Although convinced that it is good to be a woman, the author maintains that in the lived experience of Myanmar women in society and in religion, there is an undercurrent of male chauvinism. The first part of the paper describes the role that Myanmar women have played in society throughout the history of Myanmar, During the last dynasty to rule the country before British annexation, for instance, writers and poets wrote disparagingly of women, coining idioms and sayings to put women in an inferior place at the beck and call of the breadwinners, the men. Under the colonial regime, education was made available to girls and this enabled them to dominate trade and become breadwinners too. The situation improved further after World War II when more parents sent female children to school.
Next, the paper tells about Myanmar Women in Religion. Myanmar being a Buddhist country, one would think that the tradition that makes women inferior in status to men has its roots in Buddhism. But Khin Myo Chit writes that “the Buddha, in his discourses, never slighted the role of women, not only in his personal life but also in his mission of teaching the truth he had found” “Buddhism says a western writer, knows nothing of the persistent anti-feminism of other eastern religions. The most essential task for every Buddhist is to gain insight into the Buddha’s teachings and this could be achieved by anyone, man or woman” Yet the author notes that all the images of Buddha in Myanmar are male images.
Where the Catholic Church is concerned, after Vatican II, changes in the liturgy were introduced but the structure of the Church as a pyramid remains. The majority of Catholics faithfully observe their traditions and place the bishops, priests, religious men and religious women on pedestals or on different rungs of the pyramid. Women are more or less, the most faithful and hardworking members of the Church. Problems in relationships between clergy and the women exist partly because renewal courses in spirituality and theology are organized for religious women by their respective congregations or by the Conference of Religious and at the same time religious women take an interest in such courses while many of the local clergy remain complacent with their theological foundation at the seminary or they do not receive the same opportunities.
Should Myanmar women be complacent with the present situation and leave it as it is? The author recommends education of men and women and a readjustment of views to allocate work in human society according to talent and aptitude in all justice, without being conditioned by customs and traditions. According to the author, “How should a woman’s nature hinder us?”, is the question that we should keep reflecting. One’s human nature may be embodied as male or female but this embodiment as a specific sexual being should in no way hinder us from being the image of God, from being a divine attribute embodied as a human being. The paper ends with the final words of the UISG Declaration 2001:: “Attentive to the cries that arise with one voice from many cultures we will respond as women disciples of Jesus Christ seeing the world with the eyes of the heart and with the compassion of a loving God”
Ann Shwe, sja, of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, has an MA in Contemporary Theology from Heythrop College, University of London, UK Before this, she pursued courses on pastoral studies and scripture at the Mill Hill Institute, London. Presently, she is a member of the Bible Translation Team organized by the Catholic Bishops Conference Myanmar (CBCM). At the same time, she is helping in the area of religious formation by conducting courses. Her dissertation on the “Incarnation” was published in East Asian Pastoral Review 40 (2003, No. 4) and also one of her essays on “The Missiology of the Hidden Presence of Christ in Asia” was published in the Lanterianum, (Nuova Serie, Vol. IX, n.1, Settembre 2001, Roma).