Myanmar authorities are reportedly discussing the introduction of zones in Yangon and Mandalay — the country’s largest cities — in which women would be banned from buying alcohol. Although 2009 World Health Organisation statistics suggest that Myanmar’s alcohol consumption is the lowest in South-East Asia, with only 1.5 percent of women and 31 percent of men drinking, many claim that this is now changing.
According to the Women’s League of Burma, men continue to dominate many aspects of Burmese society. The OECD’s 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index ranks gender equality in Myanmar as 44th out of 102 non-OECD countries — around the same level as Guinea-Bissau and Vietnam.
The motivations for imposing restrictions specifically on women are unclear, with most studies agreeing that men in Myanmar drink significantly more than women. Meanwhile, the fate of the proposed zones remains uncertain: although the Minister of Health stated that he was considering restrictions on alcohol consumption in July 2014, more recent reports suggest that many MPs do not see reforming alcohol laws as a priority.
Discussions about drinking habits highlight concerns about the growing influence of Western culture in Myanmar’s major cities. Even if the zones are not introduced in Yangon and Mandalay, the mere suggestion that there should be one rule for men and another for women shows that gender is becoming an increasingly contentious issue in Myanmar’s changing society.
Read more: globalvoicesonline.org – Written by Tom Walker