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Why have there been no ‘gender turns’ in Myanmar/Burma research: Why and how does it matter?

Dr Maria Jaschok
University of Oxford

Why is there no tradition of Women/Gender Studies in Myanmar/Burma? The Roundtable brings together scholar/activists and scholars researching on/engaging in different aspects of Burmese society currently under conditions of social and political change. Whilst working in different disciplines and specialisations and to differing degrees of involvement with the country they study, all participants bring a shared viewpoint – the imperative for a ‘gender turn’ also in Burmese Studies.

The scholar of cross-cultural studies of gender and religion, Ursula King maps mile-stones in the academic trajectory of scholarly development as entailing a ‘gender-critical turn.’ Feminist studies (critical and transformative) and gender studies (more broadly conceived, more inclusive), she writes, have created paradigmatic shifts in many academic disciplines. What are these shifts? According to King, they include the growing interrogation of the gendered nature of studied phenomena, the relationship between power and knowledge, the critical questioning of the authority of canons of knowledge and mainstream scholarship and institutions, and involvement and responsibility of researchers undertaking such studies as gendered subjects.

Whether seen in terms of conceptual and theoretical issues arising from comparative perspectives or approached as an acute scarcity of empirical, evidence-based investigation, the absence of Women/Gender Studies as a legitimate constituent part of academe in Burma raises numerous questions. And these questions are as much of intellectual and ideological as well as of social implications, such as, for instance, the implications of the presence of an energetic and pro-active local women’s activism without the theoretical grounding to construct a context-specific identity establishing Burmese Women/Gender Studies within wider and comparative regional and international discourses.


  • SweSwe Stella Hlaing (Educational and Skill Development Centre, Yangon) is an educator and community activist whose current research focuses on the situation of marginalized women in Myanmar’s changing economy.
  • Dr Maria Jaschok (IGS at LMH) is by training a social historian/social anthropologist of modern China; she has researched and published in the areas of religion, gender and agency; gendered constructions of memory; feminist ethnographic practice; marginality and identity religion and gender; and oral history methodology. She oversees the IGS Burma-related initiatives.
  • Dr Mar Mar Khin (DASSK JRF, LMH) is a social anthropologist, gender specialist, filmmaker and has furthermore a background in education. Her research has focused on child protection, trafficking, gender violence, migration and governance issues.
  • Dr Mandy Sadan is a lecturer in the history of Southeast Asia, among her research interests are the creation of ethnic categories in Burma (especially the ‘Kachin’ minority), the analysis of gendered economies among minorities in northern mainland South East Asia as well as the study of photography, representation and ideologies of conflict.
  • Dr Kirsten McConnachie has studied governance and justice practices among Karen refugees living in camps on the Thai-Burma border. Key research themes include the production of order beyond the state, justice as a contested site, and the influence of transnational human rights discourses on local justice and governance practice.
  • Dr Sandar Win (University of Bedfordshire) is using her background in banking and international finance to problematize debates over assumed benefits of a wider application of micro-finance to alleviate poverty and empower women.