Burma Debates Women’s Rights Amid Pervasive Sexual and Domestic Violence

For years, feminists in Burma have been fighting to gain even the most basic legal rights for women.

Spousal abuse is still legal in the isolated country. Even criminal sexual assault is rarely punished.

Activists’ patient efforts to change that are starting to pay off.

In late November, officials announced that the Prevention and Protection of Violence Against Women Act, long stalled in Parliament, may finally be passed in 2019. The bill would protect women from domestic violence, marital rape, sexual violence and workplace harassment, and provide legal and medical support to survivors.

That’s a huge victory for the pioneering women’s rights groups that helped draft the legislation first proposed in 2013.

But as revealed in our on-the-ground research on violence against women and gender inequality in Burma, the law is not the only thing that needs changing to keep its women safe.

Intimate Partner Violence Is Common

Across the globe, violence against women – whether physical, sexual or psychological – is most likely to be perpetrated by their husband or boyfriend.

Thirty percent of women worldwide will be abused by a male partner during their lifetime, and the proportion is as high as 68 percent in some countries.

Data on intimate partner violence in Burma – which is run by a semi-authoritarian, military-heavy regime – is slim. But in 2016 the US-funded Demographic and Health Survey, which is conducted in some 100 countries every five years, found that 21 percent of women there reported experiencing physical, sexual or psychological violence at the hands of an intimate partner, particularly slapping, pushing, choking and attacks with weapons.

The real percentage is likely much higher. Surveys on intimate partner violence typically produce lower-than-actual numbers, in part because many women don’t feel comfortable or safe talking about assault.

According to Legal Clinic Myanmar, a charity based…

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