IFES Supports Efforts to Promote Women’s Engagement in Elections in Myanmar
In Myanmar, there is a significant gap between men and women’s engagement in elections, politics and governance. There is much work to be done to ensure gender equality in the electoral process. The Union Election Commission of Myanmar (UEC), with support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is working on a number of initiatives to better incorporate women into the process. It has undertaken a gender audit, is in the process of drafting a gender policy, and continues to interact with women’s groups regularly on election activities.
Since the April by-elections in 2012, IFES has been working with the UEC and local civil society organizations to support the inclusion of women in the electoral process. Over the past two years, IFES has supported stakeholders to increase gender equality and access throughout the electoral process.
The UEC drafted a five-year strategic plan, launched in early 2014, with a specific focus on gender and inclusion both as a mainstreaming effort and a targeted “inclusion” component with IFES support. As part of this initiative, the UEC committed to objectives that promote the participation of women, as well as to the development of a recruitment policy that increases gender balance in the UEC. In an effort to form an inclusive gender policy that reflects the thoughts and concerns of Myanmar women, IFES supported the UEC in holding the first Gender Action Planning workshop in October 2014.
IFES began supporting electoral administration and civil society organization dialogues and identifying methods to increase women’s participation in the electoral process through a two-day Gender and Elections Building Resources in Democracy Governance and Elections (BRIDGE) module in September 2013. The BRIDGE module brought together 18 representatives from women’s civil society organizations with the UEC to discuss the existing barriers to women’s participation in the electoral process by looking at the electoral cycle through a gender lens. “I did not expect a lot from the workshop because I thought that I was very familiar with gender issue. However, later I found out that it was very interesting because we see gender from the perspective of election. It is very new to me. Through this workshop, I learnt a lot about women as candidates, the challenges they face, and how to overcome them,” said a representative from the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation.
Among the recommendations identified as methods to enhance women’s participation were increasing the inclusion of women in the voter registration process, enhancing voter education materials targeting women, and increasing the role of women in political parties. The participants also formed outreach strategies for the UEC to communicate with women from ethnic minority groups in rural states and regions. These strategies were later included in voter education materials during the UEC voter list update pilot, and continue to be used in voter education materials designed for the 2015 elections. The BRIDGE trainings also demonstrated to the UEC the role civil society can have in contributing to inclusive policies that reflect citizens concerns and recommendations.
The Gender Action Planning workshop brought together gender equality advocates from 20 civil society organizations to assess the UEC’s strategic plan, which identifies key areas in electoral operations, barriers that women face in participating in the electoral process and methods to integrate women. When engaging civil society “it is beneficial to have [all stakeholders] included in developing the path towards gender equality,” said UEC Commissioner Dr. Daw Myint Kyi. IFES is now in the process of working with the UEC to integrate the challenges and recommendations made during the workshop into the UEC’s Gender Strategy and will continue to solicit civil society input at key junctures in this process.
This is a significant first step, though all parties recognize that there is a large amount of progress that must occur before the national 2015 elections and beyond. The UEC remains committed to holding credible, transparent and inclusive elections in 2015. IFES will continue to support the UEC in developing programs, policies, and materials that promote the inclusion of women in the electoral process. The commission has stated that they look forward to working alongside women’s organizations and civil society organizations for a more equal electoral process in 2015, which will require all stakeholders to be active in their participation in gender equality.