Address at the Launch of the Women and Local Leadership Report: Toily Kurbanov, UNDP Country Director

Dec 9, 2015

Thank you U Min Shwe for your kind words of welcome.

Good morning to all!

There is a saying in Myanmar describing the qualities of its women. It goes as follows:

“If a man does one thing, the woman does the other”
Maung Ta Htan – Mel Ta Ywet

This saying was shared with us by one of the VTAs interviewed for the report in July of this year. She wanted to emphasize that even though being a part of local decision-making may seem atypical and challenging for women in Myanmar, it is something that should be encouraged as women offer complementary skills and knowledge to men that benefit the communities.  

Today we are here to emphasize and encourage this quality of complementarity in gender balance. We are here to share the experiences of the 42 female VT/WA, and encourage women’s participation in local governance more widely. We will in this workshop also discuss how local governance can be made more accessible for women.

As we all know, women’s participation in local governance in Myanmar remains very limited. Women constitute more than half of the population in Myanmar. But as is outlined in the report we are launching today, out of a total of 16785 village tract and ward administrators throughout Myanmar, only 42 are women -and we are very happy to have all of you here today. This is 0.25%. In similar vein, there are very few female village tract/ward and township level committee members, and so far no female Township Administrators.

There are strong barriers to women’s participation in local governance. There are a lot of socio-cultural and religious stereotypes and norms that discourage women to take up leadership positions. For example, there is a saying in Myanmar that goes: “A good men can have so many wives (Yauk Kyar Kaung, Maung Ma Ta Htaung” Another is: “woman’s worth is beauty, a men’s worth is learning.” And a traditional Kachin saying is that, 'When men talk a lot they will bring more profit, when women talk a lot they will bring more damage.' These are common social myths that discourage women.

Due to women’s traditional responsibilities in the house, women also face time constraints, and limited opportunities to gather relevant experience and skills.

This results in a situation in which women often lack the confidence, background and opportunity to participate in local decision-making. This is a loss for Myanmar society.

UNDP places great importance on women’s access to and equal participation in local governance. Local governance is critical in addressing the challenge of poverty and exclusion, because local institutions are key actors in tackling the issues that matter most to people’s lives. Women should be part of the institutions of local governance so that they may better tackle the issues that matter most to women, 50% of the population.

Positioning gender equality at the center of local governance is critical to achieving good governance and sustainable development. The importance of gender equality is confirmed by the stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal on Gender Equality (no. 5), which includes a sub-goal on ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life (no. 5.5).

The fact that there are only 42 female VTAs in Myanmar confirms the challenges to women’s participation in local decision-making and leadership in Myanmar, but also shows that these challenges can be overcome.

The film and the report we are launching today tell the story of how women overcame barriers. How they demonstrate the importance of for example building up experience in social work, and having female role models. In the next days, we will spend time discussing relevant experience and skills, and ways in which other women can be encouraged to participate in local governance. I encourage you to listen carefully, participate fully, and be inspired. Learn from each other. Take back new approaches to lead your communities successfully. And stand up to be role models for other women. You are important, you have contributed by showing that it is possible for women to be leaders and your experience is important to share with others!

Stronger political accountability begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, and UNDP will support the government and the Ministry of Home Affairs in encouraging more women to participate in local governance. But it cannot stop there. What is also required are gender-sensitive governance reforms that will make all elected officials and its administration more effective at promoting gender equality in public policy and ensuring its implementation. As such, UNDP also aims to work with village tract and ward administrators, and administrators in general, building their capacity to uphold the principles of good governance including gender equality.


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