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What and Why; the Relationship between Women and Military


To UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet

A week ago, at the online media coverage in Myanmar such as some blog pages, forward mails and Facebook, one of the news emerged to the front line haunted the citizens especially the youths like us. Although it was not an official announcement by the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council), it became the real concern for the people inside the country. It was at the center of attention for international community, too. What is the news about?

According to the source from NHK news agency, Myanmar’s military government has drafted legislation for mandatory military service for both men and women. The news mentioned that the legislation was enacted on December 17th and NHK has obtained official documents issued by Myanmar's military government. Except very little differences, most of the spreading news online is the same. Currently, the whole country is very excited to confirm the leak and to see the first parliament meeting of the country on the 31st of January. We just had the only and first election after 20 years in the 7th of November, 2010. Although it was not free and fair election and controlled a lot by the current power holder, the military regime, we all hope some pieces for a change from some proportions of other democratic representatives.

As the country has been under the real oppressive, human right violated, authoritarian army government, there is no doubt that how and how much the people hate and afraid of the militarily except some elites who are partners with the corrupted generals and officers. So, after the release of the news from the NHK, we all are strongly interested to know in details although it has not yet approved. And we all are very tired and exhausted wondering the means of this play for Senior General Than Shwe and the sufferings for us.

The military force in Myanmar is considerably large and strong in the regional level. I hope all the international communities have already know the regime’s amount of investment in army. It is the largest portion of the country’s budget. So why do we need to extend the military? And another thing is that, as an example, although we are not as serious as Sudan, we still have civil wars in some parts of the country. The battles are between the military which is dominated by the Burmese ethnicity and other ethnic groups. (In Myanmar, there are 8 major ethic groups and historically and traditionally, Burmese is one of them and is assumed as the major group. In fact, we have 135 elasticities in total.) So as a country with civil war, would that military conscription law makes us victims fighting against each other in a family?

I had a chance to get a document of the draft of the law which would be proposed to the parliament meeting by the regime. It is likely to be the efforts of anti political groups to spread like that via emails. As I do not have any authority to confirm the document I received is whether correct, it is worthy to give a time to read it based on the recommendations from political experts.

At the top of the papers, we can see the title “Announcement by the Union of Myanmar” and at the end, it is the name and position of Senior General Than Shwe who passed it. As NHK mentioned, it was enacted on the 17th of November. It was composed of eight chapters.

The first chapter is about the definition of the law. The law is to be named “Military Conscription Law” and it will be com into force from the date of approved by the SPDC office. In this chapter, the terms related to the law are also explained and the eligible age to serve the service is also mentioned. Any citizens of men aged between 18 and 35, and women aged between 18 and 27 will have to be served into the army for two years but for some technicians and experts, men aged between 18 and 45, and women aged between 18 and 35 will have to pay their service for three years in the army.

In the second chapter, the time period to serve duty is mentioned. One statement describes that in case of emergency for the nation, the government can summon for five years to serve in the army.

The third chapter is about the formation of steering and organizing committee for managing and taking action the law and the tasks of that committee. The incentives for the servants are mentioned in the fourth chapter. The 5th, 6th and 7th are organizing, people those who can get exemption from the duty and the punishment for those who attempt to avoid respectively. The final chapter is general session.

All eligible persons have to register at the committee with their national identity card. If someone gets requested letter from the township or district committee, they can reply and inform if they decide to follow the order and he or she can postpone their commitment to a certain amount of time with acceptable excuses such as mental and physical problems, crucial role in the family or life-concerned educational purposes. The committee will check the persona facts and reasons presented are whether true and based on it, the judgment will be finalized.

Those who are incapable of serving the duty due to their temporary mental and physical challenges, civil servants, students, and sole responsible person for the family with the aged members, those who are trying to rehabilitate for their drug addict and prisoner can postpone temporarily taking responsibility the military service. For women, any mother with child, whether they are widow or divorced, have got exemption. Religious persons, permanent disable persons, by the decision of the committee, those who are not suitable to serve (I am not clear with this one) have also got exemption.

Those who attempt to avoid the duty will be punished with three years imprisonment or certain amount of fine or both. Those who pretend as disables or try to be ill and weak and self-harm will be sentenced for five years in prison or fine or both. If anyone from the committee is corrupted and accept bribery, they will also get the punishment for three years imprisonment. Those who help others in attempting to avoid the law will have to go to the prison for one year.

The final statement in the document is that this law annual the “1959 Militarily Conscription Act”.

After reading the document, many questions and thoughts remained in my mind from a variety of perspectives. Why do they want to propose it? Does Myanmar need it? I feel I should explore about the military service policy of Korea, Israel and United States of America. Personally, I feel if the draft is passed, the military and stronger and more dominant. For the real development of Myanmar, we do not need more military forces. We need democratic values. We need freedom, fundamentally, freedom of expression. We need trusted leaders. We need better social services, better education system, and better health care. We need equality. We need fighting against corruption. We need national reconciliation between Burma and other groups. We need the military which protect its citizens, not the one which harms its fellows. So, I feel this is their aim to go away from what we really want and need.

For the gender perspective, it is so interesting in my personal level. Till now, for the twenty years, military is the strongest power holder in the country. All the country’s wealth, properties, policy making and legislation are in their hands. However, in Myanmar armies, there is no woman and all are men. There are some woman medical professions who serve at the army hospitals as a military servant but that would be less than 1 percent of the whole army. So, I wonder, participation of women in the army and if they can reach to higher positions, can we reach to a gender mainstreaming in Myanmar? However, it is still complicated in my brain. They said we are going to a democratic country. So, at that time, the power will be in check-and-balance-system in the parliament. The military will not be the only authoritarian leader. So what would become the huge army? What our roles in it? Do we become just victims in the army? During these twenty years, as the junta has oppressed the people seriously in many ways and as a country which practices one of the worst systems and policies, some of us are lack of knowledge and education although we went to schools and got degrees, some of us are morally spoiled. The country has been ruined terribly in terms of morality and discipline. Because of those factors and traditionally gender stereotyping, I am very worried for women who have to go into the army lead by corrupted, unwise, stubborn and cruel general men.

Will they force us, women, to serve this mandatory law? Should it be? As I mentioned before, we have other sectors needed to work for and because of our physical differences between man and women, why are women needed to serve like men? I do not mean women are week and it is not our responsibility but it should be not be a compulsory and should be our choice. Should women are forced to serve such a tough job? Do not we have other works to do as a force for the development of our country? So, I strongly believe we should have acceptable and workable law for both the real change for the country and gender equality rather than such a hard-dictatorship-sounded- proposal.

Isha Allah

As the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women officially begins its work this month, World Pulse is asking women worldwide: What is YOUR vision and recommendation for UN Women? We invite you to raise your voice by writing a letter to UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet outlining your recommendation for how this new UN agency can truly affect change on the ground to promote gender equality and uphold the rights and needs of women both on a local and global scale.
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jadefrank's picture

for the women of burma

Thank you for participating in this campaign, by using your voice and speaking out for women of Burma and calling upon the new UN Women agency to stand up to the harsh laws and practices in your country, so there can be peace, freedom, and gender equality.

In two weeks, we will compile your letters and share your voices with the GEAR Campaign, who have been working closely with UN Women to ensure the inclusion of civil society groups, and through the PulseWire community, grassroots women leaders, as they set their agenda. We will also be sending your letters directly to Michele Bachelet and other senior leaders of the newly formed UN agency, to demonstrate the effectiveness for sourcing opinion, knowledge and needs from the global grassroots women's movement through our online community. Through this, we hope to open a portal for our community to have a direct line of influence within the UN Women agency.

I will keep you updated on the progress of our campaign!

In friendship and solidarity,

BarbaraLH's picture

about the draft

Thanks for writing about this important topic -- which has implications for your whole country and for so many people there your age. I wonder how you and your friends feel and talk about this issue...How much your lives will change if this comes to reality.

Keep up the good work of getting the word out!

Insha Allah's picture

if this comes to reality

Dear Barbara,

Historically, we had woman heroines at the country’s crucial defense matters since the time of fighting against British Colonials and Fascist Japans for Myanmar’s Independent Movement. What I tend to mean is that we will not recoil if our mother land needs us and to protect it. However, in this case, seeing clearly, what is the intention? Both Myanmar people and international communities agree it is just to extend military power which we do not necessarily need in a third-world country like Myanmar. We, especially the youths, have a lot to do for the development of our nation. If this comes to reality, we all would suffer many frustrations. I think policies such as better quality education or providing scholarships the genius to join high-ranked foreign universities should be proposed instead of this unacceptable law.

Best regards,

Shwe Wutt Hmon

BarbaraLH's picture

military draft

Thanks for your response. I appreciate the background about women heroines and that there are times that you and others would want to support a freedom effort. I agree that support for education would be a more helpful direction.

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