Due to the deep-rooted inequalities stemming from a patriarchal dominated society in Burma, only 8% of girls in Shan State will reach secondary education. Instead, young girls are encouraged to stay at home and fulfill domestic responsibilities to help with the family.
As the 16–day campaign to end gender based launches, this year’s theme has been identified as ending gender discrimination in education. The campaign has been widely regarded as an information-sharing powerhouse as women’s rights groups all over the world participate in advocacy efforts that seek redress in institutions, policy and law reform.
There are many challenges that exist in Burma’s education system. According to the Oxford Burma Alliance, there are 156 universities in Burma but they remain far apart and high regulated by the Government. Educational reforms have been slow, as standardizing a national, Burman curriculum takes precedent over fears of past student uprisings spurred by political unrest. In addition to a poor infrastructure, high costs, limited resources for teaching supplies, and lack of access – young girls and women are at an especially high risk of dropping out. As a result, they are more likely to marry young which significantly reduces the likelihood of them completing secondary school. With a lack of education, patriarchal attitudes often regard women as the lesser gender in the household further minimizing their ability to make decisions and are poised at a higher risk of domestic and sexual based violence.
For young women, able to pursue education beyond the primary school level they face several barriers that have been entrenched in academic institutions for decades. National curriculum largely discourages lessons on sexual and reproductive health as it is seen as an attempt to corrupt youth and encourage sexual deviance. In many ethnic communities, there is sensitivity to conversations on women’s health as the topics are seen as taboo and private. However, this has led to the marginalization of women’s voices in educational spaces. Young women face educational discrimination when they are not given platforms to share their opinions in an open, accessible manner.
Girls deserve equal opportunities to access education rather than being subjected to pre-existing stereotypes based upon their gender. Women who are able to attend school are less likely to become victims of domestic of sexual abuse, are able to contribute actively and more confidently to their communities and are less susceptible to live in in poverty. An education provides more opportunities to earn money and in turn results in a woman marrying later, having fewer children and in turn generates more growth for the economy. Further, evidence has shown that mothers who are educated set the standard for influencing the outcomes of their children’s advancement. Ultimately, when education for a young girl is prioritized, her self worth increases, as do prospects for equality in political, social, and economic arenas.
These prospects are not opportunistic. By eliminating discriminatory classroom practices, attitudes and behaviors, it has been proven that women have more control over their life choices and in turn empower other women through this discourse. Investing in a young girl’s education has positive outcomes that benefit herself, her families and her country.
In many of Burma’s ethnic states, ongoing militarization has made access to education more difficult. This years 16-day campaign theme serves as a reminder that gender based violence takes many forms in many spaces. However, it is never too late to change behaviors or to lay foundations that seek to alter seemingly normative discourse. The Burma Government not only has a responsibility but an obligation to prioritize education by reducing school fees, including circular in sexual reproductive health, replacing textbooks with patriarchal foundations that imply women’s roles are purely domestic and facilitating adequate teacher training.