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July 23, 2019

The Status of Myanmar Women in Myanmar history and culture

By MahaSaddhamma Jotikadhaja, Sithu Dr. KhinMaungNyunt

International Women’s Day on March 8th had been most fittingly commemorated and celebrated across the world. Among several events, the most eye-catching and inspiring was the MacDonald chain of Fast Food Restaurants throughout the world which honoured and commemorated World Women’s Day by upturning the letter “M” to become “W” to mean “Women”.
Besides the UN Secretary- General Mr. Antonio Guterres sent out his inspiring message pointing out that though women’s status had been much improved and their human rights fulfilled more now than in the past, t here still remains a wide area where they are not yet equal to men. He pin-pointed Asian and South-east Asian Countries where women, due to tradition, custom and religion are still not equal to men. Though women have to perform more duties than men within the family and in the human society, some duties are unpaid they are still considered “weaker gender” than men.
The writer of this Article is in agreement with the message of the UN Secretary-General. But he would like to draw his attention as well as that of the entire world to the true and real status of women in his country Myanmar throughout its history and culture.
First of all there has been no hard and fast rule of gender discrimination in Myanmar anthropologically, culturally and religiously. All Myanmar ethnic nationalities give equal status and treatment to men and women. Women are treated not as weaker sex but only as fairer gender. Fairer gender by own virtues has feminine modesty and feminine privilege to be respected and protected by men. Therefore certain jobs, works and places are regarded as not suitable for fairer gender. So These are marked only for men not because of discrimination but out of resped and regard for fairer gender.
“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. The old saying is unquestionably true. It is more so in Myanmar Society. In Myanmar family, mother is the Queen whereas through father is the supporter of the family and mainly responsible, it is the mother who is the power behind. She runs the whole family from kitchen to budget covering the whole range of daily life of the family. Father’s income is given over to Mother who can make her own budget in a very pragmatic way for food, clothing, shelter, health and education of the family. Both father and mother are happy, neither feels superior or inferior to each other and children love both equally.
In culture and religion mother enjoys place of precedence over Father. Because mother keeps children in her womb and gives birth to them, we all genders owe much to our mothers. So we always give priority to mother. Pay respects to mother first and to father next Even Lord Buddha gave his homage and gratitude to his mother Queen Maha Maya who kept him in her womb and gave birth to him in human world. Now she was a deva Sandusitha in the Celestial World. Lord Buddha went up to her and delivered to her dhamma “Abhidhamma”. In his Sutta [discourse] on social affairs of mundane life Lord Buddha prescribes rights and duties between parents and children, husband and wife, master and servant, teacher and pupils, king and people. Thus five duties of husband for wife are;
1. Do not neglect your wife
2. Hand over your income to her
3. No adultery
4. Give her good clothing and adornment
5. Be always kind to her
Five duties of wife to husband are;
1. Do domestic works
2. Save and keep income
3. No adultery
4. Give support to relatives and friends of both hers’ and his
5. Do not be idle or lazy.

In Myanmar Buddhist family Parents are called in Pali Mata-pitu rmwmydwk or rdb mother and father. Respects and homage are given first to mother, next to father. There is a saying in Myanmar “Amaakyiamiayar”. The eldest sister in the family can take the place of mother in her absence.
In possession, right of inheritance, in divorce male and female members of the family get equal shares and divisions. No greater share or division for male members. In divorce, equality of right is practiced. In Buddhist Social Law, you can never disown your children nor your parents.
In public, Myanmar women are on par with men in every field, business, service, education etc. In addition to the domestic duties of their families Myanmar women prove in some cases with their feminine business acumen and gift better than their male counterparts.
In Myanmar history we have many wise and influential queens of Myanmar Kings, MiphayaPwa Saw was most outstanding queen in Bagan dynasty. She succeeded four kings whom she gave advice in the conduct of ruling, administration and diplomacy and domestic and international relations. She dared to reprimand King Narathihapate for his misrule and misconduct in diplomacy and warfare. She advised the three Myanmar Shan Princes to move political power house from Bagan to a new place Pinya as Bagan after three centuries of glory and greatness became exhausted.
There was the most outstanding and perhaps the only one reigning and ruling Queen Bayin Ma Gyi Shin Saw Pu of Mon Kingdom. She had to succeed to the throne of her father King Rajaderit a historic proof that Myanmar women are equal with man even to rule the country. As she was a pious lady, she wanted to retire from public life. But there was no qualified person in the royal family to become her successor not even her own son. So she requested Monk Dhammazedi to revert to laity to succeed her. The monk was a commoner but very learned in three affair Lokha [Secular] Dhamma [Religion] and Raja [Ruling administration]. So she selected him and married him to her daughter to become member of royal family. Her choice proved wise and best. The entire country enjoyed a long period of peace prosperity and progress.
In modern history of Myanmar, Myanmar women never take inferior place either in private or public life. In business, small, medium or great, in politics, in education, in freedom movement and in war, Myanmar women always take their role. There is no discrimination. There were women headmen [rdef;rolMuD;] appointed by the King. These women village heads arrested the criminals, gave them due punishment by caning, beating, boxing such women village chiefs were physically stronger than average men.
In the struggle for National Freedom we have Thakhin as well as Thakhinma men and women young nationalists. When the first delegation was sent to the British Parliament in London in 1930 to demand separation of Myanmar from Indian Rule of British Empire, Ma Mya Sein, M.A. History was the only woman member. At that time women in England were fighting for their right to vote let alone appearing in Parliament. Ma Mya Sein flawlessly delivered her speech for Separation. She became the apple of the eye of British women and the role model to emulate.
In our fight for national freedom women played no small role in sacrificing their own lives. In every profession, women are out numbing men. In Universities, medicine, Engineering, Foreign Services, many departments are man and by women. Daw KhinKyi, Bogyoke Aung San’s wife and mother of Daw Aung San Su Kyi was the first women ambassador in the world.
In Buddhist religion there were both male and female monks -bhikkhus and bhikkhunis. Buddha’s foster mother Gotami became Bhikkhuni Gotami. But now as the period for Bhikkhuni was over, we have nuns who are not bound by all rules of Vinaya, but who still enjoy other rights in Pariyatti, Patipatti and Pativada. They are entitled to religious awards, titles and privileges.
The writer agrees with the UN Secretary-General that. There are areas where gender discrimination still prevails. But the writer wishes to draw the attendion of the world that Myanmar women are far advanced and Myanmar men hold no jealousy for it they are proud of it.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor and the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, recently visited Australia to attend ASEAN-Australia Conference. She was honoured with 19 gun salutes then she inspected the Australian Guard of honour. Like her father Bogyoke Aung San she is now leading the country to the 21st Century Panglong Conference to achieve ever-lasting national reconciliation and to establish democratic federal Republic. Her name stands a historic proof of gender equality in Myanmar Society. Aung San [her father’s name Bogyoke Aung San] Suu [her paternal grand mother’s name Daw Suu and Kyi [her mother’s name Daw Khin Kyi].

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