In Verisk Maplecroft’s Women’s and Girls’ Rights Index 2016, Myanmar is ranked 33rd out of 198 countries (where 1st denotes the greatest risk). The index categorises the country as exposing investors to an ‘extreme risk’ of association with practices that discriminate against, or otherwise limit or infringe the rights of, women and girls.
Poverty and discriminatory practices pose significant barriers to equality for girls and young women in Myanmar. National statistics indicate growing equal access to education for boys and girls as well as increased levels of literacy among the female population. For example, initial results from the 2015 national census show that the proportion of school-age children attending school (ages 6-18) is equal for both genders. However, other social indicators suggest that the census results could be inaccurate or skewed between urban and rural communities. Furthermore, school attendance for both sexes begins to drop sharply after primary school age, going from about 69% at age 12 to 30% for girls at age 16; the proportion for males at this age is slightly lower. Nonetheless, the Asia Development Bank (ADB) reports that the ratio of girls to boys in education varies significantly from state to state. For example, the ratio of girls to boys in Rakhine state was 70% compared with 115% in Kayin state. The ADB also found that the dropout rate for girls is 7% higher than for boys.[i]
Despite increased equality in access to education for girls compared to boys, gender bias in employment remains problematic. Female participation in the labour market sits at 63.1% compared with 85.1% for men, with the majority of women working in non-paid employment in agriculture. The ADB assesses that women work primarily in the lower wage and unskilled labour sectors, where disparities in wages are big; women sometimes earn only 60% of what men earn for comparable work.
Owing to the lack of economic opportunities at the local level, girls and young women from vulnerable ethnic minority communities often seek high-risk employment, including in road construction and building work. Many poor young women from Myanmar work in neighbouring Thailand in the garment manufacturing, agriculture and seafood processing industries, sometimes going through labour brokers who deceive them into conditions of forced labour. Furthermore, many young girls are working in the sex trade in larger cities. Women and girls in ethnic minority communities are also at high risk of physical and sexual abuse by security forces, often carried out with impunity.
Myanmar’s economy continues to expand with a GDP growth rate of 8.3% in 2015 and 8.2% in 2016. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2014 has risen to more than US$9 billion, as companies are keen to access Asia’s last remaining untapped market, which offers tax and export tariff breaks, partly in order to create jobs for its 50-million strong population. The majority of FDI has gone into the energy sector, whereas manufacturing and telecommunications, which traditionally employ more women, have accounted for 25% of FDI.[ii] Investing in the growing female workforce in Myanmar will therefore support continuing economic growth as well as improve women’s economic situation, giving them the opportunity to financially support themselves and their families.
[i] Asian Development Bank, 2012, ‘Interim Country Partnership Strategy: Myanmar (2012-2014),’ Available at: http://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/linked-documents/icps-mya-2012-2014-ga.pdf
[ii] Reuters, Myanmar 2014/15 FDI swells to $8.1 bln – govt agency, March 2015, available online at: http://www.reuters.com/article/myanmar-investment-idUSL3N0WR25Q20150325