18 July 2017 | Report

International standards on women and work in Myanmar


Two influential instruments in this area are the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and Resolutions, and the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The ILO develops conventions and resolutions with the intention that nation states can incorporate these into national legislation. In 1999, the ILO adopted a policy of ‘gender equality mainstreaming,’ which requires that gender awareness be interwoven through all conventions and implementation strategies. In 2018, the ILO will seek to introduce a new convention addressing all forms of gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination against women, including domestic or family-based violence and its impact in the workplace.

The United Nations CEDAW convention, which was adopted in 1979 and has been ratified by almost two hundred states, positions women’s rights as human rights and focuses on eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. CEDAW requires equal pay for equal work, the right to social security, paid leave, and maternity leave with pay or comparable social benefits without negative consequences for taking maternity leave such as loss of job or seniority.


In recent years, the government of Myanmar has commenced a comprehensive reform process, revising or replacing existing laws and enacting some new laws. Minimum wage laws enacted in 2015 may help close the gender pay gap estimated at 25 per cent, but only if these laws are enforced by government.

The Myanmar government has also enacted legislative changes to combat discrimination against women and to improve access to childcare facilities. However, there are no provisions for menstruation leave or for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. A draft law on sexual and gender-based violence includes provisions to end workplace violence and harassment, but the present iteration is considered too weak to be effective.

In Myanmar, many of the laws and regulations that impact women’s economic empowerment are new, and there has been limited assessment of their implementation or, indeed, analysis of how they might affect women. More broadly, Myanmar struggles with enforcement, not only because of the weaknesses of enforcement mechanisms but because many women work in informal sector occupations.

Without concrete measures to enforce legislation and change workplace culture, pregnancy, childcare, and family responsibilities continue to be significant barriers to women’s career development, and women continue to be vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and violence in the workplace.




  • International standards
  • ILO conventions and CEDAW
  • Diffusion of international norms
  • Problems with enforcement

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