Understanding women in Myanmar is an essential step in understanding Burmese society as a whole. However, I decided to dedicate a special article on this topic mainly because there is a misconceived perception in this respect. This false perception is influenced partly by the image of women in neighboring Thailand and partly by projecting a Western perspective on Asian women.
How Thai women think and how they became a sexual marketing object is a different story (you can get a lot of useful information on that if you read Stephen Leather’s book Private Dancer); what it’s more important is that Burmese women are not Thai and those who come to Myanmar exclusively for discovering another version of Thailand may be disappointed.
First of all it should be noted that Myanmar women enjoy equal legal rights to those of men, can own property, do not traditionally change any portion of their names upon marriage and, in the event of divorce, are legally entitled to half of all property accumulated during the marriage. Their role is equal, but supportive and complementary rather than in competition with men and if they accept a role a step behind their menfolk, they do so freely and willingly.
In terms of jobs, it is not uncommon for women run a home business, act as moneylenders or brokers for the sale of jewelry as for most Myanmar women business seems to come naturally. But as times change, both men and women are now entering business ventures or looking for a way to do so by searching for contacts. For single and unskilled young women from the villages, domestic work is the most common vocation beyond agricultural labor.
However, there are still some limitations, especially when it comes to religious matters. For instance, some areas within temples and shrines are not accessible to women and some Buddhist consider that divine enlightenment cannot be obtained by women, but only by men.
For those who are interested in spending more time with a Burmese woman (maybe as a life companion) some personality traits may come in useful. According to The World of Burmese Women by Daw Mi Mi Khaing Myanmar women are ‘self-possessed, confident and capable’ while another local author – Saw Myat Yin in Culture Shock! Myanmar – notes that ‘Myanmar women are characteristically shrewd and practical, but do not make pretensions towards intellectual matters’. Check out this resource if you are interested in dating Burmese women.
There is a saying that once you marry a Myanmar woman you marry her entire family. This only emphasizes once again that women are also a mirror of their society and besides discovering a woman’s personality it is essential that one should be aware of the cultural differences that influence people.