Myanmar

Yearning for equality in a society that still holds women back

Cho

Yangon, Myanmar

 

“I graduated in 2008, in September 2007 it was the Saffron revolution here, and it was a crazy time, so people got nervous, they thought, what if society is not stable? So they wanted to send their kids to study abroad”

My name is Cho, I am 25 years old. I live in Yangon, I grew up here. I got educated in the States and I got back to Myanmar in 2014. Because of that, I don’t really represent the majority of women in Myanmar. I work in a telecom company as a risk manager. I am getting married next year so I’m excited.

I graduated in 2008. In September 2007, it was the saffron revolution here, and it was a crazy time, so people got nervous, they thought what if society is not stable? So they wanted to send their kids to study abroad, and the US was giving more scholarships at that time because they thought that Myanmar kids were in trouble, so it was easier to apply to US school at that time. It was not easy, I still had to go through the selection process, but they were more generous. Now the tendency is more to give financial aid inside the country. A lot of people were doing that back then, me and my friends we took the SATs, the TOEFL, then we applied to US school.

 “I think my life would be different if I were a man, I could have a more adventurous kind of career. Also, I wouldn’t care so much about financial security and physical security that much”

I was raised in a good family so I didn’t feel much discriminated for my gender. The only thing I can think of is that my family was nervous about me getting married because here, if you break up a marriage, there is no protection from the government, for example you don’t get child support. So my parents are kind of reluctant for me to marry at this age. They want me to have a better pay rate or a better education first, so that if something happens, I would be able to feed my child and have a shelter on my own. Because the divorce rate is very high, the modernization, all these new media, the whole society is changing, and both men and women in the couple now work, it’s not like the traditional family anymore.

There are a lot of women who are having a hard time because they don’t get financial support from their ex-partner. If the woman’s parents are nice it’s good because they can help her, they can babysit for instance.

I think my life would be different if I were a man, I could have a more adventurous kind of career. Also, I wouldn’t care so much about financial security and physical security that much.

My parents are quite liberal because they allowed me to study abroad for example, but they still can’t accept some things, like the fact that girls live with their boyfriend before they get married for example. The virginity is still very embedded in their mind, even if my mother is leading a accounting firm, she still has that kind of mentality. People become more modernized, but there is still a long way to go.

“There are more female models now that are showing more skin and who are more provocative, and people are accepting it more, and yes it is also a liberation but that doesn’t necessarily mean empowerment”

People are not very used to women becoming strong figures either, I showed my parents the movie Wonder Woman for example and they said that it’s only one woman in a thousand, but for me it’s a metaphor that says that women can actually fight and be strong. But they’re not used to seeing that.

The entertainment media still has a long way to go. For example, they wouldn’t shoot a movie with a female lead, it’s a very risky thing to do because they doubt it will generate that much income.

Although I think we do have more female models now. This is the thing, men will say that there are more female models now that are showing more skin and who are more provocative, and people are accepting it more, and yes it is also a liberation but that doesn’t necessarily mean empowerment. All the female models and other new representation of women in the media, is still very new to the people, and now they see women as sexual objects and they don’t always differentiate with the reality. So the media has gotten more provocative, but it doesn’t mean that they show women in leadership position, they don’t portray them as fighters, or leaders. There are no roles for women as company leaders or engineers, even a woman programmer, I’ve never seen this type of character.

“Today women can, in theory, can do just as much as men but they don’t really have access to all the resources to really make a choice, which is the point of equality”

Between me and my parents, I think there is a generation gap because during my parents’ time there was 40 years of isolation.

When we talk about gender equality they always say, you girls can go to school like boys, that’s gender equality, but for us there’s much more to it. I think there are not many people who understand much about equality yet, that’s how I feel. Women can actually go to work, they can actually go to school now, but they still can’t get equal opportunity to get promoted, or get into CEO positions. For example, in finance, the majority of the workers are women, a lot of accounting jobs are for women, but then they don’t get into higher positions, because at a certain age they want to have kids and they don’t have the resources for childcare, and neither the government nor the companies are helping. I know that in some countries like in Thailand or Malaysia, big corporations have those nurseries set up downstairs, so women can have the choice to have both their job and a kid. It’s the same thing with education, yes they can get an education but they don’t get the same opportunity. For instance, they can’t become a construction engineer. They can take that major, but they can’t find a job, because they prefer men for that type of manual job. So today women can, in theory, do just as much as men but they don’t really have access to all the resources to really make a choice, which is the point of equality.

I think people are not used to seeing women as more career-oriented. They will be like “oh, that’s cute, you got an education and you have a job”, but even then you won’t be seen as career-oriented, and even if there are women that are career oriented they will consider them as hot headed, angry and greedy people. Even women think that, after their twenties they think, it’s my time to get married, because even if I have a job and a career, my ultimate goal is to get a husband and make a family. What they don’t realize is yes, I have a choice to get married but I also have the choice to be more career oriented. I can have other choices that just having babies, but many women they don’t have a choice, or at least they don’t feel like they have a choice. There is still a lot of stereotypes, and thus prejudices on women.

 “Myanmar is a member of CEDAW but we have never actually implemented it”

I think the government should be more involved in these issues. From the government’s side, I think, there are still a lot of laws that they need to pass. Myanmar is a member of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) but we have never actually implemented it. That’s a very old school argument that a lot of feminists have been making, but it is true, we have never implemented it.

I think women fighting for more equality in Myanmar are not strong enough yet, they are starting to make noise, but, for example, it doesn’t come out strong. There is not so much resistance from men because those voices are not very strong, so men don’t care about it. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, she doesn’t talk that much about gender equality. I think she has other priorities, and the fact that she deals with the military probably makes her move carefully. This is probably more important than feminist issues, I guess.

Only a few politicians are women. It’s so little. And they are not in very powerful positions. For example, we have the buses system that has changed recently, and the man in charge, he never even mentioned the sexual harassment problem in the buses. I don’t think it’s his priority, but he’s a man, there are things he doesn’t think about because he has never had to walk in our shoes. But even if there are more women in the government now, they don’t actually have a voice yet. I think there is only one minister, but anyway, at that level, they don’t talk about feminist issues. Even women in those positions don’t think about gender issues.

As for the men in the government, 25% is from the military, and the rest, is not focusing on issues related to gender. Since most politicians are men they might not have the same interest in gender issues. I don’t follow that much politic right now, but in my opinion, they are not changing fast enough.

 “There are some men who are allies, but it’s still very rare”

People now talk more about gender equality. There are some men who are allies, but it’s still very rare. They still don’t get the idea of it. Look at my situation: I am a manager in a telecom company here, but when I walk down in the streets I get harassed like every other woman. I think that’s a really sad situation because if it happened in another country maybe I could make the guy sleeps in jail for one or two nights, but in Myanmar this is so common, to the point where women don’t pay attention anymore, they’re used to it and they go through with it.

Now people talk more about it on Facebook and other social media, there are some girls posting videos of harassment, things like that. But we can’t always find the guy and punish him really. So I hope that since people talk more about it then guys will feel ashamed and will think about what they can do to change their behaviors.

I think the issue comes from the culture, there is still this idea that men are superior, because they can become monks, so it gives them a higher place in society, so this is religious. This hierarchy between men and women is so embedded in our society that I don’t think it’s only a religious thing, but it’s definitely one aspect.

In Myanmar, women are better off today, yet society still hold them back.

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