We Will Not Back Down

Nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu is greeted with respect at a monks’ conference in Rangoon in June 2013, where a proposal about an interfaith marriage bill was discussed. (Photo: Jpaing / The Irrawaddy)

In June of last year, a group of nationalist monks began lobbying for a new law to protect the national race and religion, Buddhism, with a focus on restricting interfaith marriages. They drafted a bill that called for restrictions on marriages between Buddhist women and men of other faiths, and they sent their proposal to lawmakers.

Women’s groups responded with a simple message: We said the bill was unacceptable because it was based on nationalistic and religious extremism, interfering with individual freedoms and particularly with the personal choices of women.

We also pointed out that the bill, if enacted, would suggest that Buddhism was so vulnerable as to require some form of protection. It would imply that the religion lacked the strength to stand while mingling with other faiths.

Over the past year, President Thein Sein has ordered government ministries and the High Court to draft official versions of not only the interfaith marriage bill, but also three other bills to restrict religious conversion, to enact population control measures and to outlaw polygamy. All of these are intended to protect race and religion.

It is high time for the people of Burma, regardless of ethnic background, faith or gender, to unite during the democratic reform process. That is why we women’s groups decided last month to issue a second statement against these divisive faith-based bills.

“We believe the current faith-based political activities, including arguments against interfaith marriage currently taking place in the country, are not in accordance with the objectives of the peaceful coexistence of all faiths and the prevention of extreme violence and conflict, but instead are ideas signed to distract the public before the 2015 election,” we wrote.

Zin Mar Aung is a human rights activist who co-founded the Rainfall Gender Studies group and won a 2012 International Women of Courage Award.

It seems that these bills are a ploy to delay the transition to democracy, the national peace process and constitutional amendments. From a gender perspective, it is also clear that supporters of the interfaith marriage bill view women as objectives. We cannot accept this irrational view, and we are not backing down from our campaign against it.

But we are facing a tough response from extreme nationalist groups. Civil society leaders and women’s rights activists who oppose these bills are now receiving abusive calls and online messages, including on Facebook and the phone application Viber.

I have personally been the recipient of scary phone messages since late last month. I have been called a “traitor of race and religion,” and I have received death threats. “Do you want to die, traitor?” one person asked. A blog, Myanmar Express, has meanwhile been personally attacking women activists who have spoken out against these bills.

As threats continue, the so-called reformist government remains silent. Rather than taking steps to ensure our safety, the minister of religious affairs has proposed to legally recognize the Association to Protect Race and Religion—known locally as Ma Ba Tha—as an official organization.

I am very upset about the actions taken by Thein Sein, who is lauded internationally as a reformist. He has opened his ears to extremist monks and pushed their agenda forward. Now the religious conversion bill, which seeks to prevent people from converting to a new faith without government permission, is about to hit the Parliament floor for discussion.

Last week, some representatives of civil society groups met with Parliament’s Rule of Law Committee, led by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to discuss our concerns about this bill. We frankly and freely offered our opinions.

The end result of our campaign will be determined by the leading decision-makers of the democratic transition—by officials in positions of power, including the president, ministers and parliamentarians, who will either accept or reject these bills. But no matter what, we will continue to fight for what we believe is right.

Zin Mar Aung is a human rights activist who co-founded the Rainfall Gender Studies group and won a 2012 International Women of Courage Award.

9 Responses to We Will Not Back Down

  1. Right on, Zin Mar Aung. I salute your courageous stand. “Ask not for victory, but ask only for courage. In your pursuit you honor not only yourself, but you honor us all.” All humans, INCLUDING WOMEN, are endowed with the right to pursue. What religious tradition one chooses to express his/her humanity to pursue happiness is one’s own business and not for the state to intervene.


    U Kyaw Win

  2. Please add “happiness” to my fifth sentence: “All humans, INCLUDING WOMEN, are endowed with the right to pursue HAPPINESS.”

    Please forgive my inadvertent typographical omission.

    U Kyaw Win

  3. I salute Zin Mar Aung and all other Activists for standing up and opposing boldly and wisely against the proposed bill. May you all succeed in preserving rights of Burmese Women in particular and Burmese Citizens in general. More power to all of you!

    Down, down, down with U Wirathu, U Thein Sein, military and all those who are behind this mindless, undemocratic and discriminatory proposed bill. May the curse of Burmese people fall on them and the proposed bill crash hard on the floor of Parliament and shatter into pieces!

    Burmese citizens had enough! Their rights, all of it, were usurped and trampled by bestial, mindless and despot military since March, 1962 and were treated like sub-human species. It is the birth right of Burmese people to have their rightful rights restored to them, move forward to building their own lives and their beloved country to be at par with or excel than their neighbors.

    Long live Zin Mar Aung and all other Women’s and Human rights group. May God watch over you and protect you from evil and destructive minded military, monks and their blind followers!

  4. Behind that forced smile for the camera is a demon with sharp protruding teeth! Watch out the cannibal! Behind that highly revered and holy YELLOW robe is a devil drenched in RED blood of innocent Burmese citizens!

    I propose to Zin Mar Aung and rights groups, etc. to PLEASE coordinate and call for a government approved, well publicized nationally and internationally, peaceful and disciplined nation-wide Prayer Day/Hour for all faiths and all walks of life (Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews and Muslims – gather in their own places of worships, open grounds, etc.) and pray for the failure and doom of the proposed bill, to get rid of the poison spitting elements, hateful and spiteful speakers, peace and harmony to prevail among all faiths and for all to return to the peaceful, harmonious and prosperous GOLDEN LAND of pre 3/1962 – to be led by wise, able and sincere Dr. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

  5. Rev. Dharmananda Mahaprabhu

    Dear what you are talking about women right look at the world. You must have to study women psychology of mind. Before they hang around with the Muslim man must need think about our won religion first. Over one billion Muslim in the world “Do they have any women’s right? Women in Islam just like slave. Think about. You just got some kind of cheep price now you are thinking you achieve a lot. You don’t know what America doing, They are bringing Rohinga terorest in America and support against Burma. Please try to understand international politics. I am requesting you stop what you are doing. Do not destroy Buddhism. Go back to study what happen and how Muslim destroy Buddhist in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afganistan etc. Thank you.

  6. Wonderful, Zin Mar.

  7. Maung Lu Aye ( Law ) R.A.S.U.1976

    Zin Mar Aung : Keep on Fighting the Right thing. You are brave & Intelligent. Do not afraid of the Scary Phone Calls and Threatening.Those People are not brave enough,face to face with your Group.They are Cowards. A brave Person die once,but cowards die countless times.
    Religious Extrememists should not interfere with Individual freedom & Personnal Choices of the Women.In Global Communities,Every women under the Sun are the same level,the same status, the same equality like men. Countless of International Leaders, CEOs are Women.
    In this Case we support you fully. You do the Right thing.
    Reformist Thein Sein is just a Puppet.He cannot decide. Let the Majority Parliamentarians vote for this bill. And Civil Rights Leader late Dr Martin Luther King Jr,keep on fighting for Civil rights for many months and Years.
    Freedom is Not Easy and Not Cheap.

  8. This is democracy. Zin Mar Aung can go on with her bravery, yet there are the majority who go with cowardice, as some commentaries above say. Zin Mar may earn another ten thousand international awards. But Burma should walk the path that takes it to peace, prosperity and racial harmony. Ten thousand international awards will bring no peace to Burma.

  9. Mr. Dharmanand., You are saying Islam does not have women rights, What ever religion you follow,Can u please tell me which religion has given more rights then Islam? Let me also educate u that buddism is not a religion, if u don’t agree then educate me, Buddha never claimed that he is a God or there is a god or gods, and lastly you will be amazed to find that we Muslims believe in the real teaching of Buddha, ( not kill innocent, not to drink alcohol, not to gamble, not to take something does not belong to you so on and so forth, and these are the basic teaching of Buddha, all the mambo jumbo which most of Buddist practice are self made not Buddha thought). Correct your self and be nice Rev or monk and last advice a good holy person never insult others faith.

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