RANGOON — Burmese women’s rights activists and government officials aim to finish drafting a bill by the end of the year to prevent violence against women, activists say.
“Once enacted, it would be the first law to ensure the protection of women from all forms of violence, including physical, mental, sexual and verbal violence,” May Sabe Phyu, a peace activist and coordinator of the Gender Equality Network (GEN), a large network of civil society organizations, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
Activists began drafting the bill with the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in 2012.
“We are still in the drafting process on the anti-violence against women [bill],” Myat Myat Ohn Khin, the minister of social welfare, relief and resettlement, told The Irrawaddy. “We have been drafting bills for disabled people, childhood development and other socio-economic issues, so we are trying our best.”
Thirteen Burmese activists recently joined a Burmese government delegation in traveling to London to attend a summit that raised awareness about sexual violence in conflicts around the world.
At a press briefing about the trip in Rangoon on Friday, the activists, including May Sabe Phyu, said Burmese victims of rape and sexual violence desperately required greater assistance.
They called on Burma to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice, particularly in ethnic areas, where soldiers from the government’s army have been accused of using rape as a weapon of war against ethnic armed groups.
Burma is one of 150 countries that has endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, a UN declaration launched last year.
“We welcome that the international community and the Burmese government have endorsed the commitment to end sexual violence in conflict, but we need to be careful that it is not just for show,” May Sabe Phyu said, urging concrete action. “The voices of civil society groups need to be heard for greater effectiveness.”
The activists said victims of sexual violence in Burma often face threats and other obstacles to reporting their cases, while perpetrators are rarely brought to court. They said Chin women have been threatened with arrest after protesting against military rapes recently in Chin State.
Susanna Hla Hla Soe, an activist from the Karen Women’s Empowerment Group who also attended the summit in London, noted that Burmese soldiers accused of rape are not prosecuted in civilian courts.
“Gender discrimination persists in Burma, which harms development, liberty and peace,” she said, adding that it was positive that Burma was one of six countries that pledged at the summit in London to start implementing within the next six months a framework to end sexual violence.