This blog was co-authored with Cate Buchanan and originally published in The Myanmar Times on 25 November 2015. Men are on the front lines of war. They are fighters, negotiators and peacebuilders. They are victims and survivors of violence and intimidation, aid givers, media and by-standers. Yet in spite of their ubiquity, their own gendered identity as men – and how this affects conflict and peace – is seldom discussed in peace talks, policymaking and research.
In Myanmar we work with local actors, external investors and the international community to shape a peaceful economy.
We bring together local business actors to deepen their understanding of conflict-sensitive business practice, so that they can have a positive impact on investment plans. We also strengthen local capacities to monitor and influence private sector investment, both internal and external, in fragile regions – in particular in Rakhine state.
Our work is important because many new opportunities for investors and aid agencies have arisen following the dropping of economic sanctions and it is vital that this economic development supports peace.
We have been working in Myanmar since 2012.
In 2010 the military rulers in Myanmar (formerly Burma) embarked on a transition process that has led to a gradual loosening of its authoritarian hold over the country. There are signs that this process might bring about the social, economic and political reforms necessary to finally establish conditions for peace in the country.
In 1987 and again in 2007, protest and violent conflict triggered by acute economic hardship ushered in renewed political settlements in Myanmar. As the country opens its doors to the West in exchange for investment opportunities and commitments to economic and political reform, new political settlements are once again being reached. This presents an opportunity to break the cycle of renewed military control that has characterised much of the country’s development over the past 50 years or so.
However, such change will not happen overnight. New expressions of violence are evident and inequality is likely to increase before decreasing. New elements of democratic governance are combining with old authoritarian attitudes and practices to create challenging and often unpredictable conditions for change. Nevertheless, the context offers real opportunities for peace.
To help achieve lasting peace in Myanmar, the state, civil society and international community need support in establishing platforms which encourage more open and inclusive dialogue and debate. These need to be supportive of social reformers within the state, appeal to the ‘shadow authorities’ which govern the so called ‘ungoverned spaces’ of Myanmar’s vast informal economy, include the local business community, involve women, and adopt nuanced approaches which can tackle the taboos people are unwilling to talk about. Priority regions for such platforms are the country’s special economic zones, where much of the new investment and development is taking place.