Rakhine state is located in west Myanmar, and has a population of 3,118,963. There are 17 townships called Buthi Daung, Mrauk Oo, Than Dwe, Ponna Gyun, MyeBon, Pauk Taw, Kyaukpyu, Toungup, Gyeiktaw, Rathe Daung, Ann, Maungdaw, Gwa, Minpya, Manaung, Ramree and Sittwe. Sittwe is the capital city of Rakhine State.
The situation in Rakhine State is extremely complex, and stems from a long history of settlement and migration. Rakhine is currently most widely known for the conflict between the self-identifying Rohingya and the Rakhine ethnic group. However, the conflict extends beyond these two groups, and its effects are widespread.
Currently there are two officially recognized ethnic groups in Rakhine State – Rakhine and Chin. However, both the Chin and Rakhine groups have several ethnic ‘sub-groups.’ Rakhine, Kaman, Pyaramakyi, Dinet, Thet, Myo and Kami are all considered “Rakhine.” Zutu, Laithu, Laisaw, Asho, Kumtu and Lautu, on the other hand, are Chin.
The inter-communal relationships in Rakhine have been built between these diverse groups for generations, though are still a source of conflict. Each tribe has its own original dialect and language, but Rakhine language is used as the common language to communicate between tribes. Despite the fact that each tribe has its own traditional heritage, the Rakhine culture and traditions are the only ones recognized as the main cultural heritage of the state.
Social research has shown that the Dinet, Thet, Myo and Kami tribes wish to be recognized as their own distinct groups, rather than being considered a sub-group of Rakhine ethnicity.1 Members of these groups believe that they are treated as second class citizens, are discriminated against, and lack access to equal rights and opportunities in the political, economic, and social sectors.
The situation in Rakhine is rife with inter-communal conflict between religious groups, ethnic groups and tribes, and cross-border migration has become a key issue in the area. It is often the case that these conflicts become violent, resulting in harm. The international community has maintained a focus on the conflict between the Rakhine and Muslim groups, despite the fact that there are a number of smaller ethnic groups who are also affected by the violence.
In addition, ethnic identities are being mistakenly assumed and recorded incorrectly at the national level. For the people who belong to ethnic minority groups in Rakhine, the issue of identity is important, and is not being properly recognized.
National and international actors primarily focus on the humanitarian, development, and political needs and perspectives of the two principal communities – the Rakhine and the Rohingya. Some of the most vocal – and hardline – interest groups among the Rakhine community are those of women; there are a number of active and outspoken women’s organizations and networks who mobilize and advocate their positions for community and government audiences. It is extremely difficult for moderate groups or those representing other needs and perspectives, such as those of the smaller Chin community, to engage in consultative processes or advocacy efforts.
Women for the World (WFW) aim to support peaceful co-existence of indigenous tribes, and to promote equal opportunities for minority ethnic women so that they can participate in politics, meet development needs, provide humanitarian assistance to communities, and to eliminate discrimination against and domination of minority tribes. It is believed that creating unity between the various groups who have the experience of discrimination in common will provide a stable base of support for each group. WFW aim to enable women’s groups to create a unified voice with which to advocate.
WFW has been working with the Indigenous Womens Coalition for Peace (IWCP) to support their rights through development activities including emergency response, disaster risk reduction (DRR), income generation, agriculture, capacity building training including leadership, facilitation skills, organizational development, awareness raising workshops, local to local dialogue meetings, research, women against violence.
1This information has been gathered through extensive consultation with various members of these groups.