Mi Cherry Soe Mon
This Jeepyah Civil Society Development Organisation project, led by Mi Cherry Soe Mon, examined barriers and opportunities around women’s engagement in regional politics in Myanmar. Based on interviews with ethnic minority women (and men) parliamentarians in Mon, Kayin and Tanintharyi, the project charted their journey towards political leadership and their efforts to strengthen ethnic minority women’s participation in political processes. One of the key findings of this research, articulated by Dr. Aung Nyne Oo, Deputy Speaker of Mon State Parliament, was that Myanmar’s political parties comprehensively fail to support their female members.
The research report was launched on International Women’s Day and Mon State Women’s Day in 2019, and attracted hundreds of local community members, civil society actors, parliamentarians, and citizens. Its purpose was to provide a snapshot of gender inequalities in political leadership, recommend ways forward, and also highlight the community engagement methodology that made the research truly collaborative. ‘We wanted people, especially those involved in politics, to have a better understanding of how gender inequality manifests in politics and in parliaments, and to have a better awareness of the gender inequality in the everyday parliament environment,’ stated Mi Cherry Soe.
The project was enlivened by an interdisciplinary approach throughout, with doctor-turned-artist Min Arkar Htet’s immersion in the entire research process enabling them to create an illustrated booklet depicting the ways in which gender inequalities manifest and circulate in Myanmar’s political landscape. According to Min Arkar Htet, ‘My aim was to create art that was as authentic as possible to women’s political realities, and to do this in a way that anybody could understand. Art is a unique way of communicating with, and engaging, people – and in Mon state it is really a new and innovative method that people have not seen before.’
The team toured with the report and artwork across Mon state in an effort to deepen people’s understanding of the experiences of women parliamentarians, and to generate discussion, reflection, and action on the need for gender parity in politics. They found that the combination of arts and research was a powerful advocacy tool, and resulted in women in the village communities they engaged with to appraise women politicians more favourably. Galvanised by this, they went on to exhibit the artwork at the Ahnu Thutaythana Festival in December 2019 as part of their ongoing participation in the ‘Reducing inequalities in public engagement in Myanmar’ project, where they also shared their experience and enthusiasm for art-and-research based advocacy.
Contemplating the 2020 elections in Myanmar, Mi Cherry Soe decided to bring the artwork to more prominent attention, and began a process of erecting billboards close to the parliamentary buildings in the project’s three research sites. An estimated 60,000 people drive by a particular billboard in Mawlamyine, close to the Mon regional parliament, every day. Therefore, as Mi Cherry Soe explained: “Billboards provide a perfect way to draw attention to some key facts and issues around gender inequality in politics – such as how few women MPs there are in Mon and in Myanmar. It is important these facts are visible to our politicians, and to members of communities – especially in the lead up to a general election. We want people to think about this when they prepare to vote.”
One woman MP interviewed for the project commented that on days when she is feeling frustrated and burned out, seeing the billboard in Mon state inspires and encourages her to keep pushing for gender equality in Parliament and in her work on a Women and Child Committee. Meanwhile, a woman member of the Mon Unity Party reports increased understanding and acceptance within her party about making space for women, and credits the team’s research, art, and advocacy for helping make this happen.
About Mi Cherry Soe Mon and Jeepyah Civil Society Development Organisation (JCSDO)
Mi Cherry Soe Mon is an experienced researcher and longtime advocate for increasing women’s presence in politics. In addition to being part of the management team at Jeepyah Civil Society Organisation and the Director of its Women Empowerment Program, Mi Cherry Soe Mon serves on the steering committees of the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process and the Mon Women Network.
Jeepyah Civil Society Organisation (JCSDO) has its roots in the Mon civil society community. Established as the Jeepyah Education Services (JES) in 2010 by members of the Human Rights Foundation of Monland, it has since diversified its activities to include human rights documentation, child rights, and civic education of women. The name of the organization was changed in order to better reflect these diverse activities, and JCSDO was officially registered in 2017. Learn more about JCSDO and their work.