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Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters defy inflexible gender roles – and subvert stereotypes about ladies to their benefit


One of many first indicators of the navy coup that overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected civilian authorities was a Fb Reside video of regional lawmaker Pa Pa Han being arrested, which was posted by her husband.

Troopers stormed Pa Pa Han’s residence round 3 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2021. Whereas her younger daughter wailed and her husband pleaded to see an arrest warrant, Pa Pa Han stalwartly grabbed her purse and a coat and left with the troopers.

Different parliamentarians have been concurrently being roused from mattress and arrested throughout Myanmar by troopers who claimed election fraud had occurred within the November elections. By dawn, Myanmar was beneath navy rule.

Ever since, hundreds of individuals in Myanmar – most of them younger, lots of them ladies – have been protesting the coup each day and demanding the restoration of democracy. Greater than 770 civilians had been killed and over 3,738 detained as of Could 6, in keeping with the nonprofit Help Affiliation for Political Prisoners.

Myanmar, previously referred to as Burma, is a conservative nation with inflexible gender roles. A 2015 survey rated it Southeast Asia’s most conventional society in the case of household construction, deference to elders, respect for authority figures and battle avoidance.

But Myanmar’s Era Z activists, born between 1997 to 2012, are defying many of those social norms with their protests – and busting gender stereotypes whereas they’re at it.

Troopers are seen close to makeshift barricades arrange by these protesting the navy coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 14, 2021.
STR/AFP by way of Getty Pictures

A really conventional society

One act of inventive resistance on March 8 concerned hanging ladies’s sarongs on clotheslines above streets throughout Yangon. The younger protesters suspected that many troopers would keep away from going beneath the clotheslines for worry that doing so would diminish their “hpon” – a form of mojo that belongs to solely males.

They guessed proper: Troopers despatched to arrest the protesters climbed atop their military vehicles to clear the clotheslines earlier than passing beneath, giving protesters additional time to keep away from arrest.

Such beliefs round “hpon” mirror a pervasive idea in Myanmar that males are superior to ladies and born with particular religious safety. In a 2015 Asia Barometer survey, 60% of Myanmar respondents agreed that if they might have just one youngster, a boy could be “preferable,” in contrast with 46% within the Philippines and 30% in Cambodia.

Having grown up in Myanmar, I used to be raised to imagine in these identical gender roles and sexist superstitions. After being uncovered to a U.S. liberal arts schooling, I got here to query the gender inequality buried in traditions and Burmese tradition. Now, as a psychologist who teaches about intercourse and gender, amongst different subjects, I’m monitoring how Myanmar’s younger protesters are rejecting sexism and subverting gender norms to their benefit.

After the sarong tactic, a few of these activists questioned whether or not utilizing sarongs to discourage the troopers would possibly itself have been sexist as a result of it performed into previous misogynistic superstitions. Shortly after the March 8 protest, activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi wrote on Twitter that girls’s clothes needs to be flown proudly as “our flag, our victory” – not used as a weapon.

Gender violence in Myanmar

Spousal rape and home violence is nonetheless authorized and pervasive in Myanmar, and when it happens individuals usually blame the victims slightly than the perpetrators.

On April 20, a 17-year-old coup protester named Shwe Yamin Htet, who had simply been launched from jail after six days, reported on social media {that a} 19-year-old feminine protester detained along with her had been “overwhelmed with a metallic pipe” and “kicked in her groin” and that her “vagina was bleeding as a result of kicking.”

Slightly than specific outrage on the assault, some on social media fearful that publicizing the younger ladies’s sexual abuse would carry disgrace to her and requested Shwe to take away the submit. She didn’t oblige.

A couple of ladies have defied the percentages to acquire energy in Myanmar – together with the nation’s deposed chief, Aung San Suu Kyi, who got here to energy in 2012. Slightly than seeing her as an inspirational image of girls’s management, nevertheless, researchers Mala Htun and Francesca Jensenius reported of their 2020 examine that most individuals in Myanmar view Aung San Suu Kyi merely as an exception.

Earlier than the coup, ladies held 15% of political posts in Myanmar’s civilian authorities. Now, only one girl sits on the coup regime’s 17-member state administration council.

Aung San Suu Kyi, in a green dress, walks alongside many men
Aung San Suu Kyi with different top-ranking civilian leaders of Myanmar after her get together received elections in March 2018.
Myat Thu Kyaw/NurPhoto by way of Getty Pictures

The navy’s historical past of oppression

The navy has run Myanmar as a dictatorship on and off since 1962. Along with airstrikes and assaults with heavy artillery, it’s identified to make use of sexual violence as a weapon in its long-standing effort to crush separatist actions within the border areas of Myanmar.

Self-identifying ethnic Burmese make up 32% of the inhabitants. For almost six a long time, a number of ethnic minority teams – the Kachin, Karen and Karenni – have been preventing for autonomy and self-determination. For simply as lengthy, the Myanmar military has violently suppressed them.

Human rights teams report widespread and systematic rape in Karen state, in southwest Myanmar, over many a long time. When ladies are captured by the navy, troopers use them as porters to hold shells throughout the day. At evening, they could be gang-raped.

In Kayah state, one other battle zone north of Karen, ladies typically don’t exit alone even for fundamentals like groceries, as a result of the navy is thought to focus on ladies.

The navy oppression and gender violence so acquainted to rural Burmese in battle zones is now affecting the city center and dealing courses – teams that have been lengthy sheltered from the nation’s borderland conflicts. On April 24, troopers have been reported to have bodily abused a transgender girl who spoke out towards the coup on-line, forcing her to vary into “male” clothes earlier than arresting her.

Ladies’s political future in Myanmar

Regardless of the dangers, ladies proceed to take part within the entrance traces of Myanmar’s combat for democracy.

Some have been arrested, together with Skinny Skinny Aung, co-founder of a number one impartial information website referred to as Mizzima, and union chief Myo Myo Aye. Others have been shot useless, like Khukhu Cilena, of the ladies’s rights group Ladies for Justice.

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After the coup, a bunch of pro-democracy advocates shaped a parallel authorities referred to as the Nationwide Unity Authorities led by the elected lawmakers, which is financially supporting the civil disobedience motion. Myanmar’s opposition lawmakers are additionally busting glass ceilings: Ethnic minority get together associates make up 25% of its 32 members, ladies make up 28%, and one member identifies as LGBT – a primary in Myanmar.

The Nationwide Unity Authorities and Era Z provide Burmese society a imaginative and prescient of a extra equitable, inclusive future – ought to democracy prevail.





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