In Myanmar, women are on the front line against protest

In Myanmar, women are on the front line against protest

2021-03-05 00:51:09

Ma Kyal Sin liked taekwondo, spicy food, and a good red lipstick. She took the English name Angel and her father hugged her goodbye as she took to the streets of Mandalay, in central Myanmar, to join the crowd peacefully protesting the recent takeover by the military.

The black T-shirt that Ms. Kyal Sin wore to the protest on Wednesday had a simple message: "Everything will be fine."

In the afternoon, Ms. Kyal Sin, 18, was shot in the head by the security forces, who, according to the United Nations, killed at least 30 people across the country on the bloodiest day since the February 1 coup.

"She is a hero to our country," said Ma Cho Nwe Oo, one of Ms. Kyal Sin's close friends, who has also attended the daily gatherings that hundreds of cities in Myanmar electrified. "By participating in the revolution, our generation of young women shows that we are no less courageous than men."

Earlier this week, military television networks announced that security forces had been instructed not to use live ammunition and that they would only fire the lower body in self-defense.

The murders have shocked and outraged human rights defenders around the world.

"Myanmar military must stop killing and imprisonment of protesters," Michelle Bachelet, United Nations' top human rights officer, said Thursday"It is utterly disgusting that security forces are firing live ammunition at peaceful protesters across the country."

In the weeks since the protests began, groups of female medical volunteers patrolled the streets to care for the injured and dying. Women have added a backbone to a civil disobedience movement that paralyzes the functioning of the state. And they have violated gender stereotypes in a country where tradition holds that garments covering the bottom half of the bodies of the two sexes should not be washed together or else the feminine spirit would act as a pollutant.

With defiant creativity, people have hung clotheslines of women's sarongs called htamein to protect protest zones, knowing that some men don't like to walk under them. Others have attached images of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief who orchestrated the coup, to the hanging htamein, an insult to his manhood.

"Young women are now leading the protests because we have a motherly nature and we cannot let the next generation destroy," said Dr. Yin Yin Hnoung, a 28-year-old doctor who dodged bullets in Mandalay. "We don't care about our lives. We care about our future generations."

While the army's inhumanity extends to many of the country's roughly 55 million people, women have lost the most of the generals' resumption of full authority, after five years of sharing power with a civilian government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw, as the military is called, is very conservative and in official notices speak about the importance of modest dress for decent ladies.

According to United Nations research, there are no women in the higher ranks of the Tatmadaw, and the soldiers have systematically committed gang rapes against ethnic minority women. In the generals' worldview, women are often seen as weak and unclean. Traditional religious hierarchies in this predominantly Buddhist country also place women at the feet of men.

The prejudices of the military and the monastery are not necessarily shared by the wider Myanmar society. Women are educated and are an integral part of the economy, especially in business, industry and the civil service. Women have increasingly found their political voice. In the elections last November, about 20 percent of the candidates for the National League for Democracy, Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's party, were women.

The party won in a landslide, destroying the army-allied and much more male-dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party. The Tatmadaw has dismissed the results as fraudulent.

As the military began to hand over some power over the past decade, Myanmar was experiencing one of the most profound and rapid social changes in the world. A country cut off from the world by the generals, who first seized power in a 1962 coup, took to Facebook to discover memes, emojis and global conversations about gender politics.

"Although these are dark days and my heart breaks with all these images of bloodshed, I am more optimistic about seeing women on the street," said Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, a Burmese-American who served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States military and is now a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. “In this competition I will be using money for the women. They are unarmed, but they are the real warriors. "

That passion has been ignited across the country, despite Tatmadaw's crackdown over the decades that killed hundreds.

“Women took the frontier position in the fight against dictatorship because we believe this is our business,” said Ma Ei Thinzar Maung, a 27-year-old politician and former political prisoner who, along with another woman of the same age, was the first led. anti-coup demonstration in Yangon five days after the putsch.

Both Mrs. Ei Thinzar Maung and her fellow rally leader, Esther Ze Naw, protest during the day and hide at night. About 1,500 people have been arrested since the coup, according to a local control group.

The couple were politicized at a young age, championing the rights of ethnic minorities at a time when most people in Myanmar were unwilling to acknowledge the military's campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims. At least a third of Myanmar's population is made up of a constellation of ethnic minorities, some of which are part of armed conflict with the army.

As they led their meeting on Feb. 6, the two women in shirts associated with the Karen ethnic group, whose villages have been overrun by Tatmadaw troops in recent days, marched. Ms. Esther Ze Naw belongs to another minority, the Kachin, and as a 17-year-old spent time in camps for the tens of thousands of civilians uprooted by Tatmadaw offensives. Military jets roared overhead, raining artillery on women and children, she recalled.

“That was the time when I committed myself to work for the abolition of the military junta,” she said. “Minorities know what it feels like, where discrimination leads to. And as women we are still considered a second gender. "

"That must be one of the reasons why women activists are more committed to rights issues," she added.

While the National League for Democracy is headed by Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, the top is dominated by men. And like the Tatmadaw, the highest echelons of the party were usually reserved for members of the country's ethnic Bamar majority.

Even as security forces continue to fire at unarmed protesters in the streets of Myanmar, the make-up of the movement is much more diverse. There are Muslim students, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks, drag queens and a legion of young women.

"Generation Z is a fearless generation," said Honey Aung, whose younger sister, Kyawt Nandar Aung, was shot to the head by a bullet in the city of Monywa on Wednesday. “My sister took part in the protests every day. She hated dictatorship. "

In a speech earlier this week in a state propaganda publication, General Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief, sniffed at the inappropriateness of the protesters, with their "indecent dress contrary to Myanmar culture". Its definition is widely regarded as women wearing pants.

Moments before she was shot, Ms. Kyal Sin, dressed in sneakers and ripped jeans, rallied her fellow peaceful protesters.

As they staggered from the tear gas fired by security forces on Wednesday, Ms. Kyal Sin gave water to clean their eyes. "We're not going to run," she shouted in a video recorded by another protester. "Our people's blood must not reach the ground."

"She's the bravest girl I've ever seen in my life," said Ko Lu Maw, who photographed some of Ms. Kyal Sin's latest footage, in an alert, proud pose amid a crowd of sprawling protesters.

Under her T-shirt, Ms. Kyal Sin wore a star-shaped pendant because her name means "pure star" in Burmese.

"She would say," If you see a star, remember, that's me, "said Ms. Cho Nwe Oo, her friend." I'll always remember her proudly. "


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