NUCC to ensure the voices of civil society and the disadvantaged groups are heard and integrated. The NUG and CRPH must also ensure buy-in and cooperation of ethnic minorities and EAOs which would be key to a successful democratic revolution and defeat of the military coup.
- Building on existing women’s movements and initiatives in Myanmar including those strengthened during the 2020 general elections, the CRPH and NUG in collaboration with women’s networks such as WAC Myanmar, for instance, could consider establishing a women’s caucus/council to identify, formulate and lobby for the implementation of priority policy areas. Experiences from other countries show that caucuses can influence parliament by cooperating across party lines and collaborating with other equality advocates.
- The CRPH and NUG can build on the work of the Youth Affairs Committees (YAC) (40 per cent government and 60 per cent youth representatives), which was established through the youth policy drafting process and became Myanmar’s first youth representative legislative body recognized by the Government in 2018.
- Special commissions tasked with advising on and promoting the wellbeing of historically underrepresented ethnic minorities, notably the Rohingya, may also be necessary. Advancing the interests of ethnic minorities (i.e., Rohingya) and other disadvantaged groups may require additional efforts, institutional structures or mechanisms.
- One of the most urgent issues that determine an individual’s right and ability to participate in political activities is citizenship. Thus, it is essential to review the 1982 Citizenship Act and the way it has been applied in practice as a priority, as stressed by the NUG. The NUG should annul the obsolete and unjustifiable list of 135 “national races” referred to in the 2008 Constitution and undertake inclusive consultations to identify steps to formulate a new citizenship law that would guarantee equitable inclusion of people belonging to all groups in Myanmar. This should also take into consideration the historical “Burmanization,” which forced many people not belonging to the Bamar group to change their ethnic affiliation to be part of the majority for increased political, economic, and social security.
- The electoral legal framework for future democratic elections must be reviewed to achieve an increased participation and representation of women, youth, and ethnic minorities. This could include reviewing qualifications to run for a seat in the Union parliament and consider lowering the eligibility age, reviewing the political finance regulations and considering the reduction of registration fees for young/women politicians running as candidates. The choice of an electoral system can also have a major impact on the different groups therefore the interim government institutions should ensure consultations with political parties including ethnic minority parties, and representatives of the CDM and other civil society actors including women and youth organizations to review and assess the advantages and disadvantages of different electoral systems. Changes should be considered towards a system that increases representation of under-represented populations such as ethnic minority communities, women, and youth as candidates. They should also reconsider the regulation of constituency boundaries to respect the principle of equal suffrage and prevent malapportionment.
- The lack of disaggregated and reliable data remains a fundamental challenge related to political participation in Myanmar which has made it difficult to track and monitor the level of participation and representation of disadvantaged groups. It would be opportune and beneficial for the CRPH and NUG to review and amend laws in a way that would require all public institutions in the long-term to collect data and statistics disaggregated by gender, age groups and ethnicity to enable analysis of political participation and representation and to facilitate measures aimed at strengthening inclusion and equality.
The event was conducted as a part of International IDEA’s MyConstitution programme funded by Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Luxembourg, which provides on-demand expert advisory services to those involved in negotiations and decision-making relating to constitution building as well as knowledge resources on constitutional issues in Burmese and other languages. Resources on inclusion and integrating gender equality in constitution building in Burmese can be found here: https://constitutionnet.org/mm-myanmar-publications