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During the days of the Burmese kings, women were frequently appointed to high office and became leaders of a village, chieftainess, and even ruled as queen.And in a series of Burmese folk tales concerning wise and remarkable decisions in law, which have been collected by Dr.Most of our young people now marry for love — or at least choose their own partners — and a girl can insist that her parents accept her betrothal to the man she prefers.Even after her marriage a girl can decide, if she wants, to remain in her own family for a while.Yet on a social occasion you will often find that the Burmese women cluster together on one side of the room and leave their men to talk to each other in a group of their own.You will see, at a meal, that the men are served first, that their wives offer them every deference within the home.For centuries —even before recorded history, from all we can deduce—Burmese women have accepted as their right a high measure of independence.The Buddhist and the Hindu influences that came to our country at a somewhat later date may have modified the social status of women, but we have always retained our legal and economic rights.
My foreign friends have often told me that they are surprised to see an ordinary Burmese woman sitting at her stall in a bazaar, dressed in the usual htamein and jacket, her hair arranged on top of her head in the traditional manner, often smoking a cigar—and handling her trade with all the hard-headed business acumen of a man.
If there is mutual consent to the divorce, if the husband and wife both decide — for whatever reason — that they cannot live together, they simply announce the end of the marriage to the headman of the village or to the heads of the two families.
But even without this amicable arrangement, a woman can divorce her husband for cruelty, serious misconduct, or desertion, regardless of his consent.
The marriage itself continues this principle of independence and equality.
The wedding is not a religious ceremony but a civil contract — in fact no ceremony is necessary at all; a man and woman can simply make known their decision to "eat and live together."If, by any chance, either partner of a marriage should wish to terminate their contract in divorce, this, too, is possible and acceptable under Burmese law.
Here too, Burmese women find that their traditional law recognizes them equally with men, and all through our history we have had full inheritance rights.