Today, the Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) is celebrating International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is ‘Press For Progress’ to help accelerate gender parity. While women in Burma/Myanmar continue to face obstacles to the full realization of their rights, there are many women who are playing important roles in pushing for change.
In recognition of their tremendous efforts, HURFOM spoke with four female trailblazers in Mon communities about the challenges they face and their advice for younger generations in Mon State who want to make a difference.
Daw Khine Khine Lei
Daw Khine Khine Lei is one of five female Members of Parliament (MP) in the Mon State Hluttaw. She represents Thaton Township (1) and during her time as an MP she has served as a member of the legislative committee and chairperson of the Mon State Hluttaw’s Women and Child Right’s Committee.
Daw Khine Khine Lei has long worked at promoting and protecting woman and child rights, beginning with her work with Kachin refugee women and children in 2007.
For Daw Khine Khine Lei, violence, particularly sexual violence, is one of the biggest problems facing women in Burma/Myanmar today. She advocates tirelessly for increased education and awareness of women’s rights, as well as a stronger legal framework to deal with perpetrators of violence against women.
“Most women feel ashamed if someone sexually harasses or abuses them. They don’t dare to talk about it…society says that it is a woman’s fault if it happens. But in this situation women have two choices: you can stay quiet or you can know your rights and fight for them.”
Mi Jalon Htaw
Mi Jalon Htaw is one of only three female village administrators in Mon State and the first female administrator in her own community of Tara Nar village, Kyaikmayaw Township. After assuming the position in 2016, she reported facing many challenges and instances of discrimination due to her gender. However, she has never given up and continues to campaign for an end to domestic violence and encourages both men and women to support women’s rights.
“Women in our community face a lot of domestic violence. Many rural women do not see domestic violence as a big problem and think it is normal…once I became village administrator, women began to come to me and discuss their problems and abuse at the hands of their husbands…As a female village administrator women are more comfortable talking to me about women issues.”
For Mi Jalon Htaw, just asking for women’s rights is not enough. She asks that all women learn about their rights and have the confidence to fully participate in the development of their communities.
Daw Myint Myint Wai
Daw Myint Myint Wai has been a political advisor to the All Mon Region Democracy Party (AMRDP) since 2010 and practiced law in Mon State for 14 years prior to her work with AMRDP.
Daw Myint Myint Wai advocates for the inclusion of more women in Mon politics and the end to traditional beliefs that a women’s only role is to take care of her family. She hopes one day to see a federal union in Burma/Myanmar where women occupy important decision making positions and work on developing policy related to women’s issues.
She believes the key to getting more women into politics is changing both men’s and women’s attitudes towards female participation in politics. Both men and women need to encourage female candidates to participate in Mon politics.
“I would like to tell our women that we all have the ability [to work in politics] …We must put all of our female voices together and ask for our rights. It is difficult to be successful in this if our collective voice is not strong…We must have confidence and help our community as much as we can.”
Daw Ni Ni Aung
Daw Ni Ni Aung is one of only three female village administrators currently serving in Mon State. Prior to assuming the position of village administrator of Kaw Don village, Kyaikmayaw Township, Daw Ni Ni Aung was involved in community development activities throughout the Pyar Taung region.
While working as a community advocate, Daw Ni Ni Aung was struck by the difficulties local villagers faced on a daily basis and the lack of action by village administrators to improve circumstances. Feeling compelled to run in order to make a difference in the lives of her neighbours through community development, she announced her candidacy and won.
It hasn’t always been easy since she took over as village administrator. She reports experiencing discrimination against her age and gender by some members of her community, particularly elders.
“Some people look down to me as I am female and young…but I campaign for women and their rights, and educate others on the problems that our women currently face…I would like to say to our women that we have the same ability as men and we can work in any situation that they can work.”