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To people who come to Burma for the first time there are two things about the status of our women that seem to impress them with particular force.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.Polygamy is not practiced very much nowadays, especially among educated people, but I remember hearing about the days of my great-grandparents and how government officials who were sent on a tour of duty to the provinces would keep one wife up-country and one in town.Now one seldom hears of such things on that level of society, though the practice still continues in the lower economic groups.In my own research work in the village system of Burma I have even found vestiges of a matriarchal system which must have flourished here at one time.The inheritance of certain oil wells, for instance, belonged exclusively to women; in some cases the inheritance to the headmanship of a village was through the female line.In Asia a woman's right of inheritance has, perhaps, occasioned more acrimonious argument and fiercer resistance than any other single aspect of women's status.Political rights and franchise have come to Asian women comparatively easily — with less opposition, in fact, than Western women found — but the question of equality in inheritance is still hotly debated in many parts of Asia.
Even after her marriage a girl can decide, if she wants, to remain in her own family for a while.Htin Aung, the judge in each of the stories is a woman called "Princess Learned-in-the-Law." All these fields of administration, government service, law, medicine or business are always open to any Burmese woman who wishes to enter them.In most of Asia women have had to fight for equality with men primarily on three matters: marriage, divorce, and inheritance.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.
In Burma we have been singularly fortunate in possessing this equality even before we knew it was a problem.