What advice do Myanmar’s female MPs have for women candidates in 2020?

As Myanmar’s historic reform process continues to evolve, more women are needed in leadership roles of all kinds, including in parliaments. Despite their low numbers, the positive contributions of women MPs in both national and subnational parliaments have already earned the recognition of their constituents. With general elections approaching in 2020, it is time to ask if Myanmar’s political parties will nominate more women, and if so, will they be elected. Though candidate selection very much depends on decisions by party leaders, the good news is that female candidates will not have to make this journey alone. Myanmar now has a small corps of veteran female MPs who can give constructive guidance to women running for office.

In early September 2019, The Asia Foundation and a local partner organization, Phan Tee Eain, convened the fourth nationwide Women MPs Forum in Nay Pyi Taw, with 58 women parliamentarians. These included nine MPs from the two houses of the national parliament, the Amyotha Hluttaw and Pyithu Hluttaw, and 49 MPs from parliaments in Kachin and Shan States and the regions of Yangon, Mandalay, Magwe, Sagaing, and Ayeyarwady. The forum was an opportunity to consider strategies to support female candidates in 2020. One key strategy that emerged from the discussions was to share their own experiences as woman MPs, so that female candidates will know what to expect and how to exploit their own unique strengths to win public office.

So, what advice did these women MPs have for women running for office?

(1) First of all, they advised women candidates to closely study the electoral process itself: election laws, bylaws, guidelines, codes of conduct, and other related laws. To run a good campaign, it’s essential to know the process.

(2) Women candidates and their campaigns should have a clear strategy to effectively use campaign funds to reach their voters, especially women voters and swing voters.

(3) Soft skills such as public speaking, negotiation, and debate are essential and make women more effective communicators among their constituents, executive branch officials, the general public, and the media.

(4) Understanding budgeting and the process of drafting legislation is a necessity, as are strong computer and research skills, since they may not have support staff to handle those tasks.

(5) There is great value in a strong, supportive, personal community. This recommendation is confirmed by the findings in Women’s Political Participation in Myanmar, a survey conducted by The Asia Foundation and Phan Tee Eain. In that survey, women elected in both 2010 and 2012 said repeatedly that motivational and emotional support—from family, mentors, their political party, and social networks—was critical to the success of their campaigns and to managing their responsibilities as MPs.

(6) Last but not least, money matters. The veteran women MPs advised female candidates to carefully consider their financial stability, not only for the campaign period, but for the duration of their five-year terms.

While these insights and recommendation are important, this author, a woman and a keen supporter of women’s political participation, would like to add a couple of additional points. Women make up more than 50 percent of Myanmar’s population, and our laws must become more inclusive for women to achieve full democratic participation. Women MPs have a leadership role to play here, and our political parties should nominate more qualified women for 2020 and support them with training and capacity building.

Once they are nominated, women must work to improve their command of a whole range of policy issues with regional, national, and global implications—not just “women’s issues,” but a full spectrum that includes economic development, foreign affairs, climate change, information technology, etc. Only by gaining this mastery can women take their rightful place as policy- and decision-makers, whether in parliament or beyond.

In the digital age, women candidates must also learn to use social media professionally and to handle hate speech and disinformation, both during and after elections. Some women MPs say it’s hard to find the information and statistics they need to support legislation and policymaking, and they should seek out and connect with local and international nonprofits, civil society organizations, and women’s networks to bridge this information gap and build their capacity through trainings and workshops.

Finally, my hope is that, as women candidates step up to participate in the 2020 elections, women voters will support them. They have a unique role to play in our country’s journey to democracy.

Source: The Asia Foundation

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