Women’s Inclusion in Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement

Allison Muehlenbeck of Inclusive Security and Julia Palmiano Federer of swisspeace   •   August 2016


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KEY FINDINGS

  • The final text of Myanmar’s National Ceasefire Agreement included three important gender-related stipulations.
  • A limited number of women participated formally in the ceasefire negotiations that culminated in October 2015.
  • However, women played informal observer and support roles, which enabled them to share information with civil society about the process and content of the talks. Some also conducted backchannel mediation between actors.
  • Women’s organizations conducted mass advocacy campaigns and presented concrete recommendations for an inclusive ceasefire process.
  • Following the signing of the ceasefire agreement, Myanmar embarked on a formal national peace process, which started with minimal participation of women. The parties have since agreed to a 30 percent quota, which has yet to be applied at the time of this report’s publication.

 

Introduction

Ceasefire agreements play a crucial role in ending armed conflict. They are often the primary tool to reduce or stop violence and create space for political negotiations. Due to their technical nature, ceasefire talks have been historically exclusive processes between governments and armed groups. While a growing body of research has addressed ceasefire design and implementation, there is still a dearth of knowledge about the inclusion of women in ceasefire negotiations. With the majority of military forces and armed organizations dominated by men, there is little information on women’s participation in ceasefire negotiation and implementation or their impact on related issues.

This study aims to fill that gap by exploring women’s entry points and possible influence in Myanmar’s ceasefire negotiations between 2011 and 2015. This agreement culminated in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed by eight members of a coalition of 16 ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). Myanmar presents an interesting case for studying women’s inclusion in ceasefire negotiations, as the notion of inclusivity has multiple meanings in this context. “All-inclusive” typically refers to participation of certain armed groups in the Myanmar talks, not of women or civil society (non-armed) actors.

The case study addresses the following questions:

• What roles did women play in the negotiations toward the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement between 2011 and 2015?
• Did their involvement influence the ceasefire negotiations in any way? If so, how?
• How does the text of the NCA explicitly mention women? What are the consequences?

These research questions were informed by an initial desk review of existing publications on women’s participation in the local and national ceasefires. Semi-structured expert interviews were conducted in July and August 2015 with 11 key stakeholders from Myanmar civil society and EAOs (10 women, one man) involved in brokering the nationwide ceasefire agreement. The two provisions of the NCA public text that explicitly mentioned women were then analyzed.

The initial findings conclude that women’s participation throughout Myanmar’s formal national process was limited, though there were signs of their increased influence over time: one woman served as a lead negotiator to the NCA, one as a member of the Senior Delegation and Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team on behalf of the ethnic armed groups, and two in the governmental delegation. The ceasefire agreement also contains three gender-explicit stipulations: nondiscrimination on the basis of gender; “avoidance” of sexual violence as part of the protection of civilians; and ensuring “a reasonable number/ratio of women representatives” participate in the Union Peace Conference. It remains unclear whether the limited participation of women is specific to their gender or part of a larger phenomenon of exclusivity in the NCA process—however, this should become clear as the process moves swiftly into a phase of ceasefire implementation and political dialogue.

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