Glimpses from 2017

Anumeha Verma
Published: March 2018

What a year 2017 was! Packed with some shocking political developments, changing dynamics in economics and upheavals in the social milieu, it was a year that all of us would remember for a long time to come. Thankfully, our campuses remained the academic havens and cultural centres they have always been. Research took centre stage, entrepreneurship was promoted and issues that plague the world were provided a voice at different platforms. While several events took place throughout the year, there were a few that particularly caught our eyes. Here are a few of these!

Discourse on Federalism

The workshop at Myanmar focuses on Federalism and its Impact on Gender

Myanmar’s struggle for democracy is a complex web with intricate interactions between political interests, social paradigms, territorial rights, rebel groups and acceptance level for a new form of governance. On 8th November 2015, Myanmar (the erstwhile Burma) held its first election in 25 years. It was the first tentative step towards democracy after a long struggle. As the country embarked on a new journey, its challenges had not ended, they had just begun. The new regime under the National League for Democracy (NLD) under Aung San Suu Ki had the humongous task of steering the country towards federalism after 50 years of military regime.

Amongst the bodies supporting Myanmar in its transition from a military regime to democracy, the Forum of Federations occupies a significant place. Centre for Research in Social Sciences and Education (CERSSE) of Jain University, under the aegis of its MOU with the Forum of Federations has been a consistent partner in the Forum’s efforts to create consensus and the requisite systems for federalism to succeed.

In the last five years, the Forum of Federations has conducted more than 80 workshops in the region. Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Director, CERSSE and Pro-Vice Chancellor, JU has been a resource person and chief consultant in several of these workshops. Aimed at training people to deal with various structural and functional facets of federalism, these workshops have so far been attended by thousands of people. “The challenge in Myanmar is not just about bringing about a democratic rule, but about creating an acceptance as well. Some of the populace believes that federalism is all about cessation, which it is not,”comments Dr. Shastri. Being a multi-cultural society with different ethnic affiliations, the citizens fear that a democratic rule might lead to division of the country. These workshops have been instrumental in dispelling the misconception.

The latest in the series of the workshops was inspired by the Forum’s mandate to focus on gender empowerment and the role of women in governance. The workshop on Gender and Federalism was conducted by Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Chief Consultant for the workshop, Dr. Priyanca Mathur Velath from Bengaluru and Prof. Francis Loch from Malaysia. It was attended by more than 80 women including political leaders, social workers, professionals and representatives of different women organisations.

Federalism is all about multiple centres of power. Women constitute 50 percent of the population and hence, they are a significant stakeholder in any form of governance. “The workshop explored how federalism would impact women and how, as Myanmar moves towards federalism, it can incorporate structures where women can have a better representation,” Dr. Shastri explained. One of the oft cited concerns is whether the representation of women should be increased through quota or merit. While increasing their representation provides a substantial improvement, merely the women being their does not solve issues. The workshop elaborated on how their voice is being heard and their role in the entire decision-making process influences the way in which the issues of women are addressed.

The issues of gender result into diversified opinions, including its very definition. It was expressed at the workshop by the participants as well as the experts that the LGBT community should be included as a ‘third’ gender rather than being restricted to only women.

Third dimension of the workshop focused on role of women in peacebuilding. The focus in post-conflict situations inevitably shifts to men who have returned home after a bout of war even though often it has been observed that women are critical victims of war physically, emotionally and psychologically. Rehabilitation of women during post-conflict periods also took into account how transitions can be facilitated without compromising the well-being of women.

Another critical issue tackled at the workshop was gender and human rights and how the societies pay attention to the aspirations of women. At the end of the sessions, the participating women in the workshop came together to plan short-term and long-term goals to take concrete steps towards creating a strategy for better representation of women at various stages as Myanmar moves towards constitutional reforms. CERSSE and Forum of Federations have plans to further build on this. “We plan to strengthen the policymakers and expand the scope of different stakeholders in building a federal state,” explained Dr. Shastri.

Myanmar being the second largest country in South-East Asia with a record of a long battle for democracy certainly has to preserve its hard won right to a Federal State. Building a strong foundation would require creating the right structures and more importantly, a consensus where the stakeholders can feel secure in the future of a democratic nation.

 - Anumeha Verma is at present working with Jain University and believes that strategic communication plays a major role in solving development issues.