The Health Status of Women in Burma
If this paper was not meant to be presented to the United Nations 43rd
Session of "Commission on Status of Women", its title should
have been changed to "The Health Status of People in Burma"
because the present health crisis in Burma concerns men, women and children.
Last year, in 1998, the United Nations commemorated the 50th anniversary
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Women's rights as human
rights, a realistic and viable form, have recently been accepted by the
international community as part of the human rights lexicon. The Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (or CEDAW)
came into force in 1981 as the first international human rights treaty to
systematically and substantively address the needs of women.
In Burma, the State Peace and Development Council (or SPDC) ratification
of CEDAW came into force on Aug. 21, 1997 and it obligates the military
regime to take steps to eliminate the barriers to full equality for women.
However, repressive military regimes are, by their very nature, still very
inconsistent with women's freedom. That Burmese women are frequently exploited sexually and economically is clearly demonstrated by a growing sex
industry in Burma, highly restrictive access to contraception and unsafe
methods of abortions. Evidence shows the lack of control that Burmese women
have, under the dominance of the military, over their reproductive health.
In the present situation, the following health issues are among the
plethora of many urgent issues which stand out as a result of social and
- Burma has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in
- The incidence of HIV/AIDS is increasing at an alarming rate
- The incidence of treatable or preventable illnesses linked to poor
socioeconomic statue (such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, malaria and
malnutrition) is increasing
- There is a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation
Among the many causes that contributed to these problems, one major
cause is the mismanagement of budget spending in which a disproportionately
large amount of the total revenues is allocated to the military and defense
sectors and a disproportionately small amount is allocated to the
essential health and education sectors.
Along with other human rights violations, these are issues which, in
the long term, can only be solved by social and political reform.
I would like to pay tribute, with this paper, to the 88th Annual
International Women's Day and pay a special tribute to my fellow women
inside Burma who are still suffering from various forms of abuses.