The systematic discrimination against the Rohingya minority group in Burma exists alongside a disturbing prevalence of sexual violence within the country. This results in Rohingya women facing severe persecution as a result of their ethnicity and religion as well as their gender. In 2014, the Gender Equality Network found that almost half of women surveyed had experienced non-partner rape, sexual assault, or sexual harassment. Figures were far higher for marital rape, which is legal in Burma.
Ma Ba Tha, the ultra-nationalist Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, have launched an attack on women’s rights to their own bodies in the form of four laws passed by the government to appease the group. 2015 saw the Population Control Law, Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law, the Religious Conversion Law and the Monogamy Law form a coalition of control over Burmese women. Conversely, parliament rejected the comprehensive Violence Against Women Law, a bill which sought to provide desperately needed constitutional rights for women.
Rohingya women are subjected to the most contemptuous misogyny of all ethnic groups in Burma. “Regional Order 1/2005,” obtained by Fortify Rights, lays the foundation for a two-child policy requiring Rohingya “who have permission to marry” to “limit the number of children, in order to control the birth rate so that there is enough food and shelter.” In practice, this translates to a strict two-child policy and prohibits Rohingya from having children out of wedlock. The human rights organisation also found confidential enforcement guidelines, granting security personnel the discretion to use abusive methods to implement the policy. The instructions urge authorities to observe Rohingya women breastfeeding “if there is suspicion of someone being substituted” in the family registry. Illegal and unsafe abortions are now frequent occurrences among these marginalised women. Conflict-affected women and girls in camps for internally displaced persons are also at risk of being trafficked, often by so-called “brokers”, to neighbouring countries for the purposes of forced marriage and sexual exploitation.
Despite the Burmese government signing the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, it has been found to have been actively and knowingly violating its terms. Unfortunately, the British government, which promoted the Declaration to world leaders, failed to persuade a reluctant Burmese government to implement its commitments. Instead, they have offered a package of training to the Burmese Army costing British taxpayers around a quarter of a million pounds. This is in the midst of widespread accusations of rape and sexual violence aimed at the Burmese army.
It is under this context that the UK government – who have led the move to End Sexual Violence in Conflict – must pressure the government of Burma to effectively implement their commitments under that Declaration. This is outlined by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Such a policy must also be encouraged alongside pressure to to ensure accountability and justice for survivors of state-sponsored sexual violence in the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Finally, the international community must call on the government to initiate a political dialogue with EAOs across Burma – which includes a strong voice from women, and considers the socio-economic issues 20 Women’s League of Burma (WLB) pertinent to each community – and withdraw troops from ethnic states. (From ‘If they had hope, they would speak’, 2014)
If you would like to get involved, please write to your MP to call on the government of Burma to bring an end to the systematic sexual exploitation of its women. You can also sign a petition here: https://action.burmacampaign.org.uk/stop-rape-and-sexual-violence-burma
Regional Organiser for the South-West