Launching Young Women Leaders for Peace Myanmar: An important step in the advancement of the Women, Peace and Security and Youth, Peace and Security agendas

Launching Young Women Leaders for Peace Myanmar: An important step in the advancement of the Women, Peace and Security and Youth, Peace and Security agendas

November 20, 2020

By Mallika Iyer and Heela Yoon

Edited by Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

We are not afraid to hold our government accountable. We are ready to mobilize for constitutional reform and military accountability,” expressed a young peacebuilder[1] during the “Training of Trainers” (ToT) on the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) agendas organized by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) and the Yangon Youth Network, with support from Global Affairs Canada.  

With support from Global Affairs Canada, the ToT was held as a series of workshop sessions, that convened 27 young women leaders, LGBTQIA+ youth, and male gender equality allies from Yangon, Karen, Shan, Kachin, and Rakhine States between September 26 and October 24, 2020. The ToT raised awareness and knowledge about the WPS and YPS agendas among young people in Myanmar. The ToT included sessions on leadership, peacebuilding, electoral participation, economic empowerment, and the use of social media for advocacy. It also served as the official launch of the Young Women Leaders for Peace (YWL) in Myanmar. Coordinated by GNWP, the YWL is an international network of young women and gender equality allies who are advocating for the effective implementation of the WPS and YPS agendas in conflict-affected situations. It also works on the intersection of these agendas with humanitarian action including the response and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. A key advocacy message for the YWL is to ensure local young women’s participation in peace and security processes and in the design and implementation of humanitarian response.   

Prior to the ToT, GNWP facilitated a virtual focus group discussion on September 12, 2020, during which young peacebuilders analyzed peace, security, and gender equality in Myanmar. They discussed barriers to their meaningful participation in peacebuilding and political decision-making; and identified the training and advocacy needed to overcome them. The focus group discussion enabled GNWP and the Yangon Youth Network to contextualize the ToT and ensure that it is tailor-fit to the needs and awareness and knowledge level of the participants.

Reflections on the implementation of the WPS and YPS agendas in Myanmar

The implementation of the WPS and YPS resolutions in Myanmar has been quite bleak. “It’s not enough to have a woman as the leader of our country. We need women leaders who believe in and work towards gender equality, women’s rights, and human rights,” explained one of the young women participants in the ToT. Women, particularly from historically marginalized ethnic minorities, are significantly underrepresented in political decision-making, constituting only ten percent of the seats in the National Parliament. Despite quotas for women’s participation in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, the number of women meaningfully participating in the ongoing Panglong Peace Process has decreased from 21 to 11 percent over the years. Women’s civil society groups have also been largely excluded from participating in the government-run taskforce on WPS and violence against women. As a result, the Union Peace Accord fails to meet the needs of conflict-affected women and girls; nor does it include gender-responsive budgeting for the limited provisions on women’s rights.  Similarly, while youth organizations across the country have an established record of involvement in community organizing and activism, young women and LGBTQIA+ youth have very limited or no opportunities to participate in peacebuilding and political decision-making. The Government of Myanmar does not have a National Action Plan (NAP) on United Nations Security Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 or a roadmap on YPS. Instead, the government adopted the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (NSPAW) and a National Youth Policy, which are yet to be effectively implemented.

According to the young peacebuilders, a key challenge in the achievement of sustainable peace and gender equality is the limited awareness of the relevance and importance of the WPS and YPS resolutions amongst government, women’s rights groups, and youth organizations in Myanmar. “We need a National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325. It would define our priorities on peace and security in Myanmar,” a participant shared. “We could use the NAP to hold our government accountable for gender equality and human rights.” During the training, they committed to advocating for the adoption of a NAP through an inclusive drafting process. 

Full and effective implementation of the WPS and YPS resolutions has never been more urgent. There are reports of continued conflict-related sexual violence amongst other human rights violations inflicted on the Rohingya despite the request for provisional measures by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requiring Myanmar to prevent its military from committing acts that amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide. The request for provisional measures was made a result of the ongoing case filed by the Government of the Gambia concerning violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the Government of Myanmar.

During the ToT, the participants discussed the perception of the Rohingya community in Myanmar. One of the Rohingya participants said, “Intruder. Kalar[2]. Dirty. Illegal. Too many kids and wives. Immigrant. Cockroach. Ugly. Sharp nose. We, Rohingya, have been called many names except our own. Many people in Myanmar are allergic to our name.” The ToT participants also discussed the increasing cases of sexual and gender-based violence against other ethnic groups in the Kachin, Northern Shan, and Karen states. Human rights violations, particularly against ethnic groups, continue to occur even as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar accused the Burmese military of using the COVID-19 pandemic as “a cover to commit war crimes”.

Due to state repression against groups and individuals advocating for an end to the atrocities against the Rohingya, there is notable silence on this issue inside Myanmar. Thus, perpetrators within the government and military continue to enjoy impunity. Nonetheless, the young women leaders and gender equality allies bravely declared: “We need to respect and recognize the rights of ethnic groups in Myanmar. We are ready to fight for peace now—not later.” The ToT was one of the few discussions about the Rohingya genocide and the ongoing ICJ case amongst young peacebuilders in Myanmar. The members of the Young Women Leaders network highlighted the need for accessible global and regional mechanisms and platforms to condemn and demand accountability from their government for the Rohingya genocide and effective implementation of the WPS and YPS resolutions.

The young peacebuilders also identified electoral participation as a key strategy to demand accountability for gender equality, human rights, and sustainable peace from political decision-makers.  But while the Union Election Commission’s Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy and Action  Plan encourages political parties to increase the membership of women, the actual numbers of women politicians are much lower. “It’s hard to change things if we are not part of the system. If we want more women in peace processes, we need to elect more women politicians. Most political party leaders are currently men.” a participant explained. The ToT participants also shared their perspectives on the barriers to political participation with some young women candidates prior to the national elections on November 8, 2020[3] from the Democratic Party for New Society and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy. A young woman politician described some of the challenges she experienced in campaigning: “I face so many threats, with people monitoring my social media accounts and attacking my gender identity and sexual orientation. I’m thought to have no knowledge or experience. I am sexualized in the media. Men in my constituency try to shame and silence me. I need the support of a sisterhood of young women peacebuilders who believe in me. I am brave. I am dedicated to the cause. That’s why I won’t step down.” During the training, the young peacebuilders developed initiatives to generate support in their communities for politicians who promote gender equality and peace. These include social media campaigns to amplify their messages and counter fake news and mentorship schemes between seasoned and younger politicians in communities.  

Ultimately, the online workshops established a network of Young Women Leaders, supported by gender equality allies and LGBTQIA+ youth, who will meaningfully participate in, influence, and lead community-based peacebuilding, and advocacy for the implementation of the WPS and YPS resolutions, human rights, and an immediate cessation of armed conflict and violence. The Young Women Leaders for Peace Myanmar are ready to get to work! The active participation of young women leaders, LGBTQIA youth and gender equality allies in the focus group discussion and the ToT; as well as the establishment of the Young Women Leaders – Myanmar are all indicators of success in advancing the WPS and YPS agendas in this country. They represent a sign of hope in a country where independent civil society voices have been re

[1] Names have been redacted to protect youth peacebuilders.  

[2] “Kalar” is a racist term to describe a person of Indian heritage in Myanmar.

[3] There is still no available gender and age disaggregated data on the full results of the elections on November 8, 2020. GNWP and the Yangon Youth Network are closely monitoring the results as part of our efforts to hold elected officials accountable to laws and policies on human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQIA rights, gender equality, and peace and security.