Su (pseudonym) speaks about the challenges and opportunities for feminists and young women in Myanmar since the coup.
Editor’s note: This post is part of a collaboration between Tea Circle and Insight Myanmar to publish Report #3 by Real Stories Not Tales (RSNT). To read RSNT’s Report #1, visit Tea Circle’s posts here and Insight Myanmar’s posts here. Select stories from RSNT’s Report #3 have also been published on Insight Myanmar, and are available here, here, here and here. The full RSNT Report #3 is available for preview at the end of this post. For all posts by RSNT featured on our site, check out the full list.
Su used to be a social worker in Yangon. She is from Mandalay Region. She is of mixed ethnicity. She was interviewed on January 5th, 2022.
Before the military coup in Myanmar, I worked in a non-governmental organization in Yangon. I was stressed because the Covid-19 pandemic in Myanmar had put most projects on hold. When the time came to reopen businesses, and as we were slowly getting used to the “new normal,” the military’s terrible power-grab drew me back to a hopeless feeling. I remember first checking the news on the day of the coup at exactly 6:02 am. The DVB news announced that the military was seizing power, and my friends were also sharing the news on social media. Around 7 am, I noticed people had started to panic buy. By 8 am, there was an internet blackout. I had been worried for our country before the coup, but at that moment, I was terrified that we had fallen back into a very dark past.
After the coup, I relocated to my native town because staying in Yangon was no longer safe: the presence of soldiers around my apartment in Yangon brought up fears of imminent arrest, and there were still other unpredictable risks. Still, I continued to work with the same organization but kept a low profile. But moving meant I could not continue with my activism.
Fortunately, my family is safe, and we continue to have regular communication––but I still cannot be open about my identity. Discussing my family and the current political unrest has brought back many difficult memories. During the 1988 uprising, my family was harmed and discriminated against because they did not belong to the same ethnic and religious group. My father witnessed one of his friends being shot right before his eyes. My family has gone through a lot and has endured a tough life. So, when the February coup happened, it brought much worry and panic. They asked me to listen to their concerns, and so, I did.
All my plans have been upended by the coup. In February 2021, I had plans to pursue a Master’s degree abroad. I was improving my English skills while also fighting for women’s rights in Myanmar. But after the coup, I decided not to go abroad and stay put instead. Some of my friends overseas invited me to stay with them, but my decision was firm.
As a female activist, I was satisfied with my participation in the protests. I was also glad to see female activists like Ei Thinzar Maung leading the marches. Women were empowered during the demonstrations, although there were always persistent and noticeable gender discrimination and bias. For example, women were forced to stay at the back, away from the front lines. Nonetheless, I saw many women participating in the protests: working-class women, the LGBTQ community, and women with disabilities. They were all loving and defending our country and our rights with their whole hearts.
I saw many women participating in the protests: working-class women, the LGBTQ community, and women with disabilities. They were all loving and defending our country and our rights with their whole hearts.
The most impactful experience during the protests was on March 8th, 2021—International Women’s Day. It was a historic day and we used the female htamein (traditional skirt) to protest. I felt that we were getting rid of the conservative norms of our society, as they used to see the lady’s htameins as something of low dignity. We could fight back against the double standards that had been invented and use them against the military. It was ridiculous seeing the soldiers so mad when they noticed the htameins hanging along the road. Then they tried to remove the skirts with sticks and didn’t dare to walk under them. I really felt strongly discriminated against when women were forced to withdraw from the frontline during the protest.
I have also kept records of the mockeries against women, and the bullying of women using cartoons and comic content on social media. Some media outlets have no ethics when it comes to women’s rights—they make jokes about women’s feelings and behavior.
We could fight back against the double standards that had been invented and use them against the military. It was ridiculous seeing the soldiers so mad when they noticed the htameins hanging along the road.
Some women’s stories and images have stayed in my mind. Unbelievably, I spoke with a lady from Kachin State who said she had experienced three coups in her lifetime. The 2021 coup was my first time, and I empathized with her. I remember feeling very uncomfortable seeing a religious sister from Kachin kneeling in front of soldiers on the road.
During these past months, I have seen and met incredibly powerful women socially and politically. It is meaningful to see such strong women in our environment, despite the fact that some people still consider women the ‘second sex’ in our society, believing women should not be in political and decision-making positions. Society remains highly patriarchal and unequal. We seriously need to change society’s views on women and the maltreatment of women.
It has been tough for me trying to cope with the situation after the military coup. After seeing Mya Twe Twe Khaing’s shot to the head in Nay Pyi Taw, I was shocked. But it really happened; it wasn’t just a story anymore. My life has not been easy the past few months, but some people have helped me seek refuge. I think I am still managing to cope with the difficulties so far. Although the news I hear day after day is tragic, and I have lost my future, I try to take it one day at a time and not think about the long-term journey.
I think the fighting in Myanmar will take a long time. Then, after sacrificing our lives and time, we will have to rebuild our country yet again. I hope, by that time, we will have equality among men, women, and LGBTQ peoples––a new federal democratic nation that does not discriminate against different religions and backgrounds. I hope we will have a nation that considers women’s identities and rights from the elite to grassroots levels. I wish for more women to hold positions in decision-making processes; I wish for the people to stand in solidarity with the women activists engaging and fighting for our freedom – both on/off the streets/village lanes, or in the jungle.
Real Stories Not Tales (RSNT) is a dedicated team in and out of Myanmar that aims to bring awareness to the reality of young people’s lives since the Myanmar military staged a coup on February 1st, 2021. Stories are collected through interviews with each protagonist by the team, either in Burmese or in English. Each character is drawn by a professional illustrator bringing a visual context to the story. RSNT is an anonymous name that is used by the group to guarantee security to all parties involved in the collection of the stories.