Enduring Peace: a Case Study of the Opportunities and the Challenges for Engaging in Myanmar’s Peace Process

In: Global Responsibility to Protect

In 2015, the Myanmar Government, the Myanmar Tatmadaw (military) and eight ethnic armed organisations (eaos) signed the 2015 National Ceasefire Agreement (nca). In 2019, this agreement was signed by three more eaos, and there have been four annual conferences (Union Peace Panglong Conference 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). The ceasefire arrangements, which are present primarily in Southeast Myanmar, have failed to make significant progress in key areas such as the provision of access to civil documents and land to returning refugees, displaced persons and conflict-affected communities. Violence has escalated in the last two years. It is not an exaggeration to say that Myanmar is at a critical juncture of transition. This article examines how the peace process is being communicated amongst different civil society organisations, international organisations, donor organisations, and government representatives in an area directly affected by the peace process. The article details the experiences of these participants exchanged in workshop in Mon State in July 2018. The exchanges during the workshop reveal a practical obstacles faced by civil society organisations, especially, in their attempt to support returnees. Many reported frustration with the implementation gap between promoting a peace process and providing for local enabling conditions that support peace. Specific barriers faced by civil society organisations, and in turn the communities they are seeking to help were threefold: information and communication barriers concerning the peace process; women’s fear and reluctance to seek services due to personal safety concerns, and the persistence of traditional gender norms which affects access to information.


In 2015, the Myanmar Government, the Myanmar Tatmadaw (military) and eight ethnic armed organisations (eaos) signed the 2015 National Ceasefire Agreement (nca). In 2019, this agreement was signed by three more eaos, and there have been four annual conferences (Union Peace Panglong Conference 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). The ceasefire arrangements, which are present primarily in Southeast Myanmar, have failed to make significant progress in key areas such as the provision of access to civil documents and land to returning refugees, displaced persons and conflict-affected communities. Violence has escalated in the last two years. It is not an exaggeration to say that Myanmar is at a critical juncture of transition. This article examines how the peace process is being communicated amongst different civil society organisations, international organisations, donor organisations, and government representatives in an area directly affected by the peace process. The article details the experiences of these participants exchanged in workshop in Mon State in July 2018. The exchanges during the workshop reveal a practical obstacles faced by civil society organisations, especially, in their attempt to support returnees. Many reported frustration with the implementation gap between promoting a peace process and providing for local enabling conditions that support peace. Specific barriers faced by civil society organisations, and in turn the communities they are seeking to help were threefold: information and communication barriers concerning the peace process; women’s fear and reluctance to seek services due to personal safety concerns, and the persistence of traditional gender norms which affects access to information.

1 Introduction1

On 15 October 2015, the Myanmar Government, the Myanmar Tatmadaw (military) and eight ethnic armed organisations (eaos) signed the 2015 National Ceasefire Agreement (nca). In 2019, this agreement was signed by three more eaos,2 and there have been four annual conferences (Union Peace Panglong Conference 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) to progress development of an eventual comprehensive agreement across five committee areas (political, economic, security, land and resources, and social). The ceasefire arrangements, which are present primarily in Southeast Myanmar, have however failed to make significant progress in key areas such as the provision of access to civil documents and land to returning refugees (lack of documentation in Myanmar is pervasive, affecting as many as 11 million persons, according to the 2014 Census), displaced persons and conflict-affected communities. In addition, ‘bottlenecks’ to the stalled process are growing.3 Previous agreements are not being implemented, high-level discussions did not occur between Panglong 2018 and Panglong 2019, and trust is waning. Significantly, the Karen National Union, one of the most important eaos amongst the signatories, pulled out of the formal process (while remaining a signatory) in 2019. Civil society organisations have criticised the peace structure as too rigid and dominated by the Tatmadaw’s agenda.4

Violence has escalated in the last two years of the four-year peace process.5 The mass atrocities committed in the Rakhine state against the self-identified Rohingya ethnic group in August 2017 have led to the exodus of over 750,000 persons to Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh (where at least an additional 165,000 refugees remained from previous mass expulsions);6 and the conflict in Rakhine state between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw has been escalating since February 2019. The Arakan Army is a relatively new armed group (it was founded in 2019) but it has the support of a long-time independence struggle amongst Arakan nationalists in Rakhine state.7 The Arakan Army has received support and supplies from the Kachin Independence Army (kia) and United Wa State Army (uwsa), who are in turn supplied with China-made weapons. It is also believed the Arakan Army has received rebels and arms from the Myanmar-India border.8 These non-signatory armies have both combat fighters and weaponry that can sustain their conflicts. The Tatmadaw has live theatres of conflict also in Shan and Kachin. There is an increase in the number of displaced persons,9 coupled with the rising number of natural disasters that sometimes require troop deployment to deliver essential humanitarian supplies.10 It is not an exaggeration to say that Myanmar is at a critical juncture of transition.11

Nationwide peace processes are dependent upon the degree to which the state is substantially transitioning from conflict to peace. The quality of peace requires not only the end of fighting but enduring peace — ensuring peace is substantive in its content and its implementation.12 Implementation of peace agreements requires not only a focus on ceasefire arrangements but also durable and inclusive additions such as power-sharing arrangements, incentivised democratic reform, institutionalised economic power-sharing arrangements, participation and inclusion of minority groups, post-conflict transitional justice reform, and addressing the social barriers to the participation of diverse groups.13 Even with these conditions in place, peace agreements still come with risks: that violence is ‘rewarded’ with a seat at the table; if the reform is not fast enough political institutions may entrench — not resolve — divisions; and peace agreements amongst the elite who ‘divide the spoils’ and exclude civilians from the process.14 One difference identified by those studying peace agreements over the last two decades is that women’s participation in the negotiations — whether that participation is formal or informal — positively impacts on the quality and the durability of peace agreements and their substantive implementation.15 Women’s impact on peace processes appears to be that their participation and presence — whether formal representation or informal advocacy — improves the conditions necessary for durable and high quality peace processes: a significantly higher number of socio-economic provisions and a higher implementation rate of these provisions.16 However, most women in post-conflict situations find it practically and logistically difficult to access nationwide ceasefire processes. In acknowledging this, Krause, Kruse and Branfors suggest that ‘future research should examine in more detail the quality of civil society access and involvement in peace negotiations and its impact on the durability of peace’.17

Formally speaking, the Myanmar nationwide ceasefire agreement certainly has enabling conditions for women’s formal and informal participation written into the peace process. Positive enabling conditions include gender-responsive provisions in the peace process agreements: women referred to as equal citizens under the Myanmar Constitution, the inclusion of a 30 per cent quota for women in the (five) committees associated with the peace process, and the protection of women from sexual violence during conflict and displacement. Informally, women civil society organisations’ engagement in the peace process remains high, their participation receives dedicated donor funding, and the Myanmar Ministry of Social Welfare has progressed a Nationwide Women Peace and Security and Prevention of Violence Against Women Plan (2017–2022) which specifically refers to women’s role in the nationwide ceasefire agreement. However, the constraining factors for women’s inclusion are equally strong. The implementation of the peace process remains an elite-driven process highly influenced by the Tatmadaw which excludes civil society. Moreover, ceasefires are not in place where the majority of violence is occurring. In Kachin, Rakhine and Northern Shan — where eaos have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement — there is no transitional justice process foreseen or even discussed for those who experience conflict-related violence, including sexual violence, and no committee but one (the social committee) that has achieved the 30 per cent quota of women’s representation. The return of displaced groups, mostly women, has not been significant in locations where the ceasefire is in place (in Southeast Myanmar) and displacement has risen in locations where conflict is ongoing. For returned women, they are returning to a system where 80 per cent of land ownership is held by men and 87 per cent of marriages assign sole ownership of house and land to men.18 Often, returnees and conflict-affected women live in areas under the governance of eaos, who have their own land management and justice institutions.19 While some policies, such as the 2015 Karen National Union Land Policy, are comparatively better at gender inclusion, women suffer the consequences of legal uncertainty while claiming rights under parallel systems. Beyond the specific provisions of the peace process, women experience significant logistical barriers to learn about and participate in the peace process: threats to their physical safety when travelling anywhere (including possible travel to attend peace process conferences and workshops), technical and political barriers to access information, and higher financial costs of travel due to family and societal expectations that women do not travel alone.20

Outside of the former capital Yangon and the administrative capital Naypyidaw, establishing local knowledge and awareness of the peace process is important in order to ascertain how civil society advocates in conflict-affected areas have the opportunity to proactively engage with it. In this article, we present the findings of a stakeholder’s engagement with civil society groups working in the areas of land rights, citizenships rights, and women’s rights in Mon State.21 In partnership with local civil society groups and the Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (snap) the engagement seeks to understand the experience of different groups affected by conflict, displacement and efforts to implement a peace agreement. The point of interest in this project is that at the time of engagement, Mon State had a non-state armed group who had just signed the peace agreement (the New Mon State Party in February 2018). As a result, interest in the peace process was high and participation was diverse. The engagement included state officials, ethnic political party officials, local civil societies, national civil societies, international donors, and local office representations of international organisations. All quotes provided in this paper are de-identified in accordance with the express wishes of individuals interviewed for the project.

2 Background

In Myanmar, the peace process (often termed the ‘new Panglong Process’) is relatively new for a country that has been experiencing civil war since 1948. Approximately 241,000 displaced people — of which 77 per cent are women and children — live in camps or camp-like situations in Kachin (92,000 displaced), Kayin (5,600 displaced), Shan (15,000 displaced) and Rakhine states (129,000 displaced).22 Returns, agreed amongst signatories to the nca, were occurring at the commencement of the nca but numbers are not precise.23 The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that an estimated 49, 000 people returned in 2017 — but in the same year 51,000 became (internally) displaced while over 600,000 fled into Bangladesh.24 And the number of displaced persons and refugees has grown in 2018.25

In total there are 21 armed groups being encouraged to sign the nca before the end of the final Peace Conference expected to conclude in 2020 when a Union Peace Accord is to be presented to parliament (which will formalise a federal Union, and the disarmament and demobilisation of armed groups). The nca contains six documents including the ceasefire agreement, the ceasefire process, political dialogue, military code of conduct, joint monitoring committee process, and a code of conduct for political parties. The agreement is the first attempt to create a nationwide ceasefire with recognised non-state combatant groups (mostly ethnic armed groups) since the country’s democratic transition.

The nca has a political dialogue management structure, which includes a Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (updjc, senior membership from government, military, and armed group signatories), a Union-level Joint Monitoring Ceasefire Committee (jmc), a Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (jimcm), and jmcs at state/region level. In addition, five Working Committees decide on the principles to be discussed and prioritised by the updjc: 1) Economic; 2) Social; 3) Security; 4) Land & Environment; and 5) Political. To date, the annual Panglong Conference has been deciding on the principles to be discussed under each committee.

Within the six peace agreement documents there are assorted references to ensure women’s participation in the political process,26 gender equality,27 as well as references to the particular needs of displaced women and children,28 and women’s protection from sexual and gender-based violence.29

In practice, however, there are barriers to representation: the 30 per cent quota for women’s inclusion has not been implemented in the updjc, the jmc (union or state level), nor in any of the Working Committees except for one — the ‘Social’ Committee.30 There are also discrepancies between what the nca states on gender equality and what Myanmar law permits: i.e. gender equality as provided for in the Constitution is at odds with ethnic and gender discrimination contained in the 1982 Citizenship Law and other laws relating to marriage and birth restrictions.31 These laws and the application of these laws affect ethnic and religious minority women’s and their children’s ability to acquire and confirm Myanmar citizenship and access fundamental human rights such as education, and freedom of movement, as well as their ability to vote, to open bank accounts and to be politically represented. Finally, women’s experiences in conflict, namely sexual and gender-based violence, discrimination, and forced displacement, have often affected their participation in the peace process. Barriers to participation are strongly linked to safety concerns.32

In early 2018, during consultations concerning a field-based research on the gender aspects of the right to a nationality in Myanmar, local civil society organisations talked with concern about which organisations they felt were safe to meet and collaborate with, and there was uncertainty about their ‘right’ to seek information on citizenship and land rights pertaining to the nca. It was also noted in these discussions that it was difficult to access information on the Myanmar nationwide ceasefire agreement, specifically the right of displaced returnees to a nationality, their access to civil documents proving it, and housing, land and property rights at the state/region, township, and village levels (including across civil society organisations).33 Civil society organisations working in the gender equality community rarely had the opportunity to meet with civil society organisations working on citizenship rights and housing, land and property rights or vice-versa.

After the report’s release the research partners decided to communicate and share experiences amongst different research stakeholders involved in the peace process, citizenship and land rights. This led to the decision by a number of research partners34 to hold a ‘pilot’ one-day workshop in Mon State in July 2018, which provided the opportunity for exchange and discussion amongst different civil society organisations, international organisations, donor organisations, and government representatives.

The findings from this workshop revealed a number of practical obstacles faced by civil society organisations attempting to support returnees and, in turn, the peace process. Many reported frustration with the implementation gap between promoting a gender-responsive peace process35 and providing for local enabling conditions that support peace. Specific barriers faced by civil society organisations, and in turn the communities they are seeking to help were threefold: 1) information and communication barriers concerning the peace process; 2) women’s fear and reluctance to seek services due to personal safety concerns, and 3) the persistence of traditional gender norms. We will discuss these findings below and conclude with recommendations from the participants on how to promote local opportunities for inclusive participation and sustainable benefit from the peace process.

3 Methodology

The decision was made to hold a pilot one-day workshop in a location where the political and ethnic leadership had recently signed the nca and where the workshop coordinators had previously conducted research and programming regarding the right to a nationality and housing, land and property rights. The decision was made to locate the workshop in Mon State. The New Mon State Party and the Lahu Democratic Union had formally signed the nca in February 2018.

Invitations to the workshop were issued to a mix of local civil society organisations (focused on women rights, citizenship, and land rights), participants and observers to the peace process (jmc member and donor, Paung Sie Facility), international organisations (unhcr and UN Women), and government representatives. A total of 24 individuals (from local civil society and international organisations located in Karen, Mon and Yangon) accepted the invitation. Four translators were present in the room to facilitate participation amongst all attendees. Accommodation and/or transportation costs for those who had travelled to attend the workshop were covered by one of the facilitators, Griffith University through the Australian Research Council Linkage Research project. To ensure there was practical benefit to the participants, there were information sessions on the ‘value added’ of women’s participation in peace processes, with a specific focus on the 2014 Philippines Bangsamoro Peace Process; awareness raising on the economic, social, and political barriers to access citizenship documentation; and information on the status of housing, land, and property rights specific to women and returning displaced populations. All (translated) PowerPoint materials were provided to participants for their own use. There were five presentations interspersed with three facilitated workshop dialogue sessions (six groups for each session).

4 Mon State Workshop Engagement

Five groups of five to seven people were asked to identify and discuss common challenges during three sessions on three thematic agendas during the one-day engagement. The three agenda items were: participation in the peace process with special focus on gender equality; women’s access to citizenship; and women’s access to land and joint title. Local offices from international donor offices, international organisations, members of jmcs, and local government officers were also invited to attend and participate. As stated above, the majority of participants were from civil society. Below we present a synopsis of the discussions held during each session.

5 Challenges to Participation in the Peace Process: Information, Opportunity and Risk

The first question sought to get the groups to discuss: What are the challenges for your organisation in participating in the peace process? In their reply to the first question, there were three common challenges identified by the groups (who were often comprised of a mix of attendees from all of the groups listed above in the Workshop Methodology section). Below is a summary of these discussions, including quotes from the participants.36

First, vis-à-vis the peace process, civil society felt siloed — not just from the state but from civil societies who attended the peace process. It was noted that information was rarely shared beyond those who actively take part in the peace process. This was viewed as a frustrating experience for local groups that advocate on behalf of populations affected by the peace process, even if that organisation does not work directly in the peace process. Coupled with this was uncertainty about who had information. All groups pointed to the limited information available to civil society organisations (cso) on the peace process. Some expressed no knowledge of the progress of the peace process at all.

The government and its departments do not clearly state the extent to which csos can participate.

csos are restricted in bringing the public’s voice directly to the government. Their positions and issues cannot be reported or delivered to the government through the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (updjc) because the updjc selects the issues it shares with the government. Likewise, the government has established a rule that csos cannot discuss security and political issues with respect to the peace process. csos are only able to engage in the peace process within the frameworks and rules set up by the government.

csos are very limited in the way they [are permitted] to access information about the peace process.

In reinforcing the first point, the second point made by the majority of groups was that there is broad-based disengagement from the peace process at the local and state level. Lack of information, marginalisation, and poverty coupled with concerns that participation could result in safety concerns has led to many not participating.

Since Myanmar is a developing country, the majority of people are rooted in poverty and are struggling for their survival. Their economic struggles drive them away from engaging in public participation for peace process.

Even though women want to participate in the political processes like the peace process, they have concerns for their safety. The arrest of many politicians scares them off participating.

Finally, there was a concern that information on the peace process has become a form of power wielded to permit the inclusion of some and the exclusion of others (particularly women and ethnic minorities). The structure and implementation of the peace process is exacerbating the elite’s political structures and deepening inequalities.

Egoism is the reason why grassroots voices are not being reached or heard in the peace process. People prioritise their egos to gain benefits for themselves and ignore the public good in terms of representing peoples’ voices in the peace process.

Many people in Myanmar are brainwashed into believing a stereotype that men have more of a role in public participation. It also becomes a tradition that the males are regarded as household heads. Thus, they totally forget about embracing the inclusion of women.

The majority of groups at the workshop were asked to what extent they were aware of and engaging in the peace process. The vast majority reported that they were not engaging with the peace process. The few (less than five) who were engaging with the peace process suggested that they would approach the Ethnic Armed Organisations (eaos) or the representative(s) of federal parliament for information and to make suggestions. They also stated that they had approached government authorities at the township level, csos and ‘other’ key local actors for information to little avail. Some also expressed doubt whether it was their role was to engage in the peace process, how it would be received by their funders and whether this was the role of civil society organisations:

Majority communities and city dwellers don’t have much interest in the various conflicts in Myanmar and the ongoing peace process. They do not understand the value of peace. It is only a concern to ethnic groups and minority groups. There should be an awareness program that educates people on how peace matters to everyone in the country.

There is limited public participation in the current peace process, since people do not have awareness and information.

At this point it was reported that more engagement activity was occurring between peace process participants (i.e. state-level jmc members) with government and eaos in the area; but not civil society organisations.

When the groups were asked what could be done to improve their organisation’s engagement in the peace process, there was uncertainty amongst the groups as to whether they could do more with respect to the peace process whilst the conditions mentioned above remained. There was a mixture of fear that engagement could deliver negative consequences for their organisation; there was concern that their involvement may be seen as a ‘challenge’ to those civil society organisations who are invited to participate and finally, it was beyond their financial and logistic capacity to engage.

On the other hand, they [cso] do not have access to all relevant information from the government. The government officials only disseminate information to csos on the issues which they focus on. For example, if my organisation implements health activities in the health sector, I would only receive information related to health. Actually, all information about the peace process should be dissemination to csos even though their areas of focus are different.

It is very difficult for populations in conflict-affected areas to have access to accurate information. The information-sharing channels are also weak. This means that people cannot effectively get involved in peace dialogue or discussions.

After these discussions on engagement with the peace process itself, groups were then directed to discuss the barriers to two issues pre-identified by the groups as important priorities for returning displaced persons: access to citizenship documentation and land ownership.

6 Access to Citizenship for Returnees: Information and Safety as Barriers to Access

As noted in the Background section, access to citizenship remains an ongoing priority for large numbers of displaced persons. Indeed, lack of documentation is a widespread problem: during the 2014 census, the government identified up to 11,000,207 persons without valid identification documents (27.3 per cent of Myanmar’s eligible population). Arguably, access to civil documents is essential for durable solutions (as without them, persons cannot register land and access basic services needed for integration). In this sense, the 2017 Panglong Conference adopted the 2017 Pyidaungsu Accord which provides two relevant principles for the social committee:

Basic principle (1), to implement systematic plans aiming for durable solution that respects human rights in accordance with international standards on refugees and internally displaced persons due to armed conflicts or manmade and natural disasters without discrimination.

Basic principle (2), for refugees and idps to be able to settle safely with human dignity to their own location or in a region they desire following armed conflict or man-made or natural disasters.37

Similar to the discussion on gender inclusion and women’s participation in the peace process, barriers identified in this session were, again, access to information and safety. However, different to the session on the peace process discussion, the focus in this session was less on civil society organisation’s safety and more on access to information on documentation. The participants raised a dual dilemma — displaced women’s knowledge of their right to documentation but, at the same time, women viewing the civil documentation application process as a ‘high risk’ process where they are more likely to experience corruption (from government administration authorities), stigma (if the mother does not wish to disclose the circumstances of her child(ren)’s paternity), discrimination on ethnic and religious basis, and personal risks associated with alerting authorities to their sole female-headed household status.

As a result, many women at village level, particularly those who are from female-headed households (for conflict-related reasons and others), do not seek out civil documentation. Women from ethnic minorities, and those with limited education and financial resources are particularly disadvantaged.

They are not familiar with the government offices and the offices are not accessible from remote areas. Women typically are scared and timid. Their economic struggles do not give them opportunities to study and so they are often illiterate.

If women marry foreigners or ethnic minorities, they have to undergo the complicated process of accessing birth registration and citizenship documents.

Single mothers also face difficulties in registering births and registering themselves as the head of a household. Birth registration is particularly difficult for children conceived as a consequence of gender-based violence, or a child born to an unmarried mother with an unknown father.

The second theme discussed amongst the groups was that the civil registration authorities at the village and township level are run by the Ministry of Immigration, Labour and Population, which is de facto one of the ministries under the control of the Army (its high-ranking officers are often former military). Indeed, immigration officials wear military-style uniforms and follow an administrative culture which resembles army discipline and hierarchy.

Women fear they are more likely to face corruption if they present their lack of citizenship situation to authorities (on their own). Women also fear making it known to authorities that they live on their own. Presently, under the terms of the peace process, there are amnesties for the military and ethnic armed groups who may have committed crimes during the conflict, including sexual and gender-based violence. Any allegation of crimes committed by the Tatmadaw are handled by closed military tribunal processes and the same appears to apply for ethnic armed groups if accused of human rights violations.38 The history of sexual abuse by military and police is well known in ethnic community areas and women fear their sole-headed household status will make them a target for this type of abuse. Again, it was noted that women are particularly reluctant to register if they are from an ethnic minority group, if the child’s father is an ethnic minority person or foreigner (i.e. Thai), or if they are single-headed households (due to reasons including child born of rape, history of domestic violence, unmarried status, and/or father of the child is absent due to migration or combatant).

I know of a case where the woman went to register herself and her child. She was sent away to obtain ‘more papers’ but was still charged 5000 Kyat.

It is very difficult for some women to obtain recommendations from the police or ward administration office.

Women who are illegal migrants, refugees and idps have difficulty accessing civil documentation.

The services should be improved since it has become very bad. They should be more patient in explaining to women what documentation is required and the procedures.

If women don’t speak the language spoken at the Township Government office, they will have difficulty communicating with the officer. Moreover, they do not know how to answer when government authorities question them and ask for documents.

There is widespread knowledge within civil society that documentation is essential for women and children to gain access to government services (i.e. education, bank accounts, and housing). However, until women feel safer to register, there is over-reliance on villages providing informal modes of access to services and on ethnic groups, in particular, providing these services to their ‘own’ community. These community services are trusted but they have their own strict ethnic and religious codes that can sometimes pose barriers to women’s right to land, custody and income.39

Civil society participants noted there was a lack of state-level communication strategies directed to women concerning their right to information about citizenship. Some participants argued that knowledge of the right to civil documentation was not being adequately communicated to communities. Individuals often sought citizenship on their own in situations when it had become an emergency, (i.e. access to housing due to relocation or schooling for children, which heightened the risk of intimidation and bribery by officials). These stories came back to communities and fed the narrative that government practices are corrupt, discriminatory, exploitative and intimidatory.

Awareness should be raised as to the importance of having civil documents and information on the need for supporting documents when applying for civil documents.

The advocacy role cannot be underestimated with this issue. Especially, advocacy towards MoLIP officers, and eaos needs to be carried out.

Being accompanied or having assistance by someone who knows the procedures and assists with the application process.

There should be legal or procedure reform regarding specific categories at citizenship application process to reflect on these stated vulnerable women’s needs and difficulties.

The specific policy or procedures for accessing civil documentation by idps or refugees should be developed as well.

There should be recognition and acceptance of birth certificates or registration of children who were born outside of Myanmar.

It was noted that despite citizenship being essential for returnees, there were few advocacy campaigns devoted to promoting civil documentation registration on return. Government and ethnic armed groups were both identified as responsible for failing to communicate the importance of civil documentation and registration to all populations. Like the jmc at the state level, which includes state, military and ethnic group officials, it was suggested that there should be a similar type of citizenship structure for vulnerable and marginalised populations to assist with access documentation. Paralegal programs and legal aid programs were also identified as another way of providing such support. Finally, there were calls for a high-profile public information campaign on overcoming community stigma — especially stigma as experienced by female-headed households and displaced populations was discussed. There was also discussion of the need for the reform of any Myanmar law and policy concerning citizenship, access to civil documents, and birth and marriage registration which discriminates according to gender and ethnicity.

7 Housing, Land and Property Rights: Structural and Gender Discrimination

Similar to the civil documentation dialogue, individual experiences of discrimination concerning access to land were discussed. Specific topics included the experience of accessing land for returnees and ethnic minorities and women-headed households, with considerable discussion on the issue of land registration. Structural barriers were again identified, particularly government practices of discrimination and corruption; however, this session also raised the equally ‘difficult’ barrier: familial practices of gender discrimination.

When sponsored projects offer a loan for households in the village to buy farm seeds, the household heads can only come to get the loan. At the time, one of the male household heads was away from home and the wife encountered difficulty with getting the loan. It means, sometimes, that these projects are not flexible and it causes problems for women. 40

Our society is very much rooted in following the tradition on gender issues. After a big fire incident, many households had everything destroyed. So the rescue team offered food to the victims. However, they only called for men (household heads) to come and get the food. Women and children with hungry stomachs had to wait for the men to come back home with food. Even in this small case, women were excluded.

More women than men lack citizenship documentation, this compounds their lack of access to land and joint title. Civil society groups who work on access to land noted that women often described themselves as ‘fearful’ in approaching authorities to seek joint title: whether government or ethnic group. They fear corruption from authorities. They also fear rejection and stigma. The state and region jmcs sometimes deal with land title and boundary disputes, but the majority of members remain male and, as indicated in the one-day workshop in Mon State, many individuals do not know the status of the regional jmc, and what they may dispute. Only a few at the workshop knew that women could submit disputes and claim land rights with administrative bodies such as the Land Reinvestigation Committee, the Village Land Committees or the Central Committee on Vacant, Fallows and Virgin Lands or the land dispute resolution bodies of the Karen National Union. Women are also afraid to seek or claim joint title due to discriminatory practices within their family.41 Women have, on the whole, less formal employment opportunities than men. Access to land is vital. Women must ensure they have access to a farm to earn a household income, so often they choose not to seek joint-title ownership from partners or family so as to avoid upsetting family members (blood relatives or in-laws) and being turned away from the land.

Most local people, including women, have poor knowledge and awareness as to the importance of registering their housing, land and property.

Women think registering their names will cause them a lot of extra work. They do not want to attend the government departments or meetings at the village level. For married couples, they think joint registration is a complex process.

The government officials in the land department do not have awareness as to gender equality. They are not very good at information dissemination on housing, land and property rights and providing assistance to women.

It is a tradition to register housing, land and other properties with male household heads. This is respectful.

For some women, they do not have citizenship scrutiny card (csc) so they cannot simply register the properties under their names.

Women are usually afraid of completing the complicated hlp documentation process.

Women have less job opportunities.

People do not have information on recent land laws or acts which can affect their hlp ownership. They also do not learn these important laws and do not know what human rights/women rights are.

As the quotes above reveal, a number of participants did not see it as their role to provide information to women that would challenge ethnic gender norms. Some viewed women as just ignorant of their right to hold joint title and this was the only barrier to joint title. Even within the group discussion at one point, there was uncertainty amongst the civil society participants as to the status of land rights in areas that had just entered the nationwide peace process. Again, the call for community-level information campaigns, targeted to women but also community and men, that link land title to citizenship, was identified as essential. Some of the quotes below illustrate the deeply entrenched gender norms concerning what women know and what women can claim. Women were identified as ‘too busy’ to seek joint registration and attend government meetings or described as ignorant of their right to joint title. It became clear during this discussion that discussion about gender norms was important and beneficial not just for the communities, but also for the civil society groups seeking to mediate between ethnic groups, government, military and communities.

8 Findings

Whether you like gender inclusion or not, it makes a difference in reaching a real peace accord. The real peace process will be only achieved then.

Barriers to information for returning displaced populations and local civil society organisations affect the gains that populations could be making to benefit from peace. It compromises, specifically, individuals’ right to claim citizenship as well as land rights. The need for community-level information sessions on the peace process was identified as vital. It was suggested that delivering this information to diverse local civil society organisations would benefit their work on women’s rights, citizenship, housing, land and property rights. Mon workshop participants argued that local information and communication campaigns on the peace process were vital for themselves and community. Their call was for fewer expensive and time-consuming workshops, often located in Yangon, and more local communication campaigns in villages, in posters, in radio stories, and videos that can be accessed on mobile phones via Facebook.

Female-headed households were identified as the group most in need of benefitting from the peace process but least likely to do so due to safety and institutional barriers. Women who return on their own are at greater risk of not knowing their right to citizenship and their right to land. Even if they do know, most are fearful of claiming these rights. Safety barriers include the risk of alerting heavily male-dominated environments to their status as female-headed households. Women fear their status will place them at risk of bribery and intimidation. The joint monitoring ceasefire units occasionally may preside over land title and boundary disputes,42 and the majority of their members are male. Citizenship is presided over by the local Ministry of Immigration and Population office, which is usually located with the Village Ward or Administration office, which may also be located near the policy police? and military units. These environments are overwhelmingly male-dominated spaces. Returning displaced women without citizenship and land to farm for income means facing further obstacles: healthcare, education (for children), the right to vote, documentation to open a bank account, to own a mobile phone. One recommendation from the group was to hold women-only days for citizenship and land registration, with prioritised access to female-headed households and displaced populations.

Finally, it was suggested that entrenched gender discriminatory attitudes and norms require better understanding and awareness amongst the key stakeholders (government, civil society and security sector). Many raised the concern that information campaigns on what rights women can access will fail without local civil society, government, and security sectors being trained to understand their role in facilitating these rights. Participants recommended that such training programs highlight women’s rights as a key socio-economic issue, not only in the context of the peace process, but more broadly in terms of the role of gender equality as a means to peaceful co-existence within society and as a means to reach prosperity for all (men, women, boys and girls) within Myanmar society. These events would help promote community education on the benefits of gender equality.

9 Conclusion

Women’s marginalisation from the peace process is symptomatic of wider discrimination practices. Despite Myanmar’s peace process agreements stating that women are equal citizens, in practice they are not. Enduring peace requires the Myanmar government, and donors, to recognise the communication, economic and social barriers that prevent women experiencing equal opportunity to men in post-conflict transitional environments. Returnee women, especially, face the risk of compounded discriminations: sole-headed households, informal income, and little or no paperwork to claim their right to citizenship, which in turn limits their access to land and social services. Solutions offered by local civil society organisations point to the need for the nationwide peace process to include and inform a diverse community of local actors. Specifically, there needs to be more investment in community-level information campaigns on the peace process and its local impact, localised gender-awareness training, and local institutional reforms to provide safe spaces for women and men to access information on citizenship, joint registration and land rights.


Sara E. Davies would like to acknowledge the support of the Australian Research Council Linkage Scheme and its partner organisation, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (grant number LP160100085).


For list of signatories and their comparative fighting capacity see Bobby Anderson, ‘Stalemate and Suspicion: An Appraisal of the Myanmar Peace Process’, Tea Circle, 6 June 2018, https://teacircleoxford.com/2018/06/06/stalemate-and-suspicion-an-appraisal-of-the-myanmar-peace-process/, accessed 11 November 2019.


National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (nrpc), ‘updjc, nca Signatories Resolve to Fix Bottlenecks to Peace Process’, 14 June 2019, http://www.myanmarstatecounsellor.info/nrpcen/node/304 accessed 11 November 2019.


For the latest developments see Kyaw Kha, ‘Knu Sticks to nca to Advance Myanmar Peace Process’, The Irrawaddy, 25 November 2019, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/knu-sticks-nca-advance-myanmar-peace-process.html; Karen Peace Support Network, ‘Burma’s Dead End Peace Process: A Case Study of the Land Sector’, Burma Link, 5 July 2018, https://www.burmalink.org/burmas-dead-end-peace-negotiation-process-a-case-study-of-the-land-sector/.


Upsala Conflict Data Program, ‘Myanmar 1989–2018’, https://ucdp.uu.se/country/775, accessed 14 November 2019; International Crisis Group, ‘Myanmar: A Violent Push to Shake Up Ceasefire Violations’, Briefing No. 158/Asia, 24 September 2019, https://www.crisisgroup.org/asia/south-east-asia/myanmar/b158-myanmar-violent-push-shake-ceasefire-negotiations, accessed 14 November 2019; Anderson, ‘Stalemate and Suspicion’.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr), ‘Refugee Response in Bangladesh’, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/myanmar_refugees.


Ye Min Zaw, ‘What Does the Arakan Army Bring to the Rakhine State’, The Irrawaddy, 11 January 2019, https://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/guest-column/arakan-army-bring-rakhine-state.html, accessed 13 November 2019; Anthony Davis, ‘Why Myanmar is Losing the Rakhine War’, Asia Times, 3 July 2019, https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/07/article/why-myanmar-is-losing-the-rakhine-war/, accessed 13 November 2019.


The Irrawaddy, ‘Analysis: Arakan Army a Powerful New Threat to Tatmadaw’, The Irrawaddy, 8 January 2019, https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/analysis-arakan-army-powerful-new-threat-tatmadaw.html, accessed 14 November 2019.


United Nations Human Rights Council (unhrc), ‘Myanmar: UN Fact-Finding Mission ­Releases its Full Account of Massive Violations by Military in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States’, 18 September 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?NewsID=23575&LangID=E, accessed 12 November 2019.


Soe Thu Aung, ‘mips Report Says — Inter Ethnic Fight Fiercer than Fighting with the Tatmadaw’, Mizzima, 3 April 2019, http://mizzima.com/article/mips-report-says-inter-ethnic-fighting-fiercer-fighting-tatmadaw, accessed 14 November 2019; Sai Wansai, ‘Why are the Guns not Silent? Conflict in Kachin State Continues Despite Peace Bid’, Mizzima, 8 October 2016, http://mizzima.com/news-opinion/why-are-guns-not-silent-conflict-kachin-state-continues-despite-peace-bid, accessed 14 November 2019; Jenny Hedström, ‘Myanmar in Transition: China, Conflict and Ceasefire Economies in Kachin State’, Paper, Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI), Stockholm, 2019, https://www.ui.se/globalassets/ui.se-eng/publications/ui-publications/2019/ui-paper-no.-4-2019.pdf/, accessed 14 November 2019.


Renaud Egreteau and Cormac Mangan, State Fragility in Myanmar: Fostering Development in the Land of Protracted Conflict, Report, Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, Myanmar, 2018.


Peter Wallensteen, Quality Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).


John Prendergast and Emily Plumb, ‘Building Local Capacity: From Implementation to Peacebuilding’ in Stephen J. Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth M. Cousens (eds.), Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements (Boulder: Lynne-­Rienner, 2002); Anthony Wanis-St. John and Darren Kew, ‘Civil Society and Peace Negotiations: Confronting Exclusion’, International Negotiations, 13/1: 11–36 (2008); Desiree Nilsson, ‘Anchoring the Peace: Civil Society Actors in Peace Accords and Durable Peace’, International Interactions, 38/2: 243–266 (2012); Madhav Joshi and Jason Michael Quinn, ‘Implementing the Peace: The Aggregate Implementation of Comprehensive Peace Agreements and Peace Duration after Intrastate Armed Conflict’, British Journal of Political Science, 47/4: 869–892 (2015).


Virginia Page Fortna, ‘Scraps of Paper? Agreements and Durability of Peace’, International Organisation, 57/2: 337–372 (2003); Christine Bell, ‘Power-Sharing, Conflict Resolution, and Women’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 24/1: 13–32 (2018).


Jana Krause, Werner Krause, and Piia Bränfors, ‘Women’s Participation in Peace Negotiations and the Durability of Peace’, International Interactions, 44/6: 985–1016 (2018), p. 988.


ibid., pp. 1006–1007.


ibid., p. 1007.


Namati: Innovations in Legal Empowerment, Annual Report 2016, 2016, https://namati.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Namati_2016-Annual-Report_MR_spread.pdf, ­accessed 12 November 2019.


Kim Jolliffe, Ceasefires, Governance and Development: The Karen National Union in Times of Change. Report, The Asia Foundation, December 2016, https://asiafoundation.org/publication/ceasefires-governance-development-karen-national-union-times-change/.


Sara E. Davies, Myanmar: A Situational Analysis of Women’s Participation in Peace Processes, Monash Centre for Gender Peace and Security, July 2018. http://mappingpeace.monashgps.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Myanmar-Situational-Analysis_ART-3.pdf


The project has also conducted engagement consultations in Kachin state and Shan state.


United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (ocha), Annual ­Report 2018, 2018, https://www.unocha.org/sites/unocha/files/OCHA2018AnnualReport.pdf, accessed 12 November 2019.


Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (idmc), Global Report on Internal Displacement 2018, 2018, http://www.internal-displacement.org/global-report/grid2018/, accessed 12 November 2019.


unhrc, ‘Myanmar: UN Fact-Finding Mission Releases its Full Account of Massive Violations by Military in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States’.


‘Myanmar Constitution and Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement’, 2015, https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/MM_151510_NCAAgreement.pdf, accessed 12 ­November 2019.






The primary focus of the social committee are five areas: 1. Matters relating to the promotion and teaching of ethnic nationalities’ history; matters relating to ethnic literature, culture, language, and customs; and education and health matters; 2. Matters relating to worship and religion; 3. Matters relating to resettlement, rehabilitation, and development of livelihoods; 4. Matters relating to human rights, gender equality, and humanitarian issues; 5. Matters relating to narcotics and mind altering drugs prevention and education. See ‘The Framework for Political Dialogue’.


‘Myanmar Buddhist Women’s Special Marriage Law’, 2015, http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs21/2015-Myanmar_Buddhist_Women_Special_Marriage_Bill.pdf, accessed 12 November 2019 and ‘Population Control Health-Care Law’, 2015, http://www.asianlii.org/mm/legis/laws/pchl2015h592.pdf, accessed 12 November 2019.


Davies, ‘Myanmar: A Situation Analysis’.


Norwegian Refugee Council (nrc), unhcr, un Women, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (isi), Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (snap), and The Seagull Foundation, A Gender Analysis of the Right to a Nationality in Myanmar, Report, 7 March 2018, https://www.nrc.no/globalassets/pdf/reports/myanmar/cedaw-report-web-7-march-2018.pdf, accessed 12 November 2019.


Griffith University, Monash University, Statelessness Network in the Asia Pacific (snap), and The Seagull Foundation.


Gender-responsive peace process: where gender inequalities and differences are acknowledged and there is an implementation plan that addresses such gaps.


The quotes from workshop participants have been edited for grammar and style, but the substance of each remains true to the original.


State Counsellor Office, ‘37 Points Signed as a Part of Pyidaungsu Accord’, Republic of Myanmar, 2017, https://www.statecounsellor.gov.mm/en/node/904, accessed 12 November 2019.


Andrew Selth, Myanmar’s Armed Forces And The Rohingya Crisis, Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 2018. https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2018-08/pw140-myanmars-armed-forces-and-the-rohingya-crisis.pdf.


Norwegian Refugee Council (nrc), unhcr, UN Women, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion (isi), Statelessness Network Asia Pacific (snap), and The Seagull Foundation, A Gender Analysis of the Right to a Nationality in Myanmar.


Note that further discussion on this example reveals that the opposition to the woman receiving the loan was from within the village.


The jmcs do not have a clear mandate to solve land disputes. They seldom meet. The competent bodies are either the knu land dispute resolution committees or the administrative bodies of the government of Myanmar (lrc, vlc or cvfvl). Having said this, occasionally there have been land disputes issues discussed as part of jmc meetings, not in the form of individual claims but rather as political issues (i.e. the building of new infrastructure by GoRUM, etc).


Note, however, that they do not normally solve disputes. These are handled by other ­administrative bodies, see nrc, Finding a ‘Middle Way’ to Solve Myanmar’s Land Disputes, Report, 3 May 2019, https://www.nrc.no/resources/reports/finding-a-middle-way-to-solve-myanmars-land-disputes/.

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