In Myanmar, when it comes to Women’s issues, the lives of rural women are less expressed in academic publications and less taken into account due to remoteness. In rural areas of Myanmar, women are still victims of domestic violences, societal abuses and religious misbeliefs. Owing to most Myanmar people being Buddhists and their ancient religious misbeliefs, rural women, slightly different from sufferings of urban women, have been sexually, socially and even religiously abused.
This article is written in honour of this year’s 16 days Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign with the purpose of highlighting one most recent case of gender-based violence towards women in rural areas, how Myanmar societies are discriminating and humiliating women due to their gender "female" identity, and how women are being most vulnerable during the Pandemic.
The Unfortunate plight of a young Rural woman:
In 2020, on a field trip of Win-Win organization to Kyauk-tan Village in Bago Region, there found one serious issue. A woman who has just given a birth 10 days ago arrived to the project area and saw the doctor. She explained that she has been as usual doing household chores, washing clothes and dishes, and cooking even after her birth and that just 3 days later after her birth, her husband sexually assaulted her without her consent. Since then, she has been feeling so bad mentally, physically and emotionally.
Even when she informed her family about this, they replied that that was her husband and he owned her and nobody helped her at all. She also added that she could not afford to go to the hospital which is why, the organization gave her enough money to go to the hospital. In the same year, when the organization visited that village again and asked about her, it was miserably known that she died a few days later right after their visit and her mother-in-law took all the money she got from the organization and said that she did not need to go to the hospital. Her under health conditions were really severe with fatal viruses and bacteria and it could even kill her and it did. A poor woman like her did not even have the chance to access to the health services.
Nobody knows that how many women just like her in same cases are dying every day in rural areas. Nobody is aware of how many lives of women have been being taken away in same issues, and how women are being treated cruelly and unfaily by men.
10 out of 10 women in rural areas face domestic violence, sexual assaults and humiliation every day. Myanmar people and societies still believe that there is no such thing as sexual assault or abuse in marriages and as long as a woman is a man's wife, she is owned by that man and nobody can stop him even if he ill-treats his wife. Women always have to be the victims of every violence in the world.
In Myanmar, religions are very influential in people's daily lives, ways of thinkings, actions, and even food and they are influential enough to make people go to the wrong way, especially Buddhism. Buddhism is most strong in most rural areas and remote villages where education and knowledge are limited.
I was born with a societal misconception in the countryside; that is, women are inferior to men religiously and socially. Men should not go under and walk under women clothes not even their own mothers’, particularly underwears because men can become inferior like women and this can bring bad luck to them, indirectly claiming that women bring bad luck to the men and the societies. This religious and social misconception still holds a widespread prominence in rural regions and puts women’s lives at risk.
When women are sexually assaulted by men, they always have to keep those cases secrets because their own mothers and fathers, not to mention stereotypical Myanmar societies, always say that revealing those issues publicly will bring negative impacts to only them (women - victims) and no man will ever marry you. Nobody is sure of how many same sexual exploitation cases are occurring every day in rural places, how many young girls and women are facing these issues and how many cases have been being ignored by the societies.
Moreover, Myanmar elder people always say that women should not work and earn money outside of the house but instead, they should stay at home, do household chores, watch out for the children and take after their husbands like their gods. Specifically speaking, this stereotype is quite common within rural areas and rural women are like house servants with no time to spend time with their relatives and to even rest. Myanmar people's social stereotypes and religious misbeliefs should end in this 21st Century and adapt to the developed ideas of the world. Myanmar women should really step out of these zones, be given relevant opportunities to do so and even be empowered to work for themselves in a patriarchy world and so to take political leadership.
An International Concern:
During the Covid-19 pandemic as well, rural women have to stay at home and suffer from domestic violences although they used to work in nearby factories and industries for low wages. Stay-at-home orders even add the extra burden on them. Tasks such as household chores, watching children and taking care of the elders are just women's responsibilities while women and men are both at home in a recent survey conducted by UN Women and men are just staying at home and doing nothing. These are taking so much time of their daily lives and there is no time left for their personal and mental health. Restrictions over mobility also put more intimate partner violence over women. Even UN Women recently declared, in relation to increasing domestic violences in the midst of the pandemic, a “shadow pandemic” in the wake of COVID-19 social distancing. The pandemic becomes indeed an extra burden for women, especially for rural women who are the most vulnerable during the pandemic.
Therefore, the article is written with one more purpose to advocate the international Human Rights, Women Rights and Gender oragnizations to pay more attention to specifically rural women in Myanmar than urban women and reach out to them for legal aid, quality health services, educational support, mental health assistance and other necessary assistances.
The author also hopes that this year's 16 days Activism against Gender-based Violence Campaign will bring more help to each woman in the world and also to rural women in Myanmar who are stuck in religious misconceptions and social stigmas. Plus, women should be empowered to obtain more opportunities to increase women involvement in business sectors, political affairs and community developments, especially those rural women who receive poor education and health or they will never be able to drive out of societal traps. Thus, I expect that this year’s campaign will bring positive impacts to rural women both in Myanmar and in the world.