Author: Mon Yee Kyaw

Advisor: Asst. Prof. Pobsook Chamchong, PhD


This research addresses the perceived barriers that hinder women from participating and taking responsibility for the political decision-making process in Myanmar. Despite women’s contributions to every political movement, their participation remains unrecognized, mainly undocumented, and unaccounted for. The research applied a casual layer analysis framework to reveal multi-dimensional causes of why women in Myanmar struggle to be recognized in the political sphere. The situation of women’s political roles has worsened after the coup in 2021. For instance , out of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), only three women have been selected to represent, while 17 men have been given the chance. In addition, out of the total 17 ministers in the National Unity Government (NUG), only three are women, and out of the total 16 deputy ministers, only three are women. It shows that women representing in the decision making level is much less than the number of male counterparts. This research employed semi-structured interviews with a total of seven participants, comprising three representatives from civil society organisations, two individuals from the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), and two member of the women organisation. The collection of data is analysed against the casual layered analysis framework. The findings resonate that the patriarchal system of traditional practices, social and political structures, and religious and cultural norms are the main barriers to women’s participation in the political sphere.

Keyword: Myanmar, Women and Politics, Decision-making, Barriers, Revolution, CLA

Brief introduction to Myanmar’s Political History

Myanmar has a complicated and turbulent political history, characterised by military rule, pro-democracy movements, and ongoing struggles for human rights and social justice since its liberation from British colonial rule in 1948 (Lindsay Maizland, n.d.). Following independence, Myanmar established a parliamentary democracy and appointed U Nu as the country’s first prime minister. The country conducted multi-party elections in 1951–52, 1956 and 1960 (Kipgen, 2021).

However, in 1962, the military staged a coup under Ne Win’s command, and direct military rule started. As a result, all political parties and their activities were prohibited after dissolving the parliament (Kipgen, 2021). Consequently, for almost five decades, the country was ruled by the military regime, beginning with Nay Win’s coup in 1962, which lasted until 2011. During this period, the military regime ruled with a robust and harsh approach, using a lot of force and control over the people. For an instant, the press and media were subject to severe censorship, and gatherings of more than five people were prohibited. In addition, any form of protest was strictly banned and forcibly suppressed, as evidenced by the brutal crackdown on student demonstrations in 1962, 1988, and 1996 and peaceful monk protests during the 2007 Saffron Revolution (Bünte et al., 2019).

The military established its institutional role through the seven-step road map process, which extended to all three branches of government – legislative, executive, and judiciary. As a result, Myanmar’s political history witnessed a significant event after the 2010 general election (Pearson & Human Rights Watch, 2008). Subsequently, in 2011, a nominally civilian government was established, led by former military generals in civilian clothes and ruled the country under the military’s proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party  (David Scott Mathieson, 2010; “Military Rule In Civilian Clothing?,” 2010; Seth Mydans, 2010). Additionally, the 2008 constitution granted immunity to military generals for all their previous actions, including human rights violations and undemocratic practices (Grant Shubin and Akila Radhakrishnan, 2021).

In 2021, Myanmar experienced a return to military rule, thereby abruptly halting the country’s fragile transition towards democracy. Subsequently, the Myanmar people have been engaging in various forms of protest to fight for democratic reform, beginning with nonviolent demonstrations. However, the military has responded to these protests with arbitrary crackdowns, brutal killings, and arrests of those involved in the pro-democracy movements. As a result, the Myanmar Spring Revolution transformed into a stage of armed resistance.

Discussion – A Causal Layer Analysis (CLA) Approach

The results obtained from the interviews offer significant and insightful perspectives on the obstacles that impede women’s involvement in decision-making processes within the National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), National Unity Government (NUG), and Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). The utilization of Causal Layer Analysis (CLA) allows for a comprehensive exploration of these barriers, delving into their fundamental origins and ramifications. Through this analytical approach, a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to women’s limited participation in the political sphere can be attained. This section is dedicated to a thorough analysis of three essential layers, namely the systemic layer, the discourse layer, and the myth/metaphor layer.

Systemic Layer

In this systemic layer, it is crucial to conduct an analysis of several key aspects to gain a comprehensive understanding of the issues surrounding gender representation and women’s participation in the political sphere in Myanmar. Specifically, the representation of women at CRPH and NUG, gender-based discrimination, and the language barrier faced by non-Burmese women are central elements requiring examination.

Firstly, examining the representation of women at CRPH and NUG reveals a significant gender disparity in decision-making roles. The data indicates that out of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), only three women have been selected to represent, whereas 17 men have been given the opportunity. Similarly, within the National Unity Government (NUG), out of a total of 17 ministers, only three are women, and among the 16 deputy ministers, only three are women. These figures highlight a stark underrepresentation of women in key decision-making positions, revealing a prevailing gender gap at these levels of governance.

Secondly, the issue of gender-based discrimination emerges as a prominent obstacle hindering women’s active participation in political decision-making processes. Such discrimination is deeply rooted in societal norms and biases that perpetuate the perception of women as less competent and capable leaders compared to their male counterparts. This entrenched bias is evident in the disproportionate allocation of key ministerial positions to men, while women are often relegated to subordinate roles. The existence of gender-based discrimination at this level underscores the urgent need to address and dismantle these biased attitudes to foster a more equitable and inclusive political environment.

Thirdly, the language barrier faced by non-Burmese women presents a significant challenge to their engagement in the political domain. Myanmar’s diverse ethnic and religious communities give rise to linguistic variations and complexities, complicating effective communication and representation. Many non-Burmese women may lack fluency in the dominant Burmese language, further disadvantaging them in accessing and participating in political spaces where Burmese is predominantly used. Consequently, women from diverse linguistic backgrounds encounter barriers to their full political engagement and contribution, political discussions, advocacy efforts, and decision-making processes, perpetuating their underrepresentation in the political arena.

Discourse Layer

At the discourse layer of analysis, the study reveals the significant influence of cultural, traditional, and religious norms, which have played a pivotal role in shaping gender roles and expectations, consequently hindering women’s active engagement in the political sphere. Notably, the exclusionary practice of restricting women’s access to specific areas within Myanmar pagodas exemplifies the impact of cultural and religious beliefs on limiting women and participation in sacred spaces. Additionally, the belief that women’s attire, particularly skirts, may cause harm to men’s “hpoun” (glory) further illustrates how cultural norms have led to the marginalization of women in public settings.

These stereotypes are deeply embedded in cultural and religious norms, which dictate societal expectations regarding women’s roles. Traditional culture in Myanmar has traditionally confined women to the domain of “home affairs,” excluding them from active participation in politics or the public sphere. Consequently, women and their participation in spiritual and religious activities are curtailed, further reinforcing traditional gender hierarchies and limitations.

Another factor contributing to the marginalization of women is the intentional and conscious assumption by men, particularly those in positions of power, that they possess knowledge of women’s needs, desires, and the appropriate actions to take on their behalf. Consequently, they frequently formulate programs and policies without seeking input or consultation from women.

Moreover, the militarized nature of the armed forces has further compounded the challenge of achieving adequate representation of women at decision-making levels within armed factions, including the People Defense Forces (PDF), People Protection Force, and People Administration.

Despite the transformative momentum witnessed during the 2021 demonstrations, deeply rooted customs persist and present ongoing challenges to women’s empowerment and equitable participation in political affairs. Additionally, Myanmar’s history of democratic transition and resistance against the military junta, the society continues to face considerable challenges arising from deep-seated gender stereotypes.

Myth/Metaphor Layer

The context of Myanmar, particularly within Burmese society, is replete with numerous myths and metaphors. While non-Burmese societies may also possess their own myths and metaphors, these are not extensively documented in literature. Each traditional myth and metaphor serves as a reflection of the unique geographic and social landscape experienced by the people. The emergence of mythic narratives occurs when they originate from the collective unconscious or pre-conscious, contributing to the formation of a comprehensive worldview. The myths and metaphor layer of Causal Layer Analysis serve as powerful vehicles for conveying cultural aspects underlying the issues of masculinity and patriarchy norms.

The use of myth and metaphor can help reveal deeper cultural beliefs, values, and assumptions that shape attitudes towards gender roles and power dynamics. In the interview, several metaphors and symbols are employed to convey the complexities of gender dynamics within revolutionary movements and their impact on women’s rights. One key metaphor that emerges is the notion of “exhibiting masculinity and adhering to patriarchy norms” among both men and women in revolutionary movements. This metaphor highlights the persistence of traditional gender norms within these groups, where the perception of power and authority is associated with masculine traits, and adherence to patriarchal structures perpetuates the marginalization of women’s voices and agenda. The metaphor underscores the need to critically examine the gender dynamics within such movements and consider the potential consequences for democratic practices and women’s rights.

Another powerful metaphor used in the interview is the portrayal of women facing “deadly rape on the battlefield.” This metaphor draws attention to the violent and traumatic experiences women endure during armed conflicts. It reveals how women’s bodies are weaponized in the context of war, subjecting them to physical and psychological harm. The metaphor emphasizes the urgency of addressing gender-based violence in conflict zones and advocating for the protection and empowerment of women in such contexts.

The mention of “cartoons being used to portray women in derogatory ways” further exemplifies the use of visual symbols to perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes. These cartoons likely reinforce traditional patriarchal beliefs that diminish the status and worth of women, particularly in the context of opposing the military. Such metaphors and images can have a profound impact on shaping societal attitudes and perpetuating gender-based discrimination.

Overall, the myth and metaphor layer in this analysis highlights the importance of examining the symbolic and cultural elements that influence gender dynamics, women’s rights, and power structures within revolutionary movements and broader society. By understanding the deeper beliefs and narratives surrounding gender, policymakers, activists, and society at large can develop more comprehensive and effective strategies to challenge and transform harmful norms, promoting greater gender equality and empowerment for all.

Furthermore, it reveals an ingrained bias that favors male-dominated power structures, wherein women are viewed as subordinate and disposable. This bias manifests in various forms, including limited representation in political institutions, unequal access to resources and opportunities, and cultural norms that dictate women’s societal roles. These structural barriers further marginalize women, preventing them from fully participating in shaping policies and agendas that affect their lives and communities.

In conclusion, the significant influence of cultural, traditional, and religious norms in shaping women’s roles and experiences in the political arena. The exclusionary practices and gender-based limitations imposed by these norms have historically hindered women’s participation and agency. While the diverse linguistic landscape in the country poses challenges in communication and representation for women from ethnic and linguistic minority communities. Moreover, the existing metaphor in the country reflects the deeply ingrained gender biases and power dynamics that hinder women’s participation and representation in decision-making positions within the political sphere.


To counteract these deeply ingrained narratives, efforts should focus on promoting gender awareness, education, and challenging traditional beliefs that perpetuate gender-based discrimination. Encouraging a more inclusive discourse that values women’s contributions and experiences is crucial for building a more equitable and representative political sphere. Only through challenging these myths and metaphors and reimagining the role of women in society can Myanmar move towards a more inclusive and gender-equal future.

To address these challenges and create a more inclusive political sphere, it is crucial to take concrete actions. Recommendations include:

  • Promoting Gender Parity in Decision-Making: To address the gender disparity in decision-making roles, it is imperative to implement policies that promote gender parity at all levels of governance. This can be achieved by setting specific targets for increasing the representation of women in key positions within the political institution. Introducing affirmative action measures, such as gender quotas, can be instrumental in increasing women’s participation and influence in political affairs.
  • Combating Gender-Based Discrimination: To tackle the issue of gender-based discrimination, comprehensive policy measures must be put in place to challenge and eliminate biased attitudes and practices. Implementing gender sensitivity training for political leaders, policy makers, and society at large can help raise awareness about gender equality and promote respectful and equitable treatment of women. Furthermore, initiatives that promote gender mainstreaming in policy formulation and implementation can foster a more inclusive and gender-responsive governance framework.
  • Addressing the Language Barrier: To overcome the language barrier faced by non-Burmese women, it is essential to promote multilingualism and provide language support in political settings. Additionally, creating platforms for women to voice their concerns and experiences in their native languages can facilitate meaningful participation and representation in political affairs.
  • Gender Sensitization and Education Programs: To address the influence of cultural, traditional, and religious norms on shaping gender roles and expectations, policy-makers should implement gender sensitization and education programs at various levels of society. These programs can help challenge and dismantle deeply ingrained stereotypes that limit women’s participation in the political sphere. By raising awareness and promoting a more inclusive understanding of gender roles, society can move towards empowering women and encouraging their active engagement in all aspects of public life, including politics.
  • Promoting research and data collection: To foster evidence-based policies and strategies that promote women’s active engagement in the political sphere, it is imperative to prioritize research and data collection efforts. Conduct comprehensive gender-disaggregated research that delves into the unique experiences, barriers, and opportunities for women’s political participation. By analyzing data specific to gender, policymakers can identify the gaps and disparities in political representation and develop targeted interventions to address them effectively.
  • Engage with civil society organization: Engaging civil society organizations, women’s rights groups, and international partners to advocate for gender equality in political spheres. Collaborative efforts can amplify the voices of women, raise awareness about the importance of women’s political participation, and mobilize support for policy changes.

Through the adoption of these recommendations, on a transformative journey towards attaining gender parity in political decision-making. Empowering women to actively participate in shaping policies and agendas will lead to more inclusive and representative governance, benefiting society as a whole. It is imperative to recognize and challenge the dangerous perceptions and biases that hinder women’s progress, fostering a political landscape where women’s voices are valued, respected, and fully integrated into decision-making processes.


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