Myanmar’s military has appointed its first women representatives to parliament, sending two female officers to the lower house to join a political landscape long dominated by men.
The two, Lieutenant-Colonel Soe Soe Myint and Lieutenant-Colonel San Thida, were sworn in to the lower house of parliament as it reconvened on Monday.
They make up part of the 25 percent of seats reserved under Myanmar’s constitution for military appointees.
The two women were among four military representatives chosen to replace outgoing members, the Election Commission, which oversees the country’s elections and vets parliamentary candidates, said in an announcement in state-run newspapers last week.
Women hold less than 5 percent of the seats in Myanmar’s parliament, where the opposition is led by the country’s popular woman leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Rights groups and women’s groups have called for more women in the legislature and government as the country emerges from decades under military rule that saw few women in leadership positions.
Until the armed forces began open recruitment for women in October, women were confined to administrative or nursing roles in the military.
No women were part of the military junta that ruled the country from 1998 until reforms led in recent years by President Thein Sein, who in 2012 appointed the country’s first female cabinet minister in decades.
Khin San Hlaing, a lawmaker for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the party welcomes the military’s move to include women among its representatives but said women are still underrepresented in parliament.
“If these two women military representatives are placed in parliament just for show, there won’t be any difference,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Their decisions, like those of other military representatives, would likely be determined by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, she said.
“We welcome them, but we don’t know how much authority they will have to make decisions in parliament.”
“We want more women not only in parliament, but also in other positions to make important decisions for the country,” she said.
Reported by Kyaw Thu and Myo Thant Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.