Shan Women Appeal for Govt Support

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 1 August 2017

YANGON — A group of women over the age of 60 in Shan State have urged the government to confront the issues plaguing the region—including conflict and drug abuse—in an open letter on July 31.

The Senior Women of Shan State (SWSS) listed seven categories outlining the hardships facing people in the state: peace and conflict, drugs, environment, land, youth, cultural heritage, and food/medicine. The SWSS also listed recommendations for each set of issues.

The group collected information for the letter from 30 of its members at a meeting in the Shan capital of Taunggyi from June 26-28. The attendees shared their concerns from their respective areas.

Formed by Shan women in April 2014, SWSS takes initiatives on issues in the state, and carried out preservation activities at the famous attraction Inle Lake in 2015.

“In the conflict zone, the children are uneducated, and their health is in a worrisome state. They are in mud, are dirty and have no soap to clean their clothes. Everything is concerning regarding their health, social development and education, but they have no one to get help from,” said SWSS member Dr. Daw Hnin Yee Aye.

Boys around the age of 13 risk being recruited by soldiers, she said, pushing mothers to hide their children.

“Men are recruited as porters. Women have to watch their children and cannot go out, so they cannot even go to buy food. They feed their children with rice gruel and fruits but the mothers have nothing to eat,” said the doctor.

In northern Shan State, she said, armed groups are committing human rights violations, as such extorting money from locals.

The peace process is prioritized in the open letter, which states that locals are also suffering because of woes in the economy, education, healthcare, transportation, security, and rule of law due to clashes between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups.

SWSS member Daw Sao Haymar Thaik, said, “As a woman, I see that women and children suffer more of the burdens in the conflict zone. As there is no security, women are being abused, therefore we women want peace more than men.”

The SWSS recommended the government negotiate with ethnic armed groups based in northern Shan State to free locals from the troubles of conflict.

The letter also urged the government to arrest and charge drug producers and to arrange for the rehabilitation of addicts.

Reflecting on environmental issues, it stated that plans to construct hydropower plants threaten locals. The letter asked the government to boost public awareness against littering and to support renewable energy such as solar power, rather than non-renewables.

Other issues damaging the state are land grabbing and a lack of job opportunities for young people, according to the letter, which pushed for the building of libraries and the restoration of cultural sites that have been destroyed.

The health ministry, read the letter, should educate people about safe food and take action against those producing and selling harmful or unsanitary food.

Most young women in the state are uneducated and face unemployment, said Dr. Daw Hnin Yee Aye, adding that many work in karaoke bars and massage parlors, making them vulnerable to trafficking and drug abuse.

The government needs to create jobs for young people who do not have a formal education, read the letter.

“Our people are facing hardship. We want to know what our leaders are doing and we want to say please meet the people,” said Dr. Daw Hnin Yee Aye.