Look Out

12.27.13

Burma’s Emerging Female Activists are Ready to Lead

In Burma, a long-closed country that’s just beginning to open its doors, courageous women are taking a cue from democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and guiding their communities into the 21st century.

Strong-willed and poised, Aung San Suu Kyi is inarguably Burma's most iconic symbol of its newfound freedom—a democracy leader who languished for years under house arrest in the struggle to bring political and human rights to her country until her release in 2010. Now, as Burma’s political environment evolves, Burmese women are following in the footsteps of "The Lady," as she's known, to ensure equality comes with it. The emergence of women’s rights is climbing to a crucial moment when female leaders much step up to claim their place in guiding the pliable nation into the 21st century. To achieve this, the women of Burma are seeking support in the international community, and a Thailand-based organization is working to sponsor some of the most promising, outspoken female leaders.

The We women foundation provides professional support and educational opportunities for women from marginalized communities in Burma. The foundation builds each woman’s capacity to make and influence policy decisions within their communities—a privilege that would otherwise be made by outsiders.

The foundation's Emerging Women of Burma documentary is part of a campaign launched in early December to raise awareness and seek financial support for the pivotal issues these budding leaders currently face in Burma. Many women in Burma who've spent years stifled under a military junta feel impassioned and motivated to take part in the struggle to gain human rights for their people, but without education they are pushed back into traditional roles that limit their freedoms.

The full documentary follows determinedly courageous women who, at risk to their personal safety and while battling significant challenges, are pioneering work on major social issues within their communities. Here's a peek at a few of these inspiring community activists.

Nang Wah Nu, Member of Parliament: Nang Wah Nu overcame the opposition of both her mother and her husband to enter politics. Now, she is a Member of Parliament in Burma as a representative of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party. Not only is she one of the very few women in parliament, she is also one of the few women of a minority ethnic background to be elected. Her goal is to improve the rights and lives of migrant workers.

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Mary Tawm, Founder of Life Vision Foundation:  Mary founded Life Vision Foundation (LVF) to organize training and publish research on environmental and human rights issues in the Burmese state of Kachin. LVF has worked on projects educating communities on water sanitation and community forestry and has conducted extensive documentation, reporting, and advocacy on the impacts of gold-mining by Chinese and domestic companies. She acts as spokesperson for Kachin people, discussing human-rights abuses and the plight of internally-displaced persons and refugees in local and international media.

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E PleethBaung, Founder of GawngLoe Mu:  PleethBaung is from Lashio, Northern Shan State and is of Wa ethnicity. She is particularly dedicated to working for women’s empowerment and equality in remote areas of Burma, communities which are often ignored and unserved by the international community and the government of Myanmar itself. After her research in Ho Pang township, she founded the GawngLoe Mu (Three Mountains) organization to provide Wa women with educational programs.

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Kay Thi Win, Founder of Aids Myanmar: Kay Thi has excelled at developing and managing complex programs providing for the health and human rights of sex workers, a highly stigmatized group in a harsh political environment. As founder of the Aids Myanmar Association, Nthe ational Network of Sex Workers and as chairperson of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, Kay Thi has had to overcome cultural barriers to serve those most in need with grace, patience and love.

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Thazin Min, Founder of Colorful Girls: Thazin Min has built an organization committed to creating gender equality in Burma through programs centered on educating: connecting and fostering the development of voice and power among marginalized adolescent girls to break cycles of abuse, poverty and neglect. Under Thazin’s leadership, Colorful Girls conducts weekly open forums—called "circles"—increasing the young women's ability to make strategic life-decisions, generate choices, and exercise negotiating power.

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DawThanMyint Aung, Founder of Thukayeikmyon: Daw Than Myint Aung is a passionate and tireless worker and philanthropist. She has established an orphanage for children with HIV; organized campaigns for the prevention and treatment of leprosy; and rallied support for the elderly and for family services. Aung is also a writer and hosts her own talk show in which she coaches people through government procedures and prohibitions while spreading her story to a wide audience.

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KhinHnin Kyi Thar, Founder of Pakokku:  KhinHnin started an organization in Myaing, Pakokku district, an area in central Burma heavily affected by flooding and extreme poverty, that is building a school, providing healthcare, and providing basic needs to the poor. She also works as a librarian in Yangon, serves as a treasurer for the Storyteller’s Group which helps preserve the culture of storytelling for future generations, and is an intern and writer for Venus News Weekly journal.