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Number of female MPs double after Myanmar election

With more women in parliament, they can stand up for their rights, says Dr. May Shi Sho of Karen Development Network. In the election period she traveled around Myanmar encouraging people to vote for women, as part of the WCDI Vote for Women Campaign.

After the Myanmar election, the number of women members of parliament has risen from 6 % to 13%. NPA partners have campaigned to get more women into parliament through the network Women Can Do It, which in time was started in cooperation with Norwegian People’s Aid and the Norwegian Labour Party.

“We need more women in parliament, because they will be the ones to stand up for women’s rights, for education, children and health care”, says Dr. May Shi Sho, Community Management Coordinator at Karen Development Network. She is one of the people who participated in the “Vote for Women” campaign organized by the Women Can Do It (WCDI) network during the election period.

Women in Myanmar politics

In the last period, only 6 % of the Members of Parliament in Myanmar were women

800 women ran for parliament in the November 8 election. This was an eight fold increase from the 2010 election, when only 100 women ran as MPs.

150 women were elected as MPs, out of a total of 1121 elected MPs.

14 of the women running were WCDI alumni. Two were elected - Nan Hmwe Hmwe Khin from Tailai (Red Shan) Nationalities Development Party (TNDP) was elected Shan ethnic affairs minister for Sagging Division, and Lwe Nan Moe from Taang (Palaung) National Party (TNP) was voted into the House of Representatives (Lower House) for Manton Township in Shan State.

Fighting for women’s rights

During the campaign, volunteers and WCDI alumni travelled around Myanmar encouraging people to vote for women in the election held on November 8.

“I would ask people if they knew how many of the members of parliament were women – it was only 6 %. Then I would ask them what they think the outcome has been after 5 years with this government. Not a lot has changed for women, that has been my point. With more women in parliament, they can stand up for their rights, and because they had to fight to get their seats they will be actively participating. They will not just sit back and do nothing” Dr. May explains.

The Vote for Women campaign was organized and coordinated by WCDI, a network of alumni who have participated in the Women Can Do It program. 14 of the WCDI alumni ran for parliament, out of whom 2 were elected as MPs.

Trained by the Norwegian Labour Party

Dr. May Shi Sho is also a WCDI alumna, and participated in the very first WCDI training in 2011. Two women from the Norwegian Labour party visited Myanmar and gave a 6 day course.

“The experience was quite new for us, but also for the course leaders. Women in Norway are very strong. In Myanmar, we had to choose a secure venue for the course due to risks” she says.

The course, which was attended by 25 women from local organizations and networks, covered leadership advice, networking, negotiating skills and advice on how to overcome domineering techniques used by men.

“We felt we recognized many of these techniques once we became aware of them. One example is when you are in a meeting with 90% men, just a sprinkling of women, and the men don’t take notice of what you say. They are thinking you belong in the kitchen. The way to overcome that is to look them in the eye and say “Please listen to me. I am talking”. Quite a lot of the women in the course tried that, and it worked.”

“Look at Obama”

The women were also trained on public speaking and how to show strength. Dr. May has later shared the knowledge by giving courses herself, and she gives her students this advice:

“I often say “Look at Obama. When he walks up on a stage he sort of runs up the steps. You should do that too.” To be a good leader, you must show strength. Even if you are tired and your knees are hurting, you must not show it”.

During the election period, WCDI alumni and volunteers ran a campaign encouraging more people to vote for women. Photo from campaign activities in Shan state.

Dreams of new constitution

Using the skills and network from her training, May Shi Sho has been active in the WCDI alumni network, led several trainings, passed on knowledge in her work at the Karen Development Network, participated in the Myanmar People’s forum and chaired the Myanmar delegation to the ASEAN People’s Forum in Malaysia. She believes the civil society organizations have had a very important role in the period up to the election in Myanmar.

“The civil society organizations have been very involved in pushing for democracy. We have conducted voter education and election observation. When I visited Karen state for the Vote for women campaign, many did not even know when the election would be. The civil society organizations are doing what the government should be doing“, she says.

She dreams that the new government will change the constitution. Today’s constitution reserves 25 % of the seats in parliament for the military.

“I am still optimistic, and I dream that one day Myanmar will be a fully democratic country”.

14.01.2016 | Julie Offerdal
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