Women in Myanmar are “ready to die” for democracy
Since the 1st of February when a coup d’etat returned Myanmar from a fragile democratic state to full military rule, peaceful demonstrations have gripped the streets of cities and villages.
Since then even China — who would normally accept police violence as “internal affairs” — has denounced the force that was used against protests. However, none of the government has yet announced any real international sanctions, choosing to continue negotiations with the new leaders of Myanmar.
Amnesty International, who has analyzed and verified broadly available videos from the protests, confirms that “lethal force is being used in a planned, premeditated and coordinated manner” and that “Myanmar military troops are increasingly armed with weapons that are only appropriate for the battlefield, not for policing actions.”
Since February 1, there are more than 70 civilians killed and, according to the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners, are nearly 2,000 people arrested.
Raids against homes, hospitals, universities, mass arrests, live ammunition: the junta seems more determined than ever to want to extinguish the largely peaceful sling wind blowing over Myanmar.
Overwhelming inhumanity of the actions of the military regime is extending to the majority of the country’s population of 55 million people, however, the first and foremost victims of the violence of the Tatmadaw — Myanmar’s military — are women.
The Tatmadaw is a deeply conservative and fully patriarchal regime that considers women weak and impure, imposing the importance of modest dress and placing them at the feet of men. According to the investigations by United Nations, its soldiers have systematically committed gang rape against women from ethnic minorities.
Despite all the risks, women’s labor unions and garment workers along with young women activists were the first to start the protest. Gender Equality Network in Myanmar estimated that women make up 60% of front-line protest leaders, and roughly 70 to 80% of leaders of the broader civil disobedience movement.
Women in Myanmar are historically opposed to this military regime. The image of a female figure, mother, who cares for the nation is often assigned to Aung San Suu Kyi — the matriarchal leader and main adversary to the Tatmadaw. Despite all the criticism and ambiguous treatment of the Roghingues crisis, she remains admired inside the country and a symbol of the protesters while arrested and kept in secrecy by the regime.
A leading role in Myanmar’s struggle for freedom is often played by women. In 1988 women-led pro-democracy protests — “the 8888 Uprising”- paid a big price for their commitments — hundreds of women were shut and dozens were imprisoned for participating in peaceful protests.
“My politically active grandmother was always under watch and imprisoned for many years [for participating in the 1988 movement],” said a Myanmar woman activist who is now actively involved in the protests. “Those were terrible times, and I felt I needed to play my part not to let history repeat.”
According to the estimation of the director of the Gender Equality Network in Myanmar — women accounted for about 30 % of those who had been arrested and six of the more than 50 fatalities in five weeks of protest.
Describing the dangers of arrest women activists says that “when arrested unlawfully, women face extra dangers of sexual harassment and violence from the security forces.”
Young women who participate in protests now refer to their maternal instincts and natural need of caring for the next generation to explain why they continue to risk their lives.
“I committed myself to work toward abolishing the military junta,” said one of the protesters. “Minorities know what it feels like, where discrimination leads. And as a woman, we are still considered as a second sex.”
The so-called “Sarong Revolution” started on International Women’s Day as a symbol of the confrontation between genders in Myanmar. Protesters are now using the weakness of conservative and religious military men against them. They are wielding their superstition against women’s impurity as a defensive strategy.
They are stringing up women’s wraparound skirts across the streets throughout the country to slow down the police attacks. According to old Myanmar tradition, walking beneath clothes that cover women’s private parts is considered not only bad luck but also emasculating for men. Videos on social media have shown police taking down the lines of clothes before crossing them.
“Even though these are dark days and my heart breaks with all these images of bloodshed, I’m more optimistic because I see women on the street,” said Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, “In this contest, I will put money on the women. They are unarmed, but they are the true warriors.”
What to do?
- Despite the government’s efforts to shut down the internet, there this very useful local website SupportMyanmar where you can find links to donate to different purposes to support people. They also collect information about victims, police violence, instructions for people who get arrested, safety guide for women and other.
- Support journalists who are being strongly persecuted for speaking up with Myanmar Now;
- Help Gender Equality Network women to fight for democracy and equal rights for women.
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