For the women of Myanmar, especially for women of non-Bamar ethnic nationalities, there was no solace in this year’s commemorations of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November. All steps taken towards ending endemic violence against women within Myanmar society over the past 10 years, especially with efforts from women organizations like Women’s League of Burma, have been almost completely dashed since the unlawful attempted coup d’état on 1 February, 2021. The situation for women in Myanmar is bleak, over the past 9 months as the Myanmar military junta targets women and LGBTQI activists in detention with acts of atrocious sexual assaults and sexual violence. Simultaneously, the junta is waging war in ethnic regions, targeting women with rape, sexual violence and killing, amidst a humanitarian and Covid-19 crisis and the growing economic hardships.
The systematic and widespread use of sexual and gender-based violence as a tool of warfare to demoralize and terrorize ethnic peoples is the hallmark of the Myanmar military’s decades long brutal warfare against ethnic and religious minorities. This has repeatedly played out over cycles of clearance operations and wars in ethnic areas, including Karen and Shan States in the 1990s, Kachin and Shan States in the 2010s and during the Rohingya genocide in 2017. Over decades of war, the Myanmar military has subjected ethnic women with rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, torture and killings with blanket impunity while there has been no justice and accountability for victims and survivors. All of which has been well documented by local human rights and women’s groups, including Karen Human Rights Organization (KHRG), Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), Shan Women’s Action Network and Kachin Women’s Association Thailand. We must continue to acknowledge the vital work of these organizations and other civil society organizations and must fully celebrate the courage of women within the Spring Revolution who are standing against this misogynistic junta and patriarchal structures within Myanmar society. The core of the Spring Revolution is centred around women, who have strong mobilization power and a clear vision for a genuine federal democracy, one that includes them in decision making, ends all violence against women and is receptive to women’s accounts of the systemic use of rape as a weapon of war.
Since the attempted coup this pattern has continued with horrific consequences, and incidents of violence against women and girls is shockingly frequent, despite it being still underreported. In Tedim, Chin State, on 11 November, three junta soldiers entered a home and raped a 27-year-old woman who just gave birth a month ago, while holding her husband at gunpoint and forcing him to watch their inhumane act. They then raped her 30-year-old sister-in-law, who was seven months pregnant and began looting them and other homes in the village. In Kukai Township, Shan State a 62-year-old woman was raped by a junta soldier on 7 November, which was the same township where a 13-year-old Buddhist nun was raped in June. Two young women, Naw Ei Htwe and Naw Su Mon were shot without warning by Border Guard Force as they left Malthaekhee High School in Phalantaung village, Karen State on 15 November – sustaining multiple bullet wounds. Two weeks ago, the military junta raided a People’s Defence Force (PDF) in Kalay Township, Sagaing Region taking nine female medics hostage and whose whereabouts and condition remains unknown. The bodies of one female medic and two male PDF were found at the base. In a statement concerning the rape cases above, Women’s Peace Network says “Despite our calls for accountability, the international community has continuously failed to take concerted action against this brutal military. We now fear that fuelled by this impunity, the Myanmar military’s systematic use of sexual and gender-based violence will engulf the entire nation — including Chin State — without delay.”
Another disturbing tactic re-emerging is the Myanmar military’s use of women as porters and human shields where landmines have been planted and as they advance towards ethnic armed organizations and People’s Defence Forces – which constitutes a war crime. In Hlaykhoke, Magwe Region, 13 civilians including two women were used as human shields, while junta soldiers raided the village – causing 3,000 civilians to flee. Incidents in August and September in Karen State of women being used as human shields and beaten, prompted KHRG and KWO to issue a joint statement.
The situation for women in Myanmar is even more devastating when considering the international community’s ineffective response to horrific violence against women committed by the Myanmar military. Countries that profess to stand up for women’s rights, including Canada which leads the Group of Friends of 1325 to promote women, peace and security, have been shaking hands with the military junta, doing business deals and normalizing the attempted coup. In spite of Canada’s condemnations of the coup, they openly met with the military junta last week to discuss ASEAN-Canada free trade agreement. While Canada placed sanctions on Myanmar in the wake of the Saffron Revolution in 2007, easing some of these in 2012, and tightening mostly against military and military linked individuals in the wake of the Rohingya genocide and attempted coup, they have vastly undercut these efforts by meeting with a representative of the very entity the sanctions are intended to punish. This also undercuts Canada’s international accountability efforts, such as its strong support for the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, to bring perpetrators of atrocity crimes against Rohingya to justice – as any trade agreement that would financially benefit the junta would fuel continued atrocity crimes. The correlation between the military junta’s businesses and funding their military operations has been carefully evidenced by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and organizations like Justice For Myanmar – so the hypocrisy is plain to see. Also this week we saw UN agencies, such as the UNDP, normalizing relations with the coup leaders, the very same terrorist organization that continues to perpetrate rape, torture and killing of women over decades. Right in front of the UN’s eyes, as the costly UNDP run Human Rights up Front program was being implemented in Myanmar in 2017, the genocide against the Rohingya took place. In 2019 Rosenthal’s report stated what happened in Myanmar was a systemic failure by the UN. Now it is clear that the same UN agencies, like the UNDP, are making the same mistake once again. UN agencies must be held to account for their actions in Myanmar as their programs in partnership with the military junta should not be aiding and abetting the military’s violations and atrocity crimes.
The women of Myanmar are the backbone of Myanmar society and also of the Spring Revolution, and the international community must support these women’s desire and determination for agency, self-determination, and the freedom from violence and oppression particularly from this criminal military’s tyranny. The international community, including Canada, must not normalize relations with this illegal murderous military junta as this will only serve to embolden the junta to continue to commit atrocity crimes with blanket impunity. Instead, Canada and the international community must apply further targeted sanctions against the military, military businesses and their affiliated businesses and cronies. A coordinated international effort to cut off cash flow, arms and to end impunity must be brokered. Furthermore, the international community must support the National Unity Government (NUG), the legitimate government of the people in their efforts to build a federal democratic Myanmar, one that will give the women of Myanmar a chance to ensure the end to violence against women. The NUG must pass a comprehensive law to eliminate all discrimination and violence against women and girls, in line with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Additionally, the NUG must ensure a gender balance in policy and implementation, so women are at the forefront of decision making and leadership. Overall, the international community must back-up its support for an end to violence against women in Myanmar through its complete repudiation of the military junta.
In light of Weekly Highlight discussion on violence against women and women within the Spring Revolution, a photo exhibition “Women Out On The Streets For A New Burma” organized by SEA Junction in collaboration with the Women’s League of Burma, the Myanmar Project and Asia Justice and Rights is currently taking place in Bangkok.
The collection shows how widespread, diverse and empowering women leadership and participation has been and continues to be in opposition to the military. Women who are the backbone of society are now the backbone of this Spring Revolution, and are steering Burma towards a genuine federal democracy.
This event showcases women’s actions out on the streets of Burma since the attempted coup d’état, including photos taken by a collective of recent journalism graduates from Burma, who have been covering the protests from all around the country under the umbrella of Myanmar Project as well as photos collected by the member institutions of the Women’s League of Burma.
Where: Corner Space, 1st floor of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, Pathumwan intersection, Bangkok
When: 10am – 7pm, 23 November – 5 December
For more information: SEA Junction
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
By Chinland Defense Force
By Chin National Organization
By Danish Refugee Council
By Human Rights Watch
By Karenni Nationalities Defense Force
By National Health Committee – Myanmar and COVID-19 Task Force
အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအတိုင်ပင်ခံကောင်စီ (National Unity Consultative Council – NUCC) ၏ ဖွဲ့စည်းမှု၊ လုပ်ငန်းဆောင်ရွက်မှုတို့နှင့် စပ်လျဉ်းသည့် ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက် (တိုင်းရင်းသားဘာသာစကား) – ကချင်၊ ကယန်း၊ ကရင်၊ တအာင်း၊ ပအို့ပ်၊ မွန်၊ ရှမ်း
By National Unity Consultative Council
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Planning, Finance and Investment)
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management)
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Communications, Information and Technology)
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration)
By People’s Defence Force – Kalay
By Pale PDF-Headquarters
By People’s Defence Force – Kalay
By Women’s League of Burma
By Women’s Peace Network
ချင်းပြည်နယ်၊ တီးတိန်မြို့နယ်၊ အပ်လွယ်ကျေးရွာတွင် မီးနေသည် အမျိုးသမီးတစ်ဦးအား အကြမ်းဖက်စစ်တပ်၏ တပ်သားများမှ အုပ်စုလိုက် မုဒိမ်းကျင့်ခြင်းနှင့် ပတ်သက်၍ အမျိုးသမီးများအဖွဲ့ချုပ် (မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ) မှ ပြင်းထန်စွာ ရှုတ်ချခြင်း
By Women’s League of Burma
By Yaw Defense Force
By Arakan Oil Watch
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Human Rights)
By National Unity Government (Ministry of Defence)
By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”