Sunday January 20th 2019



WLB Launched a paper Analyzing the Principles of GENDER EQUALITY Adopted by Union Peace Conference


For full paper in Burmese & English

The Union Peace Conference-21st Century Panglong (UPC), third session held in July of 2018 adopted four principles on gender equality, which were ratified by the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw. This paper argues that these principles are insufficient as a basis for the development of democracy, federalism, and gender equality in our country. The conclusions we draw are:

  1. The participation of women in decision-making roles in the peace process is crucial both to the development of adequate gender equality principles and to the success of the process as a whole.
  2. Principles on gender equality must adopt a broad, outcome-oriented model of equality, which will be necessary to address the structural inequalities that affect women in our country. A non-discrimination principle is necessary, but not sufficient for gender equality.
  3. Positive or affirmative action is necessary to create gender equality. This positive action should take the form of a quota that will guarantee women’s participation in all sectors, both in the current peace process and in the government of Myanmar generally. Mere encouragement is not sufficient: a guarantee is needed.
  4. Gender equality is necessary to create real democracy in our country: without gender equality, there will be no democracy.
  5. Gender equality is necessary to create real federalism in our country; without gender equality, federalism will not function well.

Process issues

There were several problems with the process that gave rise to these principles on gender equality. The subject of gender equality was chosen by default: it was not because the participants believed it was inherently important, but because all of the subjects they considered more important were too controversial to be discussed at this point.5 In other words, it was precisely because most of the participants did not consider gender equality truly important that they decided to talk about it at the UPC. The WLB wishes to recognize the contribution of the small number of men at the UPC who did care about the gender equality principles and worked to make them more inclusive. It is the real commitment of men like these that is the hope for the future of our country. But the majority of the participants plainly did not consider gender equality a priority. This attitude shaped the conversation and the outcome in significant ways.

First, the lack of real interest in the subject led to the hijacking of the conversation: much of the time was spent arguing about issues other than gender equality (for example, the question whether to make reference to the name of the country as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar).6 Because most of the participants did not think of gender equality as important, they tried to use this conversation to promote their views on other issues that they cared about more. As a result, an important opportunity to discuss the different approaches to equality and the different ways of implementing them was lost. As this paper will explain, however, a conversation about the meanings or models of equality is crucial to the success of any effort to promote equality in our country (ethnic equality as well as gender equality).

Second, the fact that most of the participants did not see gender equality as an important issue meant that they were willing to give away even those negotiating points on which they had some success. For example, there was, at one point, agreement to a required quota that would guarantee women’s 30% participation, but this was abandoned in the final draft of the principles. The final language merely “encourages” that level of participation. This loss was incurred in order to close the negotiations; keeping the stronger language would have required holding the issue open for a later UPC.7 It is always necessary for negotiators to prioritize and compromise and trades are not inherently bad. But closing an issue with a bad result is not a success for the peace process. And if the negotiators do not care much about a particular issue, then it is likely to be traded away, even sometimes for no real gain. That is what happened here.

Finally, the process was flawed because very few women participated in decision-making roles. Many of the stakeholder groups did bring women experts to the UPC to speak about their group’s proposals. These experts were talented and dedicated women, most of whom argued forcefully for stronger versions of the principles. But, as expert advisors, these women had no role in the final decision-making process. In that process, there were only a small number of women and the important decisions were made by men. As UNSCR 1325 makes clear, it is crucial that there be a significant number of women, with real power over the decisions, in these processes.

To improve the process in the future, the WLB calls on the leaders of the peace process to:

includingwomenFuture peace negotiations should include at least 30% women in positions where they can affect the outcome. Technical advisors are very important and should continue to be used, but it is also necessary to have women among the negotiating teams with a voice in the decisions.


educationThe negotiators need to learn more about gender equality so that they will understand its importance as a goal in the peace process. A later section of this memo will address this issue in more detail. The negotiators also need to increase their bargaining skills: they should never give something away to the other parties without getting something they value more in exchange.
This flawed process resulted in problematic principles. The next section of the paper will briefly describe the central problems with each of the principles that were finally approved.