Political Transitions During Women 's Status

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Political Transitions in Myanmar and Changes in Burmese Women’s Status
Since its independence in 1948 until 2008, Myanmar was an island unto itself. Although being the largest mainland country in Southeast Asia, it is also one of the least known countries in the region. Decades of military dictatorship and a policy of isolationism made Myanmar one of the least developed countries in the world with a population of 60 million people. Various international agencies, such as the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), classify Myanmar as a “low-income country under stress” and “least developed country (LDC)” –this indicates that the country not only suffers from extreme poverty, but it also exhibits the lowest
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Although the Burmese government and various NGOs have made concerted efforts to promote women’s rights since 2008, there is still much room for improvement in the rural and remote border areas. In this paper, I will examine how the role and status of Burmese women have changed through Myanmar’s multiple political transitions, ranging from colonialism, through military junta, to democracy. Special attention will be paid to examining gender inequality in education and political participation. In addition, I argue that tensions between the various racial and ethnic groups in Myanmar serve as deterrents to the efforts made to improve women’s status.
Contrary to the common perception that women in Southeast Asia traditionally enjoyed a high status in society, many scholars generally agree that such assumptions about the purported status of women are oversimplified by “postcolonial scholars in order to perpetuate the discourse of gender equality.” (Ikeya 2006:51). According to Chie Ikeya, the “traditional” high status of women in Myanmar has been used since its independence from Great Britain to assert and implicit the message of gender equality (2006:53). This explains why not only gender inequality persists in Southeast Asia, but why the very discourse of gender equality also does not get enough attention in this region. Ikeya argues that the “traditional” high status of women in Southeast Asia
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