Burma’s Women Are Symbols of International Women’s Struggle

As we commemorate International Women’s Day today and remember the sacrifices and struggles of women the world over to attain equality and respect, we must not forget the struggle of Burma and the woman who has become an international symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.Women the world over are free to go out and celebrate this day, but Aung San Suu Kyi, the leading Burmese democratic opposition leader, remains under house arrest.

As we commemorate International Women’s Day today and remember the sacrifices and struggles of women the world over to attain equality and respect, we must not forget the struggle of Burma and the woman who has become an international symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

Women the world over are free to go out and celebrate this day, but Aung San Suu Kyi, the leading Burmese democratic opposition leader, remains under house arrest.

Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in the capital Rangoon for much of the time since she returned to Burma from overseas in 1988. Her latest detention was the reaction of the ruling Burmese military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), following a
clash between Suu Kyi’s supporters and a government-backed mob on May 30, 2003, the now infamous “Black Friday”.

Aung San Suu Kyi is no ordinary woman. She is the daughter of the country’s independence hero General Aung San. Suu Kyi spent her early years as a diplomat’s child, her mother Daw Khin Kyi being Burma’s ambassador to Delhi in India. She later studied philosophy, politics and economics in the UK, where she met her future husband, Michael Aris. Early marriage for Suu Kyi meant dividing work and being an English don’s housewife and raising two children.

But when Suu Kyi returned to Rangoon in 1988 – initially to look after her critically ill mother — she arrived in the midst of a major political upheaval, with thousands taking to the streets to demand democratic reform. Suu Kyi decided to join Burma’s “second struggle for independence”, as she called it, and was soon in the forefront of the Burmese opposition leading non-violent campaigns against the army and military government.

Aside from deprivations under house arrest, Suu Kyi has borne personal tragedies, one of them her husband’s death of cancer in March 1999. She had not seen him for three years, but she refused even when allowed by the military authorities to travel to the UK to see him on his deathbed, for fear that the government would not allow her back into the country. The junta did not permit Aris to come visit Suu Kyi in Rangoon either.

Today, Suu Kyi remains a symbol of the Burmese struggle. And of all women and peoples fighting for democracy. She remains under effective house arrest, but continues to call for peaceful democratic reform and free elections in Burma. As an advocacy and solidarity organization for Burma and other peoples, we repeat Suu Kyi’s call that dialogue is needed in Burma between the ruling generals of the SPDC, the National League for Democracy (NLD) under Suu Kyi, and the ethnic minorities of Burma.

We propose for a dialogue as an important prerequisite in the formation of any “road map” for democratic transition in Burma. Under such principle, we support the road map established by the ethnic groups entitled, “Rebuilding the Union of Burma”, which calls for a tri-partite dialogue among the military, ethnic and opposition leaders, an interim government and a legitimate National Convention. We support the demands contained in this road map for a nationwide ceasefire and the release of all political prisoners in Burma, most especially the woman leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The release of Suu Kyi and all political prisoners, the cessation of Burmese army attacks on the ethnic groups along the Thai border, and a nationwide ceasefire will be conditions that will encourage dialogue.

We reiterate our call for the Philippine government, as a senior member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to demand genuine confidence-building measures from the junta to start off democratic reforms.

We call on the Philippine government and the ASEAN member-governments to work hand in hand with the international community in seeking effective and sustainable means to achieve true and lasting peace, justice, democracy and independence in Burma.

We likewise call on the United Nations to use its persuasive and moral powers to further nudge, nay, accompany– more forcefully if need be—the process to a genuine tri-partite dialogue.

Free Suu Kyi and all political prisoners!
Participation for NLD and the ethnic peoples!
Dialogue first before any road map or national convention!

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