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The double burden of ‘post-covid economic stresses’ and ‘military coup’

March 29th, 2023  •  Author:   Transnational Institute  •  5 minute read
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Sharing a survey study on the post-coup socio-economic impact of the women and working peoples from peri-urban areas

It is crucial to document all forms of human costs shouldered by different social groups due to the military coup and to recognize and understand all the struggles and resilience strategies deployed and the specific circumstances in which they are being deployed. In this regard, TNI wants to highlight the work of a local partner as they attempt to capture the double burden of ‘post-covid economic stresses’ and ‘military coup’ faced by the urban women laborers and women-headed households living in Hlaintharyar and South Dagon townships of Yangon city.

This past February 1 marked the second year since the Myanmar military staged a coup d’état back in 2021. Within this two-year period, the country saw the highest number of mass displacements, deaths, destruction, and torture in every state and region ever – surpassing any point of time in the country’s history. These atrocities committed by the genocidal military can be seen in the numbers.1 However, other human costs, such as the social, emotional, and economic dimensions may be less visible and harder to capture even though they are important parts of the totality. A particularly tragic outcome of such human costs is the number of people (forty-four cases recorded between 1 Feb 2021 to Sept 2022)2 who are reported to have committed suicide since the coup.

Nevertheless, despite these hard cruel facts, the military dictator continues to face strong resistance in a majority of the country. At the same time, there are ongoing and unsettling debates around what is the ‘right’ kind of resistance. Looking back at the country’s history of colonial occupation, armed conflict, and political oppression, there have been many forms of resistance, and not all were undertaken by established groups. Often, resistance undertaken by ordinary people have not been very overt or highly visible, but this does not mean they were not organized or meaningful. Fast-forward to today, surely the same holds true. While there are circumstances that have clearly led many people to devote themselves completely to the revolution, many others find themselves in other kinds of circumstances where they must keep on working so that their families can survive. Yet these two different scenarios surely only tell part of the story of what is really happening in the lives of real people in either case. In either case, people found themselves in difficult circumstances not of their own choosing that they must find a way to survive and get through.

We must keep in mind that even before the coup, Myanmar had become a country of very high poverty and very deep inequality. People from the rural areas made up an overwhelming majority (87%) of the country’s poor.3 Urban-biased forms of development pursued by the previous governments had pushed waves of rural villagers to the cities in search of work, and more often than not ending up as part of the cheap informal labor force in the growing manufacturing and service industries. Myanmar pays the lowest daily minimum wage in ASEAN since 2018, which is now equivalent to around 2 US$ factoring in current inflation rate, below international poverty line of 2.15 US$ per day.4 Even before the coup, only 2% of the entire workforce is estimated to be employed in the formal sector where workers are eligible to register for social security schemes.5 The rest are effectively overexploited and uncared for. A significant proportion of working people lack access to the most basic public services such as primary health care, reproductive health services, municipal public services, decent housing, and more.

For the majority of people whose lives had already been shattered by various events in previous decades, the coup was a new crisis on top of an already existing crisis. In the early days after the coup, we have seen media reports of hundreds of factory workers from Yangon industrial zones on the streets, one hand grasping a humble lunch box while another gripping into a fist to protest against the coup. Here is where the junta’s iron hammer fell first and with unmitigated harshness. Hlaingtharyar and South Dagon township faced a horrifically ruthless crackdown by the military, killing nearly 100 people which Human Rights Watch described as a massacre.6,7Many workers have since left the area and returned to their villages. But many have no choice but to remain, forced to earn a wage under the close military surveillance, as they try to rebuild their lives on the ruins and look for jobs available from whichever factories.

There is a popular saying that people often use whenever a crisis hits – ‘we are all in the same boat’. It is utterly wrong. Different people live in different contexts based on their social class, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and geographical locations. That is why it is so crucial to keep on documenting all forms of human costs shouldered by different social groups due to the military coup and to recognize and understand all the struggles and resilience strategies deployed and the specific circumstances in which they are being deployed.

In this regard, TNI wants to highlight the work of a local partner as they attempt to capture the double burden of ‘post-covid economic stresses’ and ‘military coup’ faced by the urban women laborers and women-headed households living in Hlaintharyar and South Dagon townships of Yangon city. The report investigated increasing pressures faced by the women in the areas of health, children education, safety and security, food, living situation, debt, and psychological impact. Their experiences and struggles deserve our attention and invite us to walk with them toward a fuller understanding of their lives and the multiple meanings of resistance and resilience.


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