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 political neglect.

  • Burma has one of the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in Asia
  • 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.

Date last changed: 2007 September 25

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