NICOLE SMOLINSKE, U-M Center for Southeast Asian Studies
Nicole Smolinske is a Masters student at the University of Michigan pursuing a degree in Southeast Asian Studies. Her research interests focus on migration, gender, and policy studies, primarily in Thailand and Myanmar. Nicole has recently completed a Boren Fellowship in Thailand undergoing Thai language training and field research in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her research centered on Shan migrants from Myanmar to Chiang Mai province and the ease in which they felt they could, or couldn’t, access bureaucratic systems to report labor rights abuses, or apply for work permits. Nicole graduated from Washington State University’s Honors College with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science, Asian Studies, and Philosophy.
Polarizing conceptions of gender and female social positions in Myanmar provide ambiguity for women negotiating the public and private hierarchy. Many Burmese women incite a longstanding history of gender equality through various aspects of private and family life, and have claims of being the “most free” women in Southeast Asia. However, in practice and cultural representations, gendered discrimination bars women from full participation in public positions of power. This exclusion creates ambiguity as women try to negotiate their position in the social and political hierarchy. Many high-level government positions are offered under the caveat of past military experience. Women in Myanmar are excluded from military service, which bars them from political leadership. Furthermore, the military continues to subject the Burmese people to human rights abuses, much of which are deeply gendered. Through examining specific constitutional points of political exclusion the marginalized space women occupy in public life is brought to light. O.W. Wolters argues that kinship ties act as a social and historical means of expressing power and inheritance through the Southeast Asian region. Burmese culture describes the intangible power of men as hpoun, the foundation for gendered discrimination and separation in Myanmar. This paper aims to illuminate specific points of political marginalization of Burmese women according to the Constitution of Myanmar, and showcase that that political exclusion stems from inherent notions of gendered superiority according to hpoun. In addition, this paper will include talking points to initiate trans-cultural classroom discussions of gender equity in political processes that align with the United Nations Millennium Goals for Development in an effort to encourage innovative cross-cultural analysis and engagement as global citizens.