Authority of Influence, The: Women and Power in Burmese Historyby NIAS
2012, 370 pp. 15x23 pp.
This book explores the relationship between gender and power in Burmese history from pre-colonial times to the present day and aims to identify the sources, nature and limitations of women’s power. The study takes as its starting point the apparent contradiction that, though Burmese women historically enjoyed relatively high social status and economic influence, for the most part they remained conspicuously absent from positions of authority in formal religious, social and political institutions. The book thus examines the concept of ‘family’ in Burmese political culture, and reveals how some women were able to gain political influence through their familial connections with powerful men, even while cultural models of ‘correct’ female behaviour prevented most women from attaining official positions of political authority.
The study also considers how various influences – Buddhism, colonialism, nationalism, modernisation and militarism – shaped Burmese concepts of gender and power, with important implications for how women were able to exercise social, economic and political influence. The book explores how the effects of prolonged armed conflict, economic isolation and political oppression have constrained opportunities for women to attain power in contemporary Burma, and examines opportunities opened up by the pro-democracy movement and recent focus on women's issues and rights for women to exercise influence both inside Burma and in exile.
Using an interdisciplinary approach that draws on feminist, anthropological and social science discourses, placing them within an historical framework, the author offers a broad understanding of how power is obtained and exercised in Burma in order to reassess historical representations of Burmese women and so provide a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of power relations in historical and contemporary Burma.
About the author
Jessica Harriden holds a PhD from the University of Queensland. Her research interests include gender–power relations and ethnic identity in twentieth century and contemporary Burma.