Women in Myanmar were given equal rights to vote in 1935. It was the second country in what is now ASEAN countries where women have the right to vote in elections. However, women still remained largely under-represented in decision-making and leadership positions.
Even though, in 2015 Elections, women made up 51.8 per cent of a country with 51 million people, the number of women candidates was still very low. In the Pyithu Hluttaw, or Lower House, there are 226 women contestants for a total of 1,772 seats (12.7 per cent). In the Amyotha Hluttaw, or Upper House, 117 of 913 contestants are female (12.8 per cent).
National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi is the party fielding the most women candidates at 168, while 72 women were running for the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).
These figures still show some progress in women’s electoral participation compared to those of the 1990 election, where only 3.66 per cent of candidates were women, and only 3 per cent or 15 of 485 seats were won by them.
This progress demonstrates women’s increased interest in participating in politics. It also reflects the existence of a legal and institutional structure that actively encourages and allows greater female participation. This ideal is also enshrined in the country’s 2008 constitution.
Section 349 enshrines equal opportunity for women across a range of areas including, employment, trade, business, the arts, and science and technology. Section 369 (A) also provides equal rights for women to be elected to the country’s legislatures. Myanmar’s electoral laws also afford equal opportunities for men and women to both elect their lawmakers and be elected.
Implementation measures under the National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women (2013-2022), or NSPAW, also call for quota systems in legislative, judicial and executive bodies. However, Myanmar still lacks legal provision on targets or quota for women.
Despite of the positive increased number of the female candidates and participation of women in elections, the women candidates still faced many difficulties, discrimination and obstacles during their campaign period, either from other male candidates or personal safety issues.
In the past years, there have been campaigns and encouragement from CSOs to promote the rights of women in parliament and other decision-making levels. A few CSOs have conducted trainings and programs to increase capacity and confidence among women
After the 2010 elections, the number of elected MPs in the Union Parliament went down, mostly due to elected MPs taking positions, such as Ministers, in the Union Government. The Union Election Commission called for by-elections in 2012 to fill 46 vacant seats. Out of 157 candidates, 24 (15.3%) were women. Women won 13 out of the 46 contested seats. In December, 2012, President Thein Sein appointed Myat Myat Ohn Khin as Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, making her the first female cabinet minister since Ba Maung Chain was appointed to represent the Karen State in 1953. Currently, six women hold deputy ministerial positions, and three women hold ministerial positions in State/Regional Parliaments.
Thida, Women and the vote, New Mandala, Oct 29, 2015, http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2015/10/29/women-and-the-vote/.
Charlotte English, Female candidates face fierce, unfair fight in Myanmar’s elections, The Guardian, Nov 5, 2015,
Sang Hnin Lian, Gender Gap and Women’s Political Participation in Burma/ Myanmar, Mahidol University, 2015,