Gender in Myanmar – a men’s issue?

Efforts to build peace in Myanmar should carefully consider the role of masculine gender norms in conflict, according to experts speaking at an event on 27 November organised by International Alert, Phan Tee Eain and the Myanmar Department of Social Welfare.

The discussion, titled ‘Gender – a men’s issue?’, was part of a series of trainings and discussions convened by Alert to encourage an understanding of how men and boys experience conflicts, and to broaden the conversation on gender, peace and security in Myanmar.

Violent conflict impacts men, women, boys, girls and those with diverse gender identities differently. While there is increasing awareness of the importance of gender in efforts to build sustainable peace, much of the conversation has focused on women, and the experience of men and boys has not been understood well.

Our research in Myanmar explores how masculine social norms, such as expectations on men to protect and provide for their family, or the need to maintain or increase their social status, can drive men towards armed violence or to engage in peace efforts.

The roundtable discussion was held in Nay Pyi Taw and brought together government officials, political parties, civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations.

After Alert’s Jana Naujoks and Myat Thandar Ko presented the key findings from the research, the panel and participants explored how gender norms link with peace and security and debated what men can do to support women’s participation, gender equality and inclusion.

Some participants looked back on their involvement in the 1988 protests in Myanmar, during which hundreds of thousands of people marched the streets, calling for democracy.

Salai Yaw Aung, a member of the Joint Monitoring Committee – Union level, a key component of the ceasefire and peace process architecture, said: “I was raised to fight. I was never taught to resolve issues peacefully but would always resort to physical violence. In the 1988 uprising, I chose to join [the All Burma Democratic Student Front] to fight the military government. Later, in the armed group, I learned about non-violent ways of resolving conflict.”

“The situation has changed. Now I understand that fighting is not the answer and will not produce any results. Now I have a son, and I will never teach him to fight or to resolve issues using physical force, even among friends,” he added.

U Mya Aye, leader of the Federal Democratic Party and also a former member of the generation of students that protested in 1988, said: “Today is the first time for me to talk about gender related to the peace process. We need to talk about women’s rights and also consider men’s vulnerabilities. Gender equality is important if we are to create a positive, peaceful society.”

“Before, we understood gender as only women’s rights, but now we understand that we need to change the mindset of our country to think that men should be active for gender equality.”

Read our research