Report Highlights Plight of Women Survivors of Conflict, Oppression

By Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint 26 March 2018

YANGON — “I didn’t go to farm for fear of landmines, but even then I was hit at home,” said Ei Seng, a 27-year-old Palaung woman from Shan State’s Namhsan Township.

She and her 4-year-old daughter were burning garbage in their yard when a mortar shell fell and exploded nearby on Jan. 14, 2016. The Myanmar military and Ta’ang National Liberation Army were fighting near her village at the time.

She was eight months pregnant and had to have emergency surgery to deliver the baby. Her daughter suffered some hearing loss from the explosion, and Ei Seng still has shell fragments in her body from the shell. They give her pain every day, but doctors say it would be too risky to take them out.

“I don’t want to see any more fighting,” she said, urging the government to help those affected by the country’s long-running civil war to get their lives back on track.

She is not alone in making the demand.  Asia Justice And Rights (AJAR) and the Karen Women’s Organization, Ta’ang Women’s Organization and Vimutti Women’s Organization launched a report on the lives of women survivors of conflict and oppression in Yangon on Saturday.

“Speaking Truth for Peace: Women’s Experiences of War and Impunity in Myanmar” captures the stories of 31 women, including former political prisoners in Yangon, Ta’ang women living in the conflict zones of northern Shan State, female Karen village heads, and land rights activists.

“I would like to urge the government, local authorities and armed organizations to consider rehabilitation for afflicted survivors if they are really building a true democracy in Myanmar,” said Mai Ja, who helped compile the report.

Those who conducted interviews for the report said women survivors living in conflict areas and female advocates oppressed by authorities for their pro-democracy activities were struggling with trauma.

One-time political prisoner and former National League for Democracy (NLD) member Daw Thet Thet Lwin recounted her experiences of being arrested several times as a university student for her participation in the pro-democracy uprising of 1988.

On the last occasion, she said, she was handcuffed and beaten in public in front of her house. She said her blouse and longyi were torn during the beating and that she was not allowed to change her clothes.

Most of the political prisoners were arrested as young women, stifling their educational opportunities and putting many in financial hardship after their release.

“The NLD government, which we have shouldered to the position of power, doesn’t recognize political prisoners. No one can deny that the shift we have made today is due to those politicians who sacrificed their lives,” said Daw Thet Thet Lwin.

AJAR director Galuh Wandita said the women have had not only their political rights violated, but their social and economic rights as well.

The full truth about what happened to them and how it continues to affect their lives is being erased or denied — not only by the state, local authorities and the national elite, but often even by their own communities and families, according to the research.

The report calls for justice and rehabilitation for women survivors and an end to impunity.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.