BANGKOK (TrustLaw) – Almost all Palaung ethnic women from eastern Myanmar are affected by domestic violence at the hands of their partners and other family members, a report released on Friday by a local women’s rights group said.
Palaung women also face “acute gender discrimination in all aspects of their lives”, with many in the ethnic group seeing gender inequality and domestic violence as part of their traditional culture, the report added.
A lack of legal protection for domestic violence victims, government failure to raise awareness of women’s rights and an economic crisis straining household incomes also fuel the practice, it said.
The report, “Voices for Change” by the Palaung Women’s Organisation (PWO), based its findings on a survey of more than 600 people in four townships between November 2009 and March 2010.
Nine out of 10 Palaung women, an ethnic group living mainly in rural areas of northern Shan State, have experienced or seen physical violence within families, it revealed. For 62 percent of respondents, this occurs on a daily basis.
They survey also found that only a quarter of respondents know about human rights and women’s rights, while three quarters believe domestic violence is “a purely domestic affair which should be solved within the home”.
BEATING EQUALS LOVE
In the Palaung community, women are solely responsible for childcare and household chores. They also work on farms but their contributions are invisible or ignored, the report said.
Education of sons is prioritised over that of daughters, and women are married off at a young age, between 15 and 20.
“Men are regarded as the head of the family, and women are expected to respect and obey them at all times,” the report said.
“Women are not expected to play any role in the community, except for cooking at festivals or organising fundraising for charity. The men who abuse their wives often believe that they are strong and brave, and that they have the right to oppress women,” it added.
The report quoted traditional Palaung sayings as symptomatic of the gender imbalance, including “The more your husband beats you, the more he loves you.”
‘I PRAY MY HUSBAND WILL BE ARRESTED’
Compounding the problem is a culture of violence towards and within ethnic groups.
Decades of civil war with the Myanmar army have bred a culture of male domination, the report said, in which Palaung women are subjected to abuse not only by their male counterparts but also by the state which is dominated by the military, “a staunchly patriarchal institution”.
The PWO said Myanmar’s new nominally civilian government has failed to take effective action to promote women’s rights and gender equality.
“Burma remains one of only two ASEAN countries lacking a specific law criminalising domestic violence,” it said. Its research has found no government-led projects to raise awareness of domestic violence and women’s rights in Palaung areas.
One Palaung woman who suffers abuse from her opium-addicted husband told the PWO, “I pray that my husband will be arrested. If he wasn’t at home, my children and I would be happy and safe.”
But divorcing him is not an option as she would not be allowed to take her children, she said.
“I am worried for them, but I have tried to stay with him. The only other option is to run away, which means leaving my children.”