Gender in the Transition: Feminist Politics, Resistance and Intersectionality in Myanmar
Time & LocationSession 7
Thu 13:30–15:00 Room 1.201
- Bridget Welsh National Taiwan University
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- Burden or Opportunity? Negotiating the Gender Roles in Karen Women’s Labour Mobility from Myanmar to Thailand Indre Balcaite
Justine Chambers Australian National University
Despite the popular argument about the relative gender equality in Southeast Asia, venturing far away from home for women – especially if young and single – implies a negotiation between the notions of ‘modern women’ and ‘dutiful daughters’ (Barber 1997; Mills 1999; Derks 2008). Since the 1980s, life in southeastern Myanmar (Burma) has become increasingly reliant on remittances from Thailand but women’s major role in it remains underresearched. The co-authors combine their long-term ethnographic fieldwork experience on both sides of the Myanmar-Thailand border in 2012-2018 to argue that the reconfiguration of gender roles through migration presents both an opportunity and a burden for Karen women. The paper teases out the gender roles that the predominantly Phlong-speaking Buddhist Karen women from Hpa-an Township, Kayin (Karen) State, are subjected to, subvert and negotiate before, during and after their migration to Thailand. We analyse how the intersections of gender with age, family status and class shape individuals’ perceived and internalised roles in the migration process. Like elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Karen men invoke the notion of travelling as exploration for fun and experience, whereas women’s mobility negotiates the notions of propriety, modesty and filial piety. For example, unmarried eldest daughters are overrepresented among the ‘pioneer migrants’ first to leave from their family. We highlight the multiple ways that women balance their productive and reproductive labour and financial and care obligations to their families while away. Women’s mobility is expected to be flexible enough to respond to changing family needs. Finally, we offer a glimpse into how the female Karen migrants negotiate their aspirations and familial and societal expectations upon their return to their home communities, forging new paths for themselves in sometimes empowering ways while running the risk of criticism for ‘lost manners’.
- Defining the Feminine: An Evaluation of the Burmese Weaving Industry in Amarapura Markie Striegel Northern Illinois University
“Why Did Burma's Leader Appear on TV in Women's Clothes?” This was the headline for an article published by Time Magazine on February 24, 2011. A few weeks earlier, the former military leader of Myanmar, General Than Shwe, wore a contemporary luntaya acheik longyi (a type of sarong) during a Union Day celebration in the country’s capital of Naypyidaw. This sparked much media attention both within Myanmar and abroad. However, luntaya acheik is not solely a women’s design.
Prevalent in Myanmar since the mid-18th century when King Alaungpaya commissioned its production, luntaya acheik is a horizontal, wave-patterned silk design technique in an interlocking tapestry weave. Traditionally hand-woven, it is one of the most definitive designs in Burmese fashion. My research explores the local usage of luntaya acheik and focuses on its progression from a royal design worn by both sexes, to one widely-accessible and more associated with femininity. In addition, I look specifically at the contemporary positions of men and women within the textile weaving industry in Amarapura to further discuss the transformation of gender roles by socioeconomic and cultural factors.
- Gender, Intersectionality and the Gendered Effects of Agricultural Development Process in Myanmar Daun Cheong Wageningen University
Women’s roles in warranting food security came more to the fore in the wake of increased male migration that endangered the viability of small-scale agriculture. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) clearly states the international commitment to achieving gender equality and inclusive rural development through promoting women’s roles in agricultural development. Yet, in the narratives of agricultural development research and policy, women are still perceived as instruments to increase productivity overlooking the diversity of women’s realities and needs, and their agency to pursue their own farming strategies. As a result, women farmers have been trivialised in service provision and public support in agricultural innovations. Myanmar’s new Agricultural Development Strategies (ADS) emphasises on the modernisation of rice production, with limited approaches to support small-scale farmers, particularly women whose labour input accounts for 60 to 80% in small-scale rice farming in Myanmar. Furthermore, there is little discussion about the diverse farming strategies and practices of different ethic groups. Despite the extensive attention in gender in agriculture research, only 6% of the studies have been conducted in Southeast Asia. Especially, Myanmar, due to the long isolation from the outside world, severely lacks the knowledge of the relevant fields. To date, there is very limited knowledge on gender, intersectionality, and their effects on farming patterns and agricultural development process in the Myanmar context. Minding this research gap, this paper studies the expected gendered effects of agricultural development through a content analysis of relevant literature including policy and programme documents. The results from this study will provide insights for more inclusive and customised agriculture service design, and further research areas.
- In the Land of Wise Old Men: Experiences of Young Women Activists in Myanmar Poe Ei Gender Academy Myanmar
In a society in which leadership is still largely defined by age and gender, young women in Myanmar face social, cultural, and even administrative challenges to raising their voices and taking on leadership roles. The research explores the experience of young women activists in Myanmar, considering social norms and challenges to leadership, coping strategies, and solutions to the obstacles that young women face to participating in on-going legal and political reform in Myanmar. The qualitative research analysed the case studies of five women activists in Myanmar. By researching the lifespan of the women activists using in-depth interview, it is evident that the women activists experienced harassment relating to their appearances and behaviours. The research has indicated that young women have encountered limited participation and felt less important while they are working with older men and women due to sociocultural norms on age and sex.
The research highlighted that young women have faced activism related risks such as i) lack of protection mechanism on women, example no law against workplace bullying and harassment or domestic violence, ii) over protection of family members against young women activists, iii) balancing family and activism roles as women and iv) exclusion of peer groups for young women prevent them from persuading their goals and activist life. It is due to the political situation in Myanmar is considered risky for young women to participate and making an alliance with political activists which cost social-economic for young women.
Young women used different approaches and strategies to tackle and cope with the challenges they have faced. In order to organise and take collective actions, young women need support from their family members especially husbands and parents. The research reflected that women created strong evidence-based knowledge to gain credibility and to build trust with key officials. Young women gain motivation from networking with younger male groups as well as big women alliances. The research recommended that it is vital for the government, NGOs and CSOs taking the initiative to support young women leaders in Myanmar. All parties should go beyond training and workshops on discrimination of age and sex and creating an enabling environment for young women to participate meaningfully in the national fora.
The aim of this panel is to critically examine different conceptualizations, dynamics and lived experiences of gender in Myanmar. A central question for students and scholars of gender is how gender roles are (re)produced in and connected to relations of, inter alia, power, class, ethnicity, and religious identity. The study of gender in historical and contemporary Myanmar then provides a unique opportunity to explore differences in the articulation and lived experience of gender across time and communities. Paying attention to this allows for the examination of how the status of women has evolved against a background of absolute exclusion during military rule to a semi-civilian government with a female de-facto head of state. Despite this shift, gender inequality persists across the country at all levels. Why is this, and how are feminist or women’s movements mobilising to confront the inequalities they experience? What can students of contemporary Myanmar learn from the ways in which gender has been mobilised for political purposes in the past? Some of the questions raised in this panel include:
- What sort of gender roles are being (re)defined or (re)instated in the transition? In
what ways have gender roles been bent, utilized, or changed in the past, and for what
- How have notions of feminism evolved and been employed in Myanmar by women
and queer/LGBTI activists? How is feminist resistance organized against militaristic modes that reinstate and reinforce relations of inequality? What spaces are afforded non-hetenormative activisms?
- How are new or redefined norms and regulations affecting feminist, intersectional and queer work for political participation and equality?
- How are non-normative identities reconfigured through migration, displacement or diasporic activities?
- How is sexuality and gendered roles regulated at home and in war? What are the gendered effects of war, ceasefire dynamics and development processes in Myanmar?