27 March 2023 /

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“The issues of sexual violence and domestic violence against these women need to be addressed urgently, in addition to military concerns.” – Zu Padonmar (BWU)

An interview with 1st Joint Secretary of Burmese Women’s Union (BWU)

Ma Zu Padonma, 1st Joint Secretary of the Burmese Women’s Union (BWU), was interviewed by the Kantarawaddy Times to learn more about domestic violence, gender-based violence, and the safety of internally displaced women.

Q: It’s been two years since the military coup now. Has domestic violence increased in those two years? How much has it increased? And why?

A: In Karenni State, domestic violence has increased significantly. In fact, domestic violence existed long before the coup, and there was the outbreak of COVID -19 that preceded the coup. As a result, many people have become unemployed. Another thing is their health condition and their family situation and so on. In various situations, women have been victims of violence, including angry outburst against them. Such cases are becoming more and more frequent. After the coup, even before COVID -10 disappeared, domestic violence continued to increase. Recently, there is no rule of law and it’s difficult to file complaints. At the same time, we also see a pattern where they commit more acts of violence. There are three forms of domestic violence among IDPs: physical violence, psychological violence, and sexual violence. Physical violence is about doing bodily harm with an object, hitting, kicking, or pulling hair. Then there is psychological violence such as insults and accusations that are intentionally said to hurt people’s feelings. Another form is sexual violence, which is largely domestic violence. When it’s a case between a husband and wife, many don’t accept that it’s sexual violence. This involves both men and women, and it happens when a married woman is forced to have sexual intercourse without her will. These are the things we often hear about in the IDP camps.

Q: Is there a way that IDPs can effectively protect themselves from this type of domestic violence? If so, please share with us.

A: Honestly, we haven’t found any effective protection measures for individuals or groups. I’m referring to long-term protective measures. There are a lot of challenges when it comes to providing the kind of protections that we can do to prevent these cases from occurring in the long term. Right now, for example, we can only set up temporary “safe houses” for women in Karenni State, including our Burmese Women’s Union, who have been subjected to domestic violence, so they don’t have to continue to suffer the violence. There, we provide them with psychological support and the necessities for their stay. As I said earlier, they need legal protection. And effective measures must be taken against those who committed the violence. There are few cases where the perpetrators of violence have been detained. So I don’t see any specific group that can provide long-term protection throughout the country.

Q: Has gender-based violence worsened after the coup? What is the situation now?

A: There is a lot of discrimination based on gender. It takes place in different areas, such as politics, business, and society. There have been similar cases in the armed forces, to take an obvious example. There are women in the defense forces. But women are discriminated against in these armed forces because of their femininity. Women’s participation in leadership positions is still weak. Also, there are barriers for women to join the defense forces, such as difficulties in protecting them in terms of security. So they’re discriminated against just because they’re women. Aside from leadership roles, for example, women still face obstacles to being armed and going to the front lines just because they’re women. These kinds of things exist in the defense forces. When we talk about the political role, although there are some forms of recognition of women’s participation and open reception of women, there is still a lack of thorough consideration of women’s participation and absolute confidence in them. Only women’s representatives are active on political platforms, but there are others who participate in armed resistance, youth activities, etc. In these areas, women’s participation is still weak. So when we talk about gender-based violence, it’s also linked to gender discrimination. At the same time, I think it still exists in different areas.

Q: The report on BWU’s Facebook page mentions rape by junta soldiers and civilians, as well as harassment at checkpoints. How can women protect themselves while traveling when there are checkpoints everywhere? Are there any measures in place to reduce this kind of violence?

A: Displaced women are sexually harassed when they return to their villages. Women are harassed when they go from one place to another, even on the way to the market, at the terrorist army checkpoints. At these checkpoints, the junta’s soldiers do things to women that aren’t compatible with human dignity. If there is a solution to this problem, it would be to bypass the checkpoints through other roads. Personally, I think this is the most practical solution at the moment to avoid confrontation with them. Since they are a terrorist army, we have no way to file a complaint to stop them. Since we have no mechanism to file a complaint or to punish them, I think the most practical solution isn’t to go where they’re. However, I think that sharing information about such cases, including regime violence at checkpoints, with the media and women’s organizations could possibly help punish these perpetrators of violence in the future.

Q: What about the safety of displaced women in particular? Are you doing anything for the safety of women? What are the difficulties and challenges?

A: As far as our women’s organizations are concerned, we have very few ways to protect them from danger to their lives. But when it comes to their food security and living conditions, such as safe shelter or a temporary building, there are ways we can help with humanitarian aid. In order to protect them from danger to their lives, groups like ours face many challenges. At the same time, we faced many challenges, including our safety, when dealing with humanitarian issues, domestic violence, and sexual violence against these women. We also face challenges in traveling when we do these activities. We ourselves, the staff on the ground, have to go through these military checkpoints to deliver aid and talk to the displaced people. So we have security issues ourselves. The biggest challenge is the security that we face all the time.

Q: What else would you like to add?

A: What I’d like to add is that cases of domestic violence between a woman and a man in a family aren’t normal. The more domestic violence increases, the more the security of our country, of the whole Karenni State, will deteriorate. So domestic violence is also related to our traditional customs that discriminate against women. But not only that, because we live in a dictatorial country where the rule of law is very weak, we need laws to solve these problems and protect women who are victims of such violence. For this, there are programs and measures enacted by groups such as the Karenni State Consultative Council (KSCC) and the state governing council. So I’d like to urge the administrative bodies to take these issues seriously and address them once the enforcement mechanisms comes into effect. And The issues of sexual violence and domestic violence against these women need to be addressed urgently, in addition to military concerns. Therefore, I’d like to point out to the leaders that this matter must also be considered as a priority.

Sent by The Kantarawaddy Times.

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