Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson, National League for Democracy (NLD), on gender equity and democratisation: Viewpoint

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson, National League for Democracy

We all want a peaceful, united, and progressive society, but the method of achieving this goal is what we need to agree on. Human beings have different values, ideas and aspirations; we cannot all think in the same way. But our diversity is our strength, and I think our women have a lot to contribute in ensuring that diversity does in fact remain a strength.

We have to strengthen ourselves by knowing what the real needs of our society are. It is not just a question of focusing on the positive. We have to be prepared to face the negative as well as the positive, and to make every effort to reduce what is negative and promote further what is positive. We have many strengths in our society but we have weaknesses too, and an inability to face those weaknesses will prevent us from making the best possible use of our strengths.

We need more women involved in politics, and involved in the right ways. It is not enough to be in politics just as a figure, a symbol of the strength of women. We need to be in politics to make the changes that are necessary. It is not a matter of how many female ministers or parliamentarians we have in the government. It is a matter of how effective these women are. If we fail to understand the real needs of our country, we will not be able to help in its development. It is not enough for women to simply think about gaining rights, we also have to think in terms of what we have to give. There is a lot that we can give and there is much we can contribute towards progress in our country. Let us therefore think of women as a driving force of transition.

While many people praise Burma’s degree of gender equality, I believe there are still issues of gender discrimination to overcome. In many families boys are given advantages that are denied to girls. Sons are favoured quite often over daughters. This is where gender discrimination starts – in the home, in the family. If we want to be equal to men in this society, we must start by treating our daughters as equal to our sons. This will do a lot of good for our sons as well. Men who live in a society where there is gender equality are the richer for it. They learn to develop their talents because they understand that they will not be given a place in society simply because of their gender. They will have to earn it because they will have to compete with women for their place. In this way, gender equality not only helps women, it helps men as well, and it will help both our men and our women to be genuine driving forces in our transitional progress. To achieve a successful transition, we have to be able to face challenges head-on. Why is our country not progressing as quickly as it should? Geography is not an issue; human elements are at work, such as social and political factors. As a politician, I believe there are many changes to be made in this society before we can become a democratic one.

The present constitution describes how we are working towards multi-party democracy. This means that the role of the political parties is extremely important. If we do not recognise this, then we will not be able to establish a genuinely democratic society. Women in politics have to work twice as hard as men today. Only about 5% of the members of our national legislature are women. That is a very poor percentage and is the lowest of all countries in ASEAN. We need to promote the participation of women in politics – not for the sake of statistics, not just to say that we have this many female parliamentarians in the legislature or that many female ministers, but because we need to give more to the process of democratisation. We need to contribute more towards the transitional process in our country.

Our goal is to establish a society that ensures peace, progress, freedom and security for our people. This will enable our country to stand proudly among the other countries of the world as a nation that has managed to achieve one of the most difficult tasks that a country can face: that of deciding what to leave behind, what to take forward and how we are going to ensure that the legacy we leave behind for future generations is one that they will treasure, one that they will respect and one that will remain an achievement for all time.

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Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

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