#16DaysofActivism and the Future of Burma/Myanmar

December 1st, 2022  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  10 minute read
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Sexual and gender-based violence is a hallmark of the Myanmar military’s warfare, used in the past as a tool to suppress and terrorize ethnic nationality communities resisting their militarization and Burmanization project, repeated through cycles of conflict over decades.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution is the sheer strength and resilience of women’s activism in Burma/Myanmar, particularly women within ethnic communities, who for decades have fought for equality, human rights and to overcome the misogynist military. Their decades-long experiences and activism are coming to the fore during the 16 Days for Activism Against Gender-based Violence which kicked off last week on 25 November, the same day as International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This 16 Days of Activism also includes International Women Human Rights Defender Day on 29 November, and will end on 10 December with Human Rights Day. During this time, it is essential for the international community to stand up in solidarity with the women of Myanmar and support their efforts to dismantle the misogynist military, which is a root cause of the deeply entrenched discrimination and violence against women in all levels of Myanmar society. Its militarization of the country is the biggest impediment towards ending all forms of discriminations and violence against women and girls.

Last week, the military junta accelerated its scorched earth campaign of Sagaing Region, where it carried out a series of brutal airstrikes and artillery attacks amid ground attacks on Khin-U, Taze and Ye-U Townships, targeting civilians. Pin Sein Khin Village in Ye-U Township was mercilessly burned to the ground by junta arsonists, and a 40 year old woman, Mone Hla, was killed by artillery fire. Mone Hla represents one of hundreds of women killed by the junta since the illegal attempted coup d’état on 1 February 2021.

It has been incredibly hopeful to witness Myanmar’s people reclaim the 16 Days of Activism for themselves, telling stories of women during the Spring Revolution and promoting meaningful change – including groups like Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), Women’s League of Burma (WLB), Sister2Sister, Free Expression Myanmar, Women’s Peace Network, Burmese Women’s Union and many others. In a video address to mark the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism, the Acting President of the National Unity Government (NUG), Duwa Lashi La said the NUG is working hard to mitigate the toll the military junta’s campaign of terror has caused women and girls in Myanmar – promoting psychosocial and financial support for survivors. The NUG has pledged to adopt a gendered and human rights-based approach to governance and have called on the international community, including the United Nations to commit to taking real and effective action to stop this terrorist military from perpetrating atrocities.

To coincide with the 16 Days of Activism, many Myanmar human rights groups have issued statements, and joined campaigns and advocacy drives. Karen Women’s Organization launched a report entitled “Stop Violence Against Women in Burma”, highlighting the disproportionate impact the displacement caused by the military junta’s attacks have had on the women and children of Karen State (of the 327,000 displaced in Karen State, 254,000 people are women and children). Likewise, Women’s League of Burma issued a “Justice + Accountability=End System of Impunity” statement calling on the international community to take more effective actions to end systems of impunity. Karen Human Rights Group points out in a statement to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women that “There is a connection between these gendered crimes of war and conceptualizations of masculinity: widespread crimes of sexual violence have been committed by Burma Army soldiers to support structures of military power, subjugate dissidents, and inflict terror and repression”.

The prominent theme through all the messages during the start of the 16 Days of Activism, the historic void of justice and accountability has emboldened the military junta to continue to perpetrate sexual and gender-based violence and ushered in the military coup attempt. For many women in Burma/Myanmar, particularly those in ethnic areas, the legacy of the military junta’s sexual and gender-based violence has left lasting imprints on their lives for generations. This has been no different in the aftermath of the attempted coup, in which at least 17 reported cases of women being raped and killed throughout Burma/Myanmar, with many more likely to have gone unreported. For decades, local women’s groups have shone a light on these stories and experience at the hands of the Myanmar military. This activism has in turn paved the way for today’s women who have come out in force against this military junta, demanding an end to impunity for violence against women, ending sexual and gender-based violence, calling for equality and an end to this misogynist military. Women make up at least 60 percent of the Spring Revolution, and young women and girls are leading the change. Burmese Women’s Union in a new report outlines the valuable contribution of women trailblazers during the Spring Revolution, particularly how women’s participation within politics has driven change and will shape the future.

This change must be supported by the UN and international community through measures to dismantle the military junta. A toxic rape culture and patriarchal ideology is pervasive in the Myanmar military’s ranks. Sexual and gender-based violence is a hallmark of the Myanmar military’s warfare, used in the past as a tool to suppress and terrorize ethnic nationality communities resisting their militarization and Burmanization project, repeated through cycles of conflict over decades. This truth formed part of the findings of the International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) in 2019 in the wake of the Rohingya Genocide, a truth pointed out by local groups in Myanmar to the UN and international community time and again.

Yet, justice and accountability for these crimes and present crimes has not materialized. The IIFFMM’s recommendations for the UN to investigate the leaders of the Myanmar military for atrocity crimes was abundantly clear, but the UN has sat on their hands. The complete impotence of the UN during the Rohingya crisis, in which Rohingya women and girls were subject to gang rape, rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence strikes at the heart of the UN’s systemic failure in Myanmar.

History is being repeated now. While Myanmar-based UN agencies rally behind the message of the 16 Days of Activism, their engagement with the military junta significantly undercuts any meaning and sincerity in these messages. It is imperative the UN’s representatives do not shake the bloody hands of the junta and stop statements with useless rhetoric but stand in solidarity with the women of Myanmar in action – that is to join in their efforts to seek justice and hold this military to account under international law. Furthermore, it is imperative the UN recognizes and respects the valuable work of local women’s organizations on the ground in Myanmar, such as UN OCHA failing to recognize the contribution and self-determination of KWO.

The inspiration of the grassroots activism led by women in Burma/Myanmar, and their calls and efforts towards establishing a genuine federal democracy should be a major focus of the UN and international community in their strategy, policy and efforts towards resolving the Myanmar crisis. This requires concerted actions by the UN and international community. There has to be a global arms embargo enforced on the military junta, targeted sanctions on junta businesses, cronies and affiliated businesses, and clear cuts in legitimacy. There must also be a genuine inclusion of women in Myanmar, from all backgrounds, ethnicities and religions, during this time under the rubric of international Women, Peace and Security. Supporting women is supporting the backbone of the Spring Revolution and the future of Burma/Myanmar.


[1] 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.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Statement Update on November 17 Political Prisoner Releases

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Press Release on “Women Trailblazers Call For A New Era of Reform”

By Burmese Women’s Union

Qatar: Stop Hosting Burmese Military Vessels

By Burma Campaign UK 

ပြည်ထောင်စုလွှတ်တော်ကိုယ်စားပြုကော်မတီ ၏ ရှမ်းနှစ်သစ်ကူးနေ့သို့ ပေးပို့သည့် သဝဏ်လွှာ

By Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw

Yoma Bank providing services to Myanmar military telco, Mytel

By Justice For Myanmar

Germany’s support for capacity building of Myanmar junta may breach EU sanctions

By Justice For Myanmar

JFM cautiously welcomes ANZ exit and calls for responsible disengagement

By Justice For Myanmar

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

By Karen Human Rights Group

ဂျန်ဒါအခြေပြု အကြမ်းဖက်မှုပပျောက်ရေး လှုပ်ရှားမှုဆိုင်ရာ ထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By National Unity Consultative Council

ကယန်းနှစ်သစ်ကူးနေ့အတွက် အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရက ပေးပို့သည့်သဝဏ်လွှာ

By National Unity Government of Myanmar

အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရမှ ရှမ်းနှစ်သစ်ကူးပွဲတော်နေ့အတွက် ပေးပို့သည့် သဝဏ်လွှာ

By National Unity Government of Myanmar

အမျိုးသားညီညွတ်ရေးအစိုးရ ပညာရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန ကြေညာချက်အမှတ် (၁၉/၂၀၂၂)

By National Unity Government (Ministry of Education)

UN expert urges Republic of Korea to play enhanced leadership role to address Myanmar crisis

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

End of Mission Statement Thomas Andrews United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (21 November 2022)

By United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

A Joint Statement of the United Nations in Myanmar

By United Nations in Myanmar

Statement on the International Day of the Elimination of Violence Against Women

By Women’s League of Burma

Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

By Women’s Peace Network



Restricting Diversity: Mapping Legislation on Freedom of  Religion or Belief in Southeast Asia

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

Women Trailblazers: Call for a New Era of Reform

By Burmese Women’s Union

Monitoring the Agri-food System in Myanmar – Rice Millers – August 2022 survey round

By International Food Policy Research Institute

Stop Violence Against Women in Burma

By Karen Women Organization

Report of the Special Envoy of the ASEAN Chair on Myanmar to the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits

By Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia

The Tabayin School Attack

By Myanmar Witness

Fire as a weapon in Sagaing

By Myanmar Witness

Detailed Analysis on War Crimes of Military Council at A Nang Pa

By Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma

Burma and Bangladesh – Regional Crisis Response Fact Sheet #1, Fiscal Year (FY) 2023

By US Agency for International Development


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.”