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Chapter 14: Rights of Women

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14.1 Introduction

“Only if we end this bad system will the future of Burma’s people, including my daughter’s, be bright...  I love my daughter. I had to leave her, but I believe she will later understand why.”

- Nilar Thein (35) mother, wife, and democracy activist in hiding [1]

Representatives of Burma’s State Peace and Development Council (‘SPDC’), the ruling military junta, frequently begin any discussion about the rights of the country’s women by relying upon what is described as Burma’s strong history of formal equality for women. [2]  This is perhaps one interpretation of the relative autonomy afforded to Burmese women traditionally. [3]  However, it has limited value in assessing the rights of women in Burma today.  Equally, patriarchal assumptions about the role of women have contributed to the development of social norms and political and economic structures that continue to hinder the advancement of women in the public sphere. [4]  And perhaps more importantly, recent history has all but destroyed the collective capacity of Burmese women to attain real equality.

It has been recognised internationally that it is incumbent upon national governments to take steps to eradicate disadvantage and discrimination against women.  Burma has formally accepted this: it is a signatory to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (‘CEDAW’). [5]  Both the 1947 and 1974 Burmese Constitutions reiterate the principle of sexual equality, and some legislative and policy measures of late have attempted to meet specific concerns such as maternity leave entitlements, anti-trafficking laws, and increased healthcare services for pregnant women. [6] 

These are positive steps but they are insufficient to outweigh the extreme disadvantages occasioned by the regime’s unwillingness to prioritise and protect the basic human rights of its people.  To take the examples above: maternity leave is rarely granted or enforced in practice; [7] dire economic circumstances are fuelling increasing numbers of women prepared to leave Burma for work and falling prey to human trafficking rings procuring sex workers or forced marriages. [8]  Moreover, a failure by the SPDC government to dedicate sufficient funding to the healthcare system [9] means that many medical services must be paid for privately, effectively excluding a growing number of impoverished women. [10]  At the same time, the provision of free alternative care by non-government organisations (‘NGOs’) has been limited by increasingly onerous conditions placed upon their operations within the country. [11]

At odds with any realisation of gender equality, the military junta has concentrated all political power in male hands, women being barred from joining the military. [12]  There is little actual recognition or promotion of gender equality at the basic government level.  In the context of the pending referendum, only five percent of delegates to the constitution-making National Convention were women. [13]  In April 2007, a representative for an alternative constitution-drawing committee, drawn from representatives of a number of opposition groups in exile, 30 percent of which are female, announced the committee’s agreement upon a federal constitution which inter alia provides guarantees for the preservation and promotion of ethnic persons and women’s rights. [14]

 In August and September 2007, the world’s eyes were opened to the desperation that prompted tens of thousands of Burmese people – including many women – to risk their lives and personal security by publicly protesting against the extraordinary economic pressures brought to bear upon them by the junta’s economic mismanagement.  Disproportionate spending on the military and inadequate expenditure on infrastructure, healthcare and education has had a marked impact upon women, especially the significant numbers from poor, rural and ethnic communities. [15]  Healthcare and health education for these communities are grossly inadequate or inaccessible, hence women are vulnerable to problems arising from sexual activity, pregnancy and childbirth: unwanted and unsafe pregnancies, unsafe abortions, maternal and child mortality, and sexually transmitted diseases.  Opportunities for empowerment and advancement have been thwarted by lack of access to employment, education and healthcare, the pervasiveness of traditional gender constructs and the additional strains placed upon families by poverty and, in the border areas, constant military activity. [16]

A most troubling aspect of women’s rights In Burma is the continuing reports of widespread gender-specific sexual violence and abuse committed by military forces in the border areas. A significant number of rape cases have been documented in recent years.  Their systemic nature has led to concerns of specific targeting of some ethnic and religious groups.  However, the junta denies this, [17] and the practices continue with the ostensible sanction of those higher up the command. [18] 

It is the confluence of all these features of disadvantage and discrimination in the case of ethnic minority women in the border regions, which leaves them the most vulnerable of all.  Recognising this, in January 2007 a draft resolution on Burma presented to the United Nations (‘UN’) Security Council urged inter alia as follows: [19] 

“Calls on the Government of Myanmar to cease military attacks against civilians in ethnic minority regions and in particular to put an end to the associated human rights and humanitarian law violations against persons belonging to ethnic nationalities, including widespread rape and other forms of sexual violence carried out by members of the armed forces.”

The resolution was opposed by the SPDC representative and vetoed by China and Russia. [20] 

In October 2007, the UN Security Council again ‘expressed concern’ over gender-based violence during conflict, with the U.S. and U.K. specifically naming Burma, Darfur and the Congo.  The Council urged increased female participation in government and the taking of specific steps to protect women and girls from such violence.  The SPDC representative refuted that rape was being used strategically by the State and instead sought to blame other opposition groups. [21] 

The junta has previously failed to adopt measures aimed at protecting women in the border areas as part of the “Platform for Action” developed at the Fourth World Conference in Beijing, China by the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 1995. [22]  Aspects of the platform adopted by other countries such as poverty, health, women in armed conflict, power and decision-making and institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women were not adopted by Burma. [23]

The SPDC stance is telling.  It cannot merely be accused of failing to do enough.  It has not undertaken basic steps to promote gender equality in the public sphere.  But further, it fails to act to protect its citizens, including women, when made aware of human rights abuses, thereby further entrenching gender disadvantage and discrimination.


14.2 Women in Politics

"We are outraged at the use of gender-based violence and verbal abuse as weapons against women leading the protests. Women in Burma have a long history of active participation in the forefront of resistance movements during times of crisis, and again women are now taking a leading role to show their defiance against the regime's unlawful acts and injustice." [24]

- Women’s League of Burma, September 2007

The militarization of Burmese society has had a weighted effect on the female population, who are precluded from entrance to the military, providing some support to traditional gender biases and preventing females from rising to positions of influence in the current government. [25] 

However, women have been extremely active in the opposition democratic movement.  Hundreds were killed when they took to the streets in the 1988 student movement, and some rose to prominent leadership positions in the largest opposition party, the National League for Democracy (‘NLD’) with 16 women elected to Parliament in 1990, including Nobel Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as leader.  One female MP remains in exile and a number were imprisoned. [26]  As has been widely publicised, Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest – where she has been on and off since 1989.  One other female MP, Dr May Win Myint, is one of two MPs remaining in custody.  Dr Myint finished serving a seven and a half year prison term in 2004, but each year since, the military has increased her sentence by a further year. [27]

In November 2007, it was reported by the Association for Assistance of Political Prisoners (AAPP) that during the 2007 military crackdowns upon the Saffron Revolution, at least 19 women disappeared and 131 women protestors, including six nuns, were arrested.  Eye-witnesses described women being beaten, their hair pulled, their clothes being torn off and the use of demeaning verbal abuse by military officers. [28]  At the end of 2007, 106 women, including the six nuns, remained in custody. [29]  This is contrary to junta claims that everyone bar 90 of all those arrested in the crackdowns had been released. [30]  In a number of cases, female family members – wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, or other relatives – of activists who participated in the protests were detained, to induce the activists’ surrender. [31]


Women’s Organisations

In 2007, there were no independent women's rights organizations permitted inside Burma. [32]  Instead, there are a number of government-run women’s organizations, which are said by the junta to provide women with a political voice. [33]  The Myanmar National Committee for Women’s Affairs (MNCWA) was established in 1996 and the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation (MWAF) was formed in late 2003.  The MNCWA is to provide policy advice and implementation, whilst the MWAF is a working body with branches in all states and divisions, focussing on “education, health, economy, culture, [the] environment, violence against women, trafficking in persons, rehabilitation and reintegration of women, girl-child, national races affairs, and legal affairs.” [34]  The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association (MMCWA) is a similar government organization which is to operate in the health area.  It runs 91 maternity homes throughout the country for ante-and post-natal care and deliveries.  MMCWA has also operated 1,344 pre-schools and day care centres. [35]

These organizations are closely allied with the government.  Their leaders are wives or other family members of SPDC officials, for example, MWAF is chaired by Daw Than Than New, the wife of Prime Minister General Soe Win.  They frequently repeat the junta line on women’s issues. [36]  For example, on Myanmar Women’s Day (3 July 2007), Daw Than Than New issued a statement that the Burmese military never commits violations and that International Committee of the Red Cross (‘ICRC’) claims to the contrary were as a result of that organisation’s “clandestine relations” with insurgent groups. [37]  In 2006, there were said to be 2.6 million members of MWAF, [38] however as in previous years, there were reports of coerced membership. [39]  In the ethnic areas, membership of MWAF and MMCWA has the additional benefit for the military in providing it with accurate population numbers for forced labour and taxation quotas as well as opportunities for revenue-raising from membership fees.  Women’s League of Burma (WLB), the leading opposition women’s group, disputes that MWAF provides any benefit to women. [40] (For more information see Chapter 10: Freedom of Movement, Assembly and Association)


Villages in Rural Areas

The impact of military presence in rural ethnic areas has had an unforeseen consequence in terms of political advancement of women.  Due to the physical risks to village heads from military officers who deal directly with them to obtain labour, goods or money from their village, an increasing number of older women are being appointed to this role, as there is less a risk that military officers will commit physical assaults upon them.  The benefit is limited, however, as this has been employed as a strategy for reducing risk rather than a viable alternative.  Also, whilst the risk of violence is lessened, it is not eliminated. [41]


Women in Politics - Partial list of incidents for 2007

On 21 February 2007, NLD MP-elect Daw May Win Myint (57) had her prison sentence extended by another year.  She is held at Insein prison and is suffering from eye, throat, blood and heart diseases. [42]

In February 2007, Daw Khin New, a woman from Rangoon, gave evidence against the Hlaingthayar Ward chairman U Maung Maung and member U Win Myint about their bullying and rape of two under-aged school girls in 2006.  She was charged and jailed for 15 days.  The local MWAF refused to assist. [43]

88 Generation Students’ Group leader and activist, Nilar Thein.  [Photo: The Irrawaddy]

On 15 May 2007, plain-clothed special branch police officers and USDA members arrested 31 activists, including labour activist Su Su Nway, who were on their way to pray for Aung San Suu Kyi. [44]

On 16 May 2007, authorities arrested NLD member, Daw Tin Tin Maw (62) in front of Rangoon City Hall for protesting and calling for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release. [45]

On 21 May 2007, a woman was arrested for leading a prayer vigil for Aung San Suu Kyi. [46]

On 27 May 2007, Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest was extended for another year. [47]

On 13 June 2007, 5 women from Zeegone Township NLD, Pegu Division, were attacked with catapults and stones by three civilian clothed men, whilst returning from praying for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release at Mya Thein Than pagoda.  A special branch police officer saw the incident but did not intervene.  When the women complained to the local authorities about the incident, they were denied assistance and warned to desist from praying for Aung San Suu Kyi. [48]

On 19 August 2007, NLD member Phyu Phyu Thin (36) went into hiding after having participated in the demonstrations that day.  Phyu Phyu Thin is a well-known HIV/AIDS activist and had earlier been arrested in 2001 and May 2007. [49]

Between 20 and 23 August 2007, long-term activist Ni Mo Hlaing (38) was repeatedly beaten by USDA members during the protests.  She then went into hiding. [50]

On 22 August 2007, 88’ Generation Students group member Tin Moe Lwin (35) went into hiding after joining the protests on 18 August. [51]

On 23 August 2007, a group of women, including NLD member Ma Ohmar (39) were assaulted by USDA and Swan Ah Shin members.  The attackers had pushed Ma Ohmar violently in the chest, as well as hitting her and the others in the face.  Moreover, their sarongs were pulled off and their blouses torn apart.  Later, on 19 September 2007, Ma Ohmar was arrested, charged with joining the protests.  After an initial period at a police camp, where she was interrogated, she was imprisoned at Insein prison.  She was released on 25 October 2007, but as of November 2007 remained under surveillance. [52]

On 24 August 2007, 20 Burmese Housewives Association (BHA) members were arrested protesting against the increase in fuel prices in front of Rangoon City Hall.  The chairperson Daw San San Myint was beaten and interrogated at Kyaikkasan interrogation centre, before being transferred to Police Brigade 3 at Hmawbi Township on 2 September 2007.  As a result of the poor sanitary conditions and lack of clean water in detention, she became ill and malnourished.  She was released on 3 October 2007 and attempted to obtain medical treatment, but this was prevented by the junta.  All but 3 of the BHA members had been released by mid-December 2007. [53]

In late August 2007, 88 Generation student member and activist Nilar Thein (35) went into hiding after fellow activist and husband, Kyaw Min Yu, was arrested.  Nilar Thein was one of the leading women activists involved in the protest marches.  Both she and her husband have previously been imprisoned.  When she went into hiding she left her 4-month old baby, whom she was breastfeeding, behind. [54]

On 4 September 2007, Mya Mya San was arrested at Shwedagon Pagoda for holding a prayer vigil for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release.  She was taken to Kyaikkasan prison. [55]

On 5 September 2007, two female NLD members, Daw Khin Lay and Daw Mi Mi Sein were arrested in Bogalay market by female members of the government-supported Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association (MWEA). [56]

88 Generation Students’ Group leader and activist, Mie Mie.  [Photo: AFP]

In mid-September 2007, former head of the women’s wing of the NLD, Naw Ohn Hla (46) was arrested. She had led protests in August, and had since July 2004 been organizing weekly prayer meetings at Shwedagon for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.  She was released later the same evening.  Since her release, she reported continual surveillance, harassment and besmirching of her in government media.  In January 2007, she filed a defamation suit, but was in October 2007 charged under the Restriction and Bond Act 1961 for having no fixed address or occupation.  She was not permitted to go to trial or have a lawyer appear.  She was then restricted from travelling outside the township without a permit and subjected to weekly reporting to police. [57]

On 19 September 2007, Ma May Mi Oo of Saya San ward in Bahan Township, Rangoon was arrested following the protests, and detained in Insein prison.  She was three months pregnant, and not released until 2 December 2007. [58]

On 13 October 2007, 88 Generation leader Mie Mie (a.k.a Thin Thin Aye) (35) was arrested whilst in hiding.  Early reports were that she had been badly tortured and sent to the prison hospital.  In November 2007, she remained in detention.  She had been one of the leading women activists involved in the August protests.  She had previously been imprisoned for four months in 1988 as part of the student movement (the All Burma Federation of Student Unions (‘ABFSU’)), and 7 years in 1996 for repeating student protests. [59]

On 13 November 2007, labour activist and NLD member Su Su Nway (35) was arrested whilst putting up anti-government posters in Rangoon and handing out leaflets where UN special envoy Pinheiro was staying.  She had been active in the August 2007 protests, including on 28 August leading a demonstration at Hledan Market, Kamaryut Township.  She had been dragged away by USDA but escaped and went into hiding.  She was taken to Bahan Police Station.  Su Su Nway was in 2006 imprisoned for complaining about forced labour practices, but released due to ILO and international pressure.  She was also imprisoned for a month from 15 May 2007, after praying for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release at Insein pagoda. [60]

14.3 Health of Women in Burma

“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.”

- Article 12, Paragraph 1, CEDAW

Healthcare continued to be considered a low priority by the SPDC in 2007.  As a result there were serious deficiencies in the provision of services contrary to Burma’s obligations under CEDAW.  Burma has one of the lowest levels of government spending on healthcare in the world. [61]  In 1998, this was less than 0.2 percent of the GDP [62] and mirrored by excessive military spending. [63]  A World Health Organisation (WHO) study in 2000 ranked Burma 190 out of 191 countries in terms of the gap between its potential health services and its actual performance. [64]  Lack of funding means that increasingly health has become privatised, either formally or informally, therefore out of reach for the poor, particularly those living in rural areas.  Increased SPDC military offensives in border areas have had a direct impact upon the healthcare situation: hum

an rights abuses and forced relocations have resulted in more internally displaced persons (‘IDPs’) susceptible to preventable diseases such as malnutrition, malaria, TB and tropical diseases. [65] (For more information, see Chapter 7: Right to Health).


Pregnancy and Childbirth

Pregnancy and childbirth render women more likely to experience the gaps in Burma’s healthcare system.  Women frequently face health problems during pregnancy and childbirth, with those living in rural areas and conflict zones disproportionately affected. Those who live far from clinics, or IDPs in hiding from the military, are often forced to give birth in unsuitable, unhygienic conditions.  The cost of contraceptives is high, and thus very difficult to obtain in Burma, especially outside urban areas.  There have even been reports of smuggling of contraceptives from Bangladesh. [66]  Also the costs of childbirth are unsustainable.  In 2004, a hospital birth cost 200,000 kyat.  As a result, women in villages generally have to rely on the assistance of midwives.  Others must save money during their entire pregnancy. [67]  In northern Arakan State, the increased pressure by SPDC imposing limits on children and marriage of the Rohingyas has led to more unsafe abortions.  In addition, there is a scarcity of midwives. [68]

Several instances were reported of women dying during childbirth, as a result of lack of treatment.  On 20 September 2007, a Rohingya woman from Buthidaung Township, Jalama Khatun (30), and her new born baby, died from lack of treatment.  She had a caesarean section and her husband, Jalal, was required to purchase blood for a transfusion, but she died before the blood transfusion. [69]  On 25 October 2007, another woman, Asiya Khatun (20), wife of Nur Hashim, died during childbirth on her way to Bangladesh for further treatment.  She had been admitted to a clinic in Ngakura, Maungdaw Township on 21 October 2007. [70]

In 2007, the childbirth statistics were as follows: [71]


IDPs in Eastern Burma
Doctor attending birth




Infant mortality (per 1,000 live births)




Under 5 child mortality (per 1,000 live births)




Maternal mortality (per 100,000)




Lifetime risk of maternal death

1 in 900

1 in 75

1 in 12


Clearly, poverty wreaks havoc upon the mother’s capacity to provide for her children.  The statistics are stark: one in three children is chronically malnourished, 15 percent of the population is food-insecure and a quarter of Burmese live on less than US$ 1 a day. [72]  The consequences are dire.  Illegal abortions are frequently undertaken as many cannot afford to feed another child.  Social Action for Women (SAW), an assistance group based on the Thai-Burma border, has reported of women fleeing the country and committing small crimes in Thailand to give birth in a Thai prison.  Moreover, the Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, a Thai border town, continued to treat many women who have suffered complications arising from illegal abortions.  There are also a number of children abandoned by migrant worker or refugee parents who can’t afford to provide for them. [73]  Statistics on these types of issues inside Burma are not accessible. 



Naw P--- with her nine-month-old baby at a hiding site for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Hsaw Htee township, Nyaunglebin District in February 2007.  Although her baby suffers from a severe rash covering his entire body, Naw P--- says that she has been unable to access adequate medical treatment.  [Caption and photo: KHRG]

It is difficult to ascertain the true status of HIV/AIDS within Burma as there is little capacity to second-guess official figures.  Some have questioned the methods of data-collection, [74] and researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health put figures at over double that which was reported in 2005.  Meanwhile, Chinese and Taiwanese health officials put the figures at between three and five times that which is reported. [75] 

However, even taken the official figures, Burma is reported to have one of the most serious HIV epidemics in the region. [76]  The figures seem to indicate that the epidemic peaked in 2000 – at 1.5 percent of the population – and has deceased since then to in 2005, affecting 1.3 percent. [77]  However, a UN HIV/AIDS survey conducted in 2006 would seem to suggest these statistics only cover the population over 24 years of age.  The figure for those aged from 15 to 24 years is at 2.2 percent, which the UN has described as “a cause for serious concern.”  Levels of HIV infection in high-risk groups – 43 percent of injecting drug users and 32 percent of sex workers – remained at similar levels to that in 2000. [78] (For more information, see Chapter 7: Right to Health).

In Burma, sexual transmission accounts for the majority of HIV infections (67 percent), usually between female sex workers and their clients. [79] Although commercial sex work is illegal, and despite increased support from the military government to target the risks in this industry, it is difficult to access casual workers, not least because they do not want to be seen by the police who frequently seek to arrest them. [80]

There are concerns that whilst the overall HIV rate is declining, its impact on the low-risk population is increasing.  This low-risk population consists of female partners and children of men who have engaged in unprotected sex and drug use, often during migration for work.  Overall, less women than men are affected, but the proportion has increased from 15 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 2005. [81] 

Whilst there are now higher levels of condom use in the sex industry, rates remain low for casual sex: only 18 percent.  Condom use is frequently linked with the stigma attached to commercial sex.  As an attempt to subvert this, UNICEF and NLD initiatives frequently involve monks in their HIV awareness projects. [82]

Infection rates for women presenting for antenatal care had reportedly declined from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 1.5 percent in 2006, however recent seropositivity rates nationwide are reported as 1.8 percent in pregnant women. [83]  HIV infections in pregnant women are also increasing in the Thai border town of Mae Sot: now 2.2 percent compared with 0.8 percent five years ago. [84]

UNICEF has been working to combat HIV/AIDS transmission from mother to child, but these services are only available in less than one third of the country’s townships. [85]  WHO reports that 89 of the 325 townships now provide testing, counselling and nevirapine dose clinics for pregnant women.  However, most of the services are provided through the hospitals and this limits accessibility for poor women or those in remote areas.  It is clear that the lack of healthcare funding generally, limited coverage and reach of education programs, and the expenses associated with treatment and medication severely hinder these efforts. [86]  Recent behavioural surveillance surveys revealed that 91 percent of the population in Burma had heard about HIV/AIDS, however effective knowledge and understanding was low: only one third correctly naming methods of HIV prevention and the majority holding misconceived beliefs about HIV transmission. [87]

HIV/AIDS activist and NLD member Phyu Phyu Thin.  [Photo: The Irrawaddy]

Rural areas – which hold 70 percent of the population [88] – are hit worst.  HIV/AIDS rates are highest in the Shan and Kachin states of Northern Burma. [89]  Expanded mining projects in these areas see increased numbers of men in mining camps, who are particularly susceptible to engaging in unsafe commercial sex and using injection drugs.  Upon return to their villages and families, they spread the virus. [90]  Also, the secondary viruses which most frequently lead to HIV death – tuberculosis and malaria – are highly prevalent in the northern and border regions.  These are preventable diseases, but due to the lack of healthcare, as well as increased hindrances by the junta for NGO access to these areas, they contribute to increased numbers of deaths. [91]

It has proven difficult to give support and assistance to HIV/AIDS clients.  A number of HIV/AIDS activists have been targeted as pro-democracy activists; with the result that some have been arrested and others have gone into hiding. [92]  Maggin Monastery in Thingangyun Township of Rangoon is noted for the care and board it provides to those suffering with HIV/AIDS. In the absence of sufficient government provisions, the SPDC has long viewed the treatment of HIV/AIDS patients with suspicion, especially as much work is done in this field by the NLD. It is apparent that the regime is wary of political capital being built upon such welfare activities. In the crackdown following the September 2007 protests, Maggin monastery in Rangoon’s Thingangyun Township was raided by military forces several times, evicting monks as well as HIV patients who were being housed there. [93]

Widespread human rights abuses by the junta fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS: sexual violence, forced displacement, and entrenched discrimination against those who have or are believed to be at risk of infection, remain important features of any discussion of HIV/AIDS in Burma. [94] 


14.4 Women and Forced Labour

“Tha Lei Paw, 32, doesn’t respond at first when asked if she would return to her village when peace returns to Myanmar.  She just smiles.  Is it an awkward smile?  Or is she smiling out of fear or shame?  She remains silent for a while, and then she says: “I have never seen peace. My life was an unending disaster, a life of torture and hunger.  We were just slaves. Do you understand?  We are damned.”

- Mae La Refugee camp, Thailand, September 2007.  Tha Lei Paw is from Zi Phyu Gon, a small village in Karen State [95]

Burma is a signatory to the 1930 ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labour, which explicitly prohibits the employment of women in forced labour.  Burma is also a signatory to CEDAW, which requires States Parties to eradicate government policies that hinder the development and advancement of women.  In spite of these obligations under international law, one of the most widespread violations of human rights in Burma is the sustained practice of the military government to utilise forced labour in meeting its infrastructure and military goals.  In rural ethnic regions this frequently leads to internal and external displacement; with the regular demands for unpaid labour jeopardising family and village livelihoods and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis. [96] 

Women on forced sentry duty guarding the entrance of the village in Mon State.  [Photo: HURFOM]

The types of forced labour reported includes: portering; land-clearing, road and military camp construction; participating in profit-making ventures for the SPDC e.g. tending rubber, sugar, coconut plantations; sentry duty around the military camp or the village; as well as obligatory recruitment into SPDC controlled organisations such as the USDA, MMCWA or MWAF.  Portering is especially risky for women, as it often involves carrying heavy loads without adequate food, water, and sanitation for menstruating or pregnant women.  In addition, women often have to cook for the troops at night, and sleep without shelter, at increased risk of sexual assault. [97]

The junta continues to deny its use of force labour, however the systematic nature of the demands: quotas required from villages and households, the requirement for troops to “live off the land”, the number of public projects upon which forced labour is used; and the extent of the measures employed by villages in response to cope with these demands, belies the denials. [98]  Village heads report that labour requirements are almost constant and one village may need to service a number of SPDC commands in the area. [99]  Much international criticism has been made, particularly given the country’s signature to the 1930 ILO Convention No. 29 on Forced Labour. [100]  However no prosecutions of the military have occurred in Burma.  There have only been a limited amount of cases brought against civilian officials. [101] Whilst more prevalent in SPDC controlled-areas, villagers in ceasefire areas controlled by SPDC-allied military groups such as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen Peace Force (KPF) report similar demands. [102] (For more information, see Chapter 5: Forced Labour and Forced Conscription).

The military’s practices have led to increasing demands upon women.  First, as discussed above, there are more women village heads appointed to the difficult position of meeting military demands for labour or taxes. [103]  This made women more at risk of abuse by military officers demanding forced labour from their villages.

Second, either in order for male householders to continue earning the necessary income for the family, or because males have already been killed, or to meet competing demands from different troops, females and sometimes children are sent to meet the forced labour quota required, regardless of age and whether the woman is pregnant or a new mother. [104]  This has led to the more physically demanding tasks traditionally imposed upon males – clearing brush, portering, messaging, road-building – falling upon women. Sometimes children are brought with them, but otherwise are left to fend for themselves at home.  Also, even if only men meet the forced labour requirements, women are required to carry the greater burdens of usual rural life e.g. tending fields in addition to keeping house and looking after children. [105]

The increased use of women for forced labour was reported throughout the country. In Arakan State it was reported that NaSaKa – the border military in the Arakan State – placed forced labour demands upon the ethnic minority Rohingya population, including women and children: for construction, plantation work and portering. [106] 

In Chin State, it was in February 2007 reported that soldiers of LIB #50, positioned at Rezua town in southern Chin state were using more women as porters than at the beginning of the year. [107]  In the last week of January 2007, LIB #50 from Gankaw, at Rezua Town in south Chin State, utilised 18 porters, mainly women, to carry rations from Sawti village to Zuamang village. [108]

In Karen State, SPDC military offensives heightened, and in northern parts the numbers of men and women taken as porters and guides also increased, it was thought, to prevent a rice harvest. [109]  In 2007, Toungoo villagers reported that men, women, children as young as 16 and elderly people have had to perform unpaid forced labour, such as minesweeping, building roads for military access, constructing army camps, portering etc. [110]  In January 2007, Naw Dt_ (female 55 years) from T_ village in Bilin Township reported that women (including nursing mothers), children and the elderly are building roads.  Her own 14 year old daughter was required to do this. [111]  In March 2007, Naw W_ (female, 48 years) from S_ village in Toungoo District explained that forced labour was formally required from each household once a month in large villages such as hers.  However the tasks of going to the army camp and doing menial labour there was a daily requirement.  All villagers, including women, children and elderly were required to labour. [112]

Labour rights activist Daw Su Su Nway.  [Photo: AFP]

In Mon State, it was in May 2007 reported that the SPDC had ordered one person from each household in Kalawthur, Kawn-ka-bue, Doe-mar and Set-thawe villages to patrol the Kanbauk-Myaingkalay gas pipeline in the evenings.  Women, elders and children ended up doing this guard duty because they were worried the military troops would treat the men worse.  In addition, they could not afford to send the working members of the family. [113]

In Magwe Division, a complaint was filed on 31 June 2007 with the ILO in regard to 100 men and 75 women who had been forced to dig 800 cubic-foot holes in the ground from 7am to noon for 4 days without any water: with the alternative of paying 1200 kyat. [114]

Third, the long term and repeated requirements of forced labour lead to increased poverty levels.  The loss of land in particular due to specific farming requirements and other economic pressures imposed by the military, has led to some villagers seeking alternative work: initially engaging in savaging work, e.g. firewood collection and charcoal production, but then needing to move into the towns to work menial day jobs.  This has particularly affected women. [115]

In Mon State in early 2007, LIB #31, under the command of Major Kyaw Zay Ya, ordered all villagers including women to patrol the village boundaries in Yin-Yae, Singu and Toe-Tat-Ywa-Thit villages, Khaw Zar Sub Township, Southern Ye Township.  Each household had to patrol at least one night per week and if there were no men who could, then women had to.  Many women have to do this, as their men are working.  Mi Aaye Nyein (48), a woman from Toe-Tat-Ywa-Thit village, patrols from 6pm to 6am, because her husband and son are busy with their betel nut plantation. [116]

Fourth, women face increased risk of sexual violence, especially when isolated from their communities during forced labour. [117]  A report released by the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) in February 2007 contained details of human rights abuses committed by the military against Karen women, including rape and torture, in addition to other forced labour requirements. [118]  (For more information, see Section 7.6: Violence against Women).  For example, an anonymous villager from the above mentioned Yin-Yae village in Mon state reported that there had been many cases of rape committed by Burmese soldiers when women were ordered to patrol the village boundaries at night time. [119]


14.5 Trafficking and Prostitution


Under its legal obligations to the CEDAW, the SPDC is required to “take all appropriate measures… to suppress all forms of traffic in women”.  Nevertheless, trafficking of persons in Burma continues to be a serious problem.  Persons are trafficked out of Burma and dispatched around the region for purposes of forced labour and/or sexual exploitation.  In addition, internal trafficking within Burma, principally for forced labour, remains rife.  In June 2007, the US Department of State placed Burma on Tier 3 – the worst category for human trafficking – due to the country not complying with minimum standards and efforts. [120] 

In 2007 women and children continued to be trafficked from Burma for the commercial sex industry in surrounding countries such as: Thailand, China, Bangladesh, Malaysia, South Korea, Macau, Japan and countries in the Middle East. [121]  Some victims of trafficking are economic migrants lured by false promises of good jobs and better opportunities.  Other cases involve the forcible movement of persons across borders.  As a result of poverty after years of economic mismanagement by the military junta, friends and family members of the victims can often be tempted by the ‘agent’s fees’ offered by the traffickers.

In Burma, it is primarily Shan, Kachin and other ethnic minority women who are trafficked across the northern border, Karen and Mon women being trafficked across the south, and those from Arakan State who are being trafficked to Malaysia for labour by boat.  The trip by boat is a dangerous one and families frequently experience not hearing from their loved ones ever again. [122]


Trafficking of Women to China

In 2005, the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand documented trafficking of Kachin women to China, ostensibly for work but instead being forced into prostitution.  Half of the trafficked women were forced to marry Chinese men. [123] 

In early January 2007, Mun Ja (23) of Kutkhai Township, who worked in a Chinese restaurant in a village near Rulli in Yunnan Province disappeared, along with the owners into China.  In March 2007, it was reported that the Kachin Women’s Association (‘KWA’), together with Kachin Independence Organisation are attempting to rescue women who had disappeared in China. [124] 

In November 2007, it was reported that four Kachin girls who escaped from a nightclub in Zhejiang province near Shanghai said there were over 30 Burmese women who are bonded to prostitution and waitressing, under guard, given one meal a day and no salary in a popular tourist resort on the East China Sea Coast. [125]

In March 2007, it was also reported that women were being openly requested on the streets of Mandalay, to travel to China/border towns for jobs.  On 13 March 2007, a girl from Chan Aye Tharzan Ward, went to visit her aunt, and was accosted and urged to travel to work in a store in Lashio for wages of between 30,000 and 100,000 kyat per month.  When she refused, the persons physically tried to drag her away.  According to an NLD representative,  these are regular incidents, and the women usually end up as prostitutes or as brides of poor Chinese farmers. [126]

China’s ‘one child policy’ means that female children born to poor families within the country are frequently aborted. The population, particularly in poor rural areas, is therefore dramatically skewed, with as many as seven men to every woman.  A large number of men in these areas are looking for wives elsewhere.  Thus, a business has developed whereby women are “imported” from Burma to be sold as wives to Chinese men. A burgeoning trafficking network has developed taking women from Burma to China for sale as brides.

On 18 February 2007, it was reported that 64 people (51 Burmese and 13 non-Burmese) were sentenced in Mandalay Yamethin District Special Court after having been arrested in 2006, for human trafficking.  Thirty-three were sentenced to life imprisonment.  They had taken 29 young women from townships in Rangoon and Mandalay for well-paid jobs, before their being forcefully married to Chinese.  The operation was conducted in conjunction with Chinese police in the Yunnan Province. [127]

In April 2007, it was reported that hundreds of Kachin women from northern Burma had been sold to Chinese men as wives.  A Kachin woman who had escaped, said she had been a wife for 4 years and had a child.  In China, it costs 50,000 Yuan to marry a Chinese woman, so instead poor farmers pay up to 20,000 Yuan (US$ 2,500.00) for Burmese women.  Alternatively, rich businessmen buy additional wives.  Women from ages 16 to 30 in the areas of Putao, Huawng Valley, Myitkyina in Kachin and North Eastern Shan State are the most vulnerable.  Economic problems and lack of jobs make the prospects offered (often false) tempting, despite increasing awareness of the issue. [128]


Anti-Trafficking Measures

The SPDC has taken some steps to counter external trafficking of persons, albeit largely inefficient.  In 2005, an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law was enacted by the regime and there have been a number of prosecutions under it since.  Police reports from 2006 involved charges of 274 offenders: mainly small scale traffickers who were primarily but not exclusively non-Burmese.  In August 2007, it was reported that the junta was setting up more border liaison officers to curb human trafficking in Tachilek, Myawaddy, Kawthaung and Muse.  The junta also announced a national 5-year plan to eliminate trafficking. [129]  Throughout 2007 the junta provided further training and increased its anti-trafficking officials and unit locations. 

There was also increased co-operation with neighbouring countries and NGOs: in January 2007 with ASEAN, and in December 2007, with representatives of China, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam met in Beijing to take a co-operative approach. [130]  These followed up on earlier attempts, in March 2004 joining the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish Trafficking in Persons and in October 2004 signing an MOU in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region. [131]

The SPDC has provided a limited number of vocational training centres and shelters for victims of external trafficking.  MWAF provided some of the counselling services and training before handing victims over to their families or NGOs.  A number of NGOs also offered poverty alleviation and education programs designed to counteract the impulses behind trafficking, with moderate success. [132]

Throughout 2007, people were arrested and sentenced on charges of trafficking. On 20 January 2007, the SPDC reported that life sentences were imposed on 34 persons, including organisers Kyaw Myint and Ye Myo of an extensive network who had trafficked 300 women to China in July 2006. [133]  On 7 February 2007, Rangoon East District Court sentenced three brothers, one to life imprisonment, and the others to 10 years, for trafficking 4 women and 2 children to another country. [134]  In mid-July 2007, 5 suspects of human trafficking, including 2 Burmese police officers were arrested in Kawthaung.  Two escaped after being arrested, leaving Kyaw Win, Than Zaw and a woman Khin Lin Ngwe.  Kyaw Win had been arrested the month before reportedly in the process of attempting to transport 200 Burmese people into Thailand and Malaysia. [135]

However, the regime’s counter-trafficking steps have been limited to external trafficking and non-official offenders, thus the internal trafficking industry,

frequently involving the military, is not addressed.  (For more information see Chapter 10: Freedom of Movement, Assembly and Association)



Economic pressures have led to internal trafficking from poor rural and urban areas to cities or other locations where prostitution thrives.  In June 2007, it was reported that increasing numbers of Wa women in northern Shan State were migrating to work in the sex trade on the Wa-Chinese border.  One of the factors leading to economic deprivation in this area was the loss of revenue from poppy field crops, which have been eradicated. [136]

Although prostitution is prohibited by law and punishable by three years in prison, its prevalence has grown in the restaurants, bars and massage parlours on the edges of the larger cities of Burma and the townships that have become established near mining, large infrastructure and forestry industry locations.  It is financially lucrative but with grave physical safety and health risks.  There are also a number of bonded prostitution rackets. [137]

In 2007 the sex industry saw particular expansion in mining areas of Kachin State in Northern Burma.  The Kachin Development Networking Group (KDNG) report Valley of Darkness, released in 2007, documents the deteriorating situation of human rights linked to the gold mining industry in Hugawng Valley.  According to the report, factors contributing to the expansion of the sex industry in gold mining areas are economic desperation, hopelessness, and separation from families. [138]  Most of the women working in prostitution in these areas did not intend to become involved in the sex trade.  In fact, most women came to the area to work as shop assistants or cooks, and later got caught up in sex work. [139]  

Moreover, the report stated that rape by SPDC soldiers has also had an impact on the sex industry.  As the military has increased its presence in Kachin State, more women have been raped by soldiers.  Several rape victims, who are ashamed to stay in their villages, go to gold mine areas to search for work.  According to the report this seems to be contributing to recruitment to the sex industry.  Moreover, once involved in the sex trade, many women face stigma in their home villages, and dare not return home, thus becoming trapped in the industry. [140]


14.6 Violence against Women

United Nations Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1674 (2006) assert a duty on all states to prevent sexual and other violence against women in situations of armed conflict.

Resolution 1325:

“Calls on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict,” and, “Emphasizes the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes including those relating to sexual violence against women and girls, and in this regard, stresses the need to exclude these crimes, where feasible from amnesty provisions.”

Through Resolution 1674 the Security Council:

“Recalls that deliberately targeting civilians and other protected persons as such in situations of armed conflict is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, reiterates its condemnation in the strongest terms of such practices, and demands that all parties immediately put an end to such practices,” and “Reaffirms also its condemnation in the strongest terms of all acts of violence or abuses committed against civilians in situations of armed conflict in violation of applicable international obligations with respect in particular to…” abuses including torture and other prohibited treatment, and gender-based and sexual violence.

Throughout 2007 women from Burma remained highly vulnerable to violence at the hands of the State.  The perpetuation of male dominated military rule has fostered a climate of impunity whereby acts of violence against women are allowed to go unchecked.  As such rape, torture and killing of women by SPDC military officers has continued unabated.   A number of women fleeing to the Thai-Burma border have reported the sexual violence as the reason they left Burma. [141]


Violence against Women in Ethnic Minority Areas

A large number of complaints of sexual violence upon women and girls of ethnic minority groups by members of the armed forces have been regularly documented since 2002.  In that year, the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and the Shan Woman’s Action Network (SWAN) released a report License to Rape, which set out 175 rape cases in Shan State.  The report documented that some were tortured over a period of months, 61% were gang raped, and one in four of the rapes ended in murder.  Since then, several other reports followed documenting the violence against women in other ethnic areas.  In March 2003, Refugees International published No Safe Place, a report confirming and supporting the evidence presented in Licence to Rape.  The report detailed incidents of rape and sexual violence in other non-Shan ethnic areas including Karen, Karenni, Tavoy, and Mon areas.  The report indicated that rape occurs in conjunction with increased militarization and other human rights abuses.  In April 2004, the Karen Women's Organization (KWO) released Shattering Silences,documenting 125 cases of rape perpetrated by soldiers of the Burma Army over a period of 16 years from 1988 to 2004 in Karen areas.  High-ranking officers committed half of the rape cases documented, 40% were gang rapes and in 28% of the cases the women were killed after being raped. In September 2004, the Women's League of Burma (WLB) released System of Impunity documenting 26 cases of rape which transpired over a two year period from 2002 to 2004 in all seven ethnic states.

In March 2007, the Women’s League of Chinland (WLC) released the report, Unsafe State, documenting 38 cases of rape at the hands of the Burmese military and close to army bases over a five-year period finishing in 2006. [142]  Cheery Zahau, from the WLC spoke at the U.N. about the report, describing the circumstances of many rapes as being extremely brutal, sometimes leading to death; half being gang-rapes and one third being carried out in the military camps. [143]  Women were mostly raped in the following circumstances:

  1. At or near their homes or farms – alone in houses, or gathering firewood.  Especially if troops are stationed nearby the village, they begin to know the movements; 
  2. While traveling – walking to school or traveling in between villages; or
  3. During forced labour or in the military camps. 

The report also included allegations of rape of girl children, and the consequences of these actions being transmission of STDs, pregnancy and social stigmatisation.  No prosecutions were undertaken, and at times the officers involved were of senior rank.  The report described a culture of impunity amongst SPDC troops. [144]

Reported incidents of gang-rape in 2007 reveal the patterns of sexual violence previously reported are still continuing across the country – in Shan, Karen, Mon, Chin and other ethnic areas – in disturbingly similar circumstances.  These crimes are usually committed in tandem with other human rights abuses in militarized areas, such as forced labour; including portering or domestic duties, torture, beatings, extortion and denial of food, water and shelter. [145]  In February 2007, the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) published its report, State of Terror, documenting human rights abuses perpetrated by SPDC troops upon Karen women between 1981 and 2006 (most cases occurring since 2002).  It includes reports of more than 4000 cases of forcible relocation, forced portering of those who are heavily pregnant or breastfeeding, causing miscarriages, murders, rape and torture in over 190 villages by troops from over 40 battalions. 

In the report, the break-up of human rights abuses reported by women were:

  1. Forced labour/portering (90%),
  2. Abduction/detention (46%),
  3. Murder (44%),
  4. Rape and sexual assault (32%),
  5. Assault/torture (31%),
  6. Looting/theft (29%),
  7. Landmines (4%).

Also, 90 percent of the non-forced labour cases involved two human rights violations, 10 percent involved three or more. [146]  The report noted more frequent attacks upon Karen women as the junta mounted its campaign against the KNU.  It labeled the conditions of many women in the Karen State as “past critical”. [147] 

A high proportion of Karen, Kachin and Chin people are Christian.  Rapes by SPDC forces in these communities have been coupled with the destruction of Christian places of worship and the taking of children to receive education in monasteries. [148]

Vulnerability of women to violence in IDP areas of Eastern Burma.  [Source: TBBC]

The correlation between sexual assault upon women and military incursions have led some, such as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Jackie Sanders, to describe rape as a weapon of war, a tactic to intimidate opposition groups.  A significant number of acts of sexual violence, torture and rape against women have occurred against women who are themselves or whose family members are said to be active in armed opposition groups.  This feature to the violence has long been identified by representatives of the various Burmese opposition women’s groups. [149]

However it must be said that military presence for any reason, for example, as part of government infrastructure works such as pipelines and dam projects, increases the risk of sexual and physical violence along with other human rights abuses such as dislocation, land confiscation, forced labour, extortion, torture, rape and killings.  For example, in 2007, the move of SPDC LIB #144 to Man Tat village, a Palaung village, for the construction of three dams on the Shweli River in Shan State, led to reports of forced labour, land confiscations and other human rights abuses and fears of increased sexual abuse (For more information, see Section: 7.8 Discrimination against Women).

Furthermore, the announcement of a China-Burma oil and gas pipeline to cross from the Arakan Coast to China – through Kyaukphyu, central Burma and northern Shan State – caused fear of further abuses. [150]  Also, the damming of the Irrawaddy at Myitsone is to displace 47 villages with an estimated 10,000 people.  As a result of the large number of workers moving to these areas, the sex industry has expanded and there have been reports of more human trafficking – with Kachin women being sold as wives to Chinese men. [151] 

However the junta has taken little initiative to investigate these complaints – which by their number alone command serious attention – to identify the perpetrators or bring them to justice. [152]  The SPDC representative to the UN, Maung Wai, informed the UN that the junta was of the view that non-state actors were primarily responsible for the atrocities reported, [153] that the earlier reports from 2002 had been investigated and the vast majority of complaints found to be untrue. [154]  In late March 2007, the SPDC Information Minister, Kyaw Hsan, described the reports of rape by SPDC troops, together with forced labour and forced resettlement at border areas, as “totally false”. [155] 


Violence against Women in General

Domestic violence is reportedly a growing concern in Burma.  Whilst rape is illegal, spousal rape is not, unless the wife is under 14 years of age. There are no laws specific to domestic violence or spousal abuse and the government maintains no statistics of these crimes.  In 2007, MWAF did lobby for some investigations into complaints of domestic violence and those calls were successful. [156]

Prostitutes remain at increased risk of rape both from civilian men and authorities. The junta does not release rape statistics. [157]  However, credible reports from NGOs suggest that prostitutes taken into police custody are sometimes raped or robbed by police. [158]

Each of these aspects of violence against women is occurring in a climate where women’s voices are not being heard or respected.  No change in the junta’s stance can be observed, despite urgent calls from the UN twice in 2007.  As the UN considered the issue of gender-specific violence during conflict, a further report from four women activists in hiding – including Nilar Thein, a member of Generation 88 Students, and Phyu Phyu Thin, an NLD member and HIV/AIDS activist – provided some insight into the extent of women’s disadvantage in Burma.  The report detailed the fear they held for basic levels of physical security in an environment where the state fails to provide safety, let alone any sense of political, economic and social equality and freedom from sexual discrimination and harassment. [159] 

A 2007 survey revealed that women in areas of eastern Burma considered domestic violence, physical assault, threats from the authorities and forced or early marriage as the most common types of violence.  In Karenni State, domestic violence was most significant; whilst in Shan State forced marriage and physical assault of women was more prevalent.  Threats of violence were however greatest in relocation sites and mixed administration areas where SPDC troops were close. [160]


Violence against Women - Partial list of incidents for 2007

Arakan State

On 23 July 2007, a Rohingya house was looted and the female resident, Minara, was beaten by Corporal Shwe Zaw, and 8 soldiers of LIB #551 based in the Atawing Nget Thay village tract of Buthidaung Township.  Her husband Buzar Meah complained but was threatened with punishment. [161]

On 20 November 2007, Dorgoni (17), daughter of Bandiyta, from Bawli Bazaar village in Maungdaw Township, was severely beaten by a NaSaKa officer after leaving her home in the evening.  The officer teased her and she scolded him, prompting the beating.  Medical treatment was arranged by NaSaKa personnel, and a case was filed against the officer. [162]

On 27 November 2007, Amina Khatoon (25), wife of Mohamed Amin, from Maung Nama village in Maungdaw Township was detained for having a mobile phone and then tortured in the NaSaKa headquarters at Kowarbil.  Her family made complaints to the UNHCR and NaSaKa.  The village chairman demanded 400,000 kyat for her release. [163]


Karen State

Nyaunglebin District

On 19 November 2007, SPDC troops attacked Paw Ler Ko village.  One woman, Naw Ywa Htoo (65) was shot at, chased into the jungle and lost for 2 days. [164]


Papun District

On 21 March 2007, three men and one girl, from Hti Thu Der village were walking to purchase rice from Tha Da Der.  Only the girl escaped.  The three men were shot by troops at close range.  On that date, That Da Der village was attacked and the villagers scattered into the jungle. A female nurse was wounded but was escorted to the border. [165]

On 23 June 2007, SPDC troops murdered an entire family from Htee K’bler village, including two children, Kyaw Eh Wah (4), and Saw Pa Heh Soe (13), and their grandmother, Naw Pler Poe (65). [166]


Toungoo District

On 5 April 2007, SPDC LIB #346 mortared Sha Zi Bo village and killed Saw Gay Moon and the daughter of Saw Eh Poe, who was only 2 years old.  Also injured in this attack were three men and a woman: Naw Dai Mu Poe (26), Saw Mu Dai, Saw Eah Doh (19), and Saw Eh Poe (24). [167]

On 12 May 2007, SPDC soldiers from LIB #542 (under the command of Hla Tun) and LIB #544 attacked the Ber Ka Lay Ko village area of northern Toungoo District.  During the attack a woman was captured, raped and murdered.  A relief team was reported as investigating this report. [168]


Mon State

In February 2007, it was reported that a soldier from Southern Ye threatened a 19 year-old woman from Ham-gam village that he would shoot her if she fetched food from her village, to her father working on the plantation.  The threat included an accusation of links with rebel leader Nai San Shay.  In the Mon State, skirmishes between small Mon rebel groups and SPDC troops mean that the locals are often prevailed upon by both. [169]


Rangoon Division

In October 2007, it was reported that a cemetery worker at Yayway cemetery Rangoon witnessed a pregnant woman being attacked and then burned alive at the cemetery. [170]


Shan State

On 29 March 2007, a woman, Naai E (65) of Tong Si village in the Loi Long village tract, Kaeng-Tung Township, was taxed twice when she went to the Kaeng-Tung town market to sell her onions.  The second time she responded that she had already been taxed and the disagreement escalated when the official kicked her off her chair and whilst on the ground.  When others intervened he ran away.  Naai E was taken to the hospital for treatment. [171]


Rape and Sexual Violence - Partial list of incidents for 2007

Arakan State

On 27 March 2007, U Maung Win Naing, village chairman of Maungdaw Township, attempted to rape a girl from Narondaung Rohingya village.  He was killed during the rape attempt, and the girl was arrested together with two other woman accused of causing his death.  U Maung Win Naing was known for harassing villagers, particularly through money extortion. [172]

On 29 March 2007, Amena (42) a Rohingya woman, wife of Syaed Kasim from Nyaung Chaung village tract, south of Buthidaung was tortured, gang raped and killed by NaSaKa officers who had forcibly entered her house in order to question her about her son’s activities.  Her body was handed back to her family two hours later and the doctor in charge at Buthidaung hospital reportedly refused to conduct a post mortem. [173]

In April 2007, Ma Than Than Myint, from Narikan village in Sittwe Township, was propositioned for sex by Lieutenant Zaw Min whilst with family and friends.  She is a first year university student of English at Rangoon University.  When her brother, Tun Lin attempted to intervene, he was assaulted and arrested.  A USDA chairman in the village signed a statement to the effect that Tun Lin had disturbed Zaw Min’s official duties.  This was reportedly a forced statement.  A week after his arrest, it was reported that Tun Lin remained in detention and was tortured.  Whilst the army has power under Burmese law to arrest for such an offence, they are required to hand the prisoner over to police within 24 hours of arrest, which was not done. [174]

On 4 July 2007, two young women from Kyauktaw Township were gang-raped by troops of LIB #374, led by Captain Ko Ko O, stationed at Nyochaung village.  The assaulted women were Ma Kra San (21) from Katyaachaung village and Ma Pyu Pyu Khaine (19) from Pachey village.  The women were forced labourers on an army-owned rubber plantation.  The families complained about the rapes and each were paid 10,000 kyat (US$ 10) in compensation from MOC 9, on 12 August 2007.  On 17 August, Ma Pyu Pyu died from an abortion which was forced upon her after she became pregnant from the assault. [175]

On 14 November 2007, a 12 year old girl, Salma Begum, daughter of Abbas Meah, from the Ngaran Chaung village in Maungdaw Township was raped and killed in Buthidaung Township.  The rapist, Mohamed Sha (25) son of Liakat Ali, had proposed marriage but been rejected.  He escaped, however his parents and younger brother were arrested by NaSaKa. [176]

On 17 November 2007, an 11 year old girl from Ray Aung San Bwe village tract, NaSaKa area No.1, Maungdaw Township, was raped and killed by NaSaKa troops.  She had been grazing cattle on a hillside.  Two other girls who were with her fled and raised the alarm.  The family returned to find her naked dead body. The girls identified the officer and he was arrested by NaSaKa, however, the autopsy report was not made available until after she had been buried. [177]

On 20 November 2007, an 11 year old girl, Tasafinar Begun, daughter of Muhamad Ali from Marzi Village, in Rayaung Sanyta Bwe Village Tract, western side of Maungdaw Township was raped and killed by a constable in Maungdaw Township.  The incident was by reported a nurse from Kyin Chaung hospital.  Tasafinar had been tending cows near Marzi creek, when the police constable dragged her into the jungle.  Other cattle herders saw what was happening, and alerted the family, but by the time they arrived, she was already dead.  The constable was reportedly executed by NaSaKa forces from Aungtha Bray station as punishment for the rape and murder. [178]


Kachin State

On 3 February 2007, 4 teenage girls aged 14 to 16 were gang raped by 3 army officers and 4 soldiers in Putao, northern Kachin State.  The girls were Lawan Nan, Chamtan Ninlan, Namkhee Khawdang and Poe Lan, all students at Duk Dang State High.  The soldiers were from LIB #138, led by Lt-Col. Soe Win, based in Maunglang Shidi village, 20 miles south of Putao.  The rapists were Major Zaw Min Thet, Warrant Officer Win Myint Oo, Captain Kyaw Ze Ya and 4 other soldiers.  The girls had been walking home from karaoke.  After reporting the incident, on 9 March 2007, the girls were counter-charged and convicted of prostitution.  They were sentenced to 12 months in prison, only to be released in April when the case caused international outcry and delegates from MWAF attended the jail. As a result the army paid 300,000 kyat (US$ 300) in compensation for each girl but the families demanded more.  However, no information was at hand as to whether the soldiers were at all charged.  Moreover, the headmistress of their school, Lu Mai, was sacked after indicating that the girls were welcome back to school. [179]


Karen State

Mergui/Tavoy District

On 21 February 2007, a private from SPDC LIB #282 led by Bo Kyaw Moe Lwin mounted the house of Saw Hto Ku, a Christian pastor in Lock-theing village, subdivision of Klein-aung Township, and attempted to rape his daughter Naw Saw Khee Base (22).  She was able to defend herself from the attack. [180]


Papun District

In May/June 2007, two women, aged 18 and 22, from Takehder village in Luthaw Township, Papun District, were captured, raped, mutilated and then killed by SPDC troops.  They had been gathering vegetables. [181]


Thaton District

In 2007, DKBA #333, led by Maung Kyi and Aung Naing, and involving officer Mo Kyo, have been reported to sexually harass women in Khaw Po Bpleh village. [182]

In May 2007, it was reported that a 12 year old girl, Naw K_, from K_ village, Thaton Township, was attacked in her bed by Sgt Mya Aung of SPDC Troop LIB #118 who attempted to rape her.  He fled when she raised alarm. [183]


Toungoo District

On 12 May 2007, soldiers from LIB #542 and #544, under the command of Thaung Htaik Soe and Hla Htay, attacked the Ber Ka Lay Ko village area of northern Toungoo District.  During the attack they captured a woman, then raped and murdered her. [184]


Shan State

On 18 April 2007, Naang Gam (38) was gang-raped and killed by 5 SPDC soldiers from the No. 3 Regional Training School, whilst grazing her cow in the forest near the Nam Teng River, in Nawng Hee village tract, Murng-Nai Township, west of Ho Ta village.  Her husband Zaai Mawng later found her dead body, naked and gagged.  She had been raped by several men and later strangled to death.  Some meat had been cut off from the cow.  No complaint was made. [185]

In mid-June/July 2007, a Lahu girl aged between 16 and 18 was gang-raped, including anally, by 10 soldiers of Mongpiang-based SPDC troop LIB #360 led by Captain Kyi Aung.  She was gathering bamboo between Wan Zaan village and her home village Ho Naa village, in Hawng Kaang Za village tract, Murng-Paeng Township, with her 11 year old brother, who witnessed the events.  She fainted during the ordeal but was able to walk back to her village with her brother.  Whilst her parents lodged a complaint with the village headman, no one has dared to complain to the military battalion, given the potential for ramifications.  The girl was threatened by the troops that if she complained, her family would be killed. [186]

In August 2007, a 50-year old woman from Mae Kaen was raped by a soldier, and then given 2 tins of condensed milk as compensation.  Mae Kaen is located on the planned power transmission route from the Tasang Dam to Chiang Mai.  The location of the dam is in the middle of a Shan conflict area, and since dam studies began in 1998 about 300,000 ethnic people have been relocated.  Villagers in hiding near their old homes have been tortured, raped and killed. [187]

In September 2007, a 16-year old girl, Nang Kham, was 11 miles outside Mongpiang when she was gang-raped by 5 soldiers from LIB #528, including their captain.  The girl was warned not to tell anyone, under threat that her family would be killed.  She did tell her family, but no complaint was made. [188]

In October 2007, a Shan woman was arrested and then raped by troops from Mongpiang based LIB #43, 4 miles north of Mongpiang, while she was looking after her farm.  Captain Aung Aung led the troops, together with 10 other soldiers. [189]

In November 2007, a teenage girl was raped by 3 soldiers on the southern outskirts of Mongpiang.  When a witness arrived at the scene, the soldiers ran away. [190]

Also in November 2007, another young Shan woman, Nang Ing, was raped by the same troops – 10 soldiers from LIB #528 – on the northern outskirts of Mongpiang.  She was threatened not to report the incident or her family would be killed.  Nevertheless, her parents reported the matter to the village headman; however, no action was taken due to fear of the soldiers. [191]

On 19 November 2007, a 16 year old girl was gang-raped by SPDC soldiers near the Nam Ohn Bridge, Minkaung village on the Yammin village tract, Minepyinn Township.  The men responsible were Corporal Than Shwe and 3 other soldiers from LIB #528.  She was with her 9 year old brother, who was tied up.  Whilst their parents reported the incident to the village head, but further reporting to the junta is unlikely, due to fear of reprisals. [192]


14.7 Discrimination against Women

Rural Areas

A survey of women in eastern Burma conducted by the TBBC in 2007 reported very little difference between gender in response to displacement and abuse by the military.  However, a significant proportion of households recognised that females are more likely to assume domestic responsibilities at the expense of political or vocational opportunities whilst under pressures associated with the military’s actions.  There are a number of paternalistic attempts to prevent sexual violence occurring by limiting women’s rights, such as travel restrictions.  It is unclear from the survey whether this reflected a lack of the belief in gender equality, or a lack of awareness of women’s rights at the community level. [193]

Forced displacement usually affects the most vulnerable of populations; women, children and minorities. [194]  Traditional women’s work, such as weaving, is often location-specific.  Moreover, compensation for land confiscation and movement is usually paid to men rather than women.  Additional pressures from military activities and abuses give rural women limited capacity to advance past survival: the need to obtain food, find fuel, wood and water and other tasks become priorities.  Also, service delivery in terms of health and education is interrupted, and negative aspects of impoverished and transient lifestyles, such as prostitution and trafficking, is abound. [195]  This in turn contributes to further discrimination of women.


Education and Employment

There are no laws against sexual harassment in Burma [196] and traditional concepts of the woman’s role thrive.  Women remain underrepresented in most traditionally male occupations, including the civil service, and are effectively barred from some professions including the military. [197] 

Women remain underpaid compared to men in the same occupations.  For example, on 12 March 2007, a 50 year old woman from Kalawthut village Mudon Township, Mon State reported that men get paid 2200 kyat per day on paddy fields, whereas women get 1600 kyat.  In Taung-pa village, Mudon Township, the difference ranges between 1800 kyat and 2500 kyat per day.  This also occurs on the rubber plantations near Abit village, Mudon Township. [198]

There are also cases of women being discriminated for not wearing traditional female dress.  For example, on 3 January 2007, a Chin girl was banned by the National Working Committee for Women’s Affairs from training for midwifery, because she was not wearing the Burmese longyi (sarong) but instead was wearing trousers. [199]



Regarding marriage rights, Rohingya women face discrimination compared to other women in Burma.  All Rohingyas require permits to get married, however permission is usually delayed by years.  If a Rohingya is found to have gotten married and/or have had children in the meantime, they are arrested. [200] Several reports illustrate this.  On 7 April 2007, police from Nyaung Chaung station forced Liala Begum (18) from Nyaung Chaung village in Buthidaung Township in Arakan State, to walk around 3 villages without clothes, save for a ‘Tami’ covering her privates, for marrying without the authorities’ permission.  Liala Begum and Mohamed Island (23) had earlier applied to the NaSaKa for a wedding permit, however they were not granted permission because they were unable to pay the necessary bribe.  As a result, they married secretly with the permission of their parents.  When the VPDC Chairman complained about the punishment given to the girl he was reportedly threatened by the authorities. [201]  On 23 September 2007, Hasina (22), daughter of Mohammad Salam of Migalagyi (Fran Pru) village in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, jumped into a lake with her son, whilst NaSaKa were checking family members who did not have permission for marriage.  She was pulled out of the lake and taken into custody overnight.  She was released the following day on the payment of 50,000 kyat. [202]

Perceptions of gender discrimination in IDP areas of Eastern Burma.  [Source: TBBC]

The report Under the Boot, released by Palaung (Ta’ang) Youth Network Group (PYNG) in 2007, documented several human rights abuses linked to the presence of the military.  Amongst other abuses, it documented forced marriage of local women to SPDC soldiers, stating that “when a soldier falls in love with a girl, she is too afraid to argue that she doesn’t like him, and is therefore in reality forced to marry.”  According to the report, since 2000, over 20 girls from Man Tat village had been forced to marry soldiers from LIB #144. [203]  Dowries paid by soldiers are much less than the required amount – they would usually be in the 300,000 kyat vicinity, but families are lucky to get 30,000 kyat from officers.  Consequentially, there was a concerted effort by families try to keep their daughters close to home. [204]

There have also been several reports of forced marriage between Chin women and Burman SPDC soldiers, resulting from what is seen as a Burmanisation scheme by the SPDC.  In a report issued in 2007 by Women’s League of Chinland (WLC), it was documented that SPDC troops are offered financial rewards of approximately 100,000 kyat (US$16,000) for marrying Christian Chin women as part of a strategy of “Burmanisation”, to teach them Burmese and convert them to Buddhism. [205]  For example, on 17 December 2007, Burmese warrant officer Zaw Hint from LIB #289 forced Ma Kra Zan May (21), a woman from Pauk Lauk Taw village, Peletwa, Chin State to marry him.  He forcibly took her away from her relatives.  Upon complaining to the officer-in-charge, the family was accused of assisting officers to escape by permitting them to marry.  The woman’s brother was arrested and 5000 kyat was demanded for his release. [206]

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