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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Myanmar Women, Diplomats Confront Humanitarian Crisis

CW: This article references violence and sexual violence. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.

The Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS) held a discussion with activists and global policymakers from Myanmar to address human rights violations, especially those that women face, following a military coup in the country last year.

The Oct. 21 webinar took place one day after the 2022 United Nations Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, an annual deliberation with a theme focused on “Strengthening women’s resilience and leadership as a path to peace in regions plagued by armed groups” this year. At the webinar, panelists discussed the international community’s responsibility to intervene in Myanmar following a military coup in February 2021 during which an authoritarian military junta replaced the parliamentary republic government. 

Since the coup, the country has been in a state of unrest that has caused the poverty rate to double to nearly 50%, according to an April 2021 United Nations report. The unrest has also caused the displacement of 700,000 people.

Mass violence committed by the new military administration since assuming power, particularly against women and children, inspired the urgent need for the event, said GIWPS Executive Director Melanne Verveer, the former U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues and moderator of the discussion.

“The situation in Myanmar grows more grave by the day. Myanmar’s security forces have only intensified massive human rights abuses, engaged in systematic attacks on peaceful protests, committing arbitrary detentions, torture and killings,” Verveer said at the event. “In short, some of the most egregious violations of human rights that amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.” 

Since the junta seized control of the government, the military has used sexual assault as a systematic weapon to punish detained pro-democracy protesters. According to a March 2022 report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, authoritarian rule in Myanmar has decreased state spending on health and welfare services, limiting support services for survivors of this violence. 

Under the military rule of General Min Aung Hlaing, more than 2,398 civilians have been killed during military crackdowns and 12,785 activists are currently in detention, according to an Oct. 27 briefing from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Despite the violence the people of Myanmar have faced, Verveer said women activists protesting the military regime have shown strength and resilience.

“Burmese women and girls are on the frontlines of the pro-democracy movement,” Verveer said. “They are courageously leading peaceful demonstrations, standing up for their rights and driving the struggle for a democratic and secure future for Burma, often at great risk to themselves.”

Esther Ze Naw Bamvo, an activist from Myanmar who led the first anti-military protest in the city of Yangon, Myanmar, five days after the coup in 2021, recorded a video statement for the conference as she remains in hiding from the government.

Bamvo said the Myanmar people are dealing with multifaceted emergencies that each require humanitarian relief.

“Mothers deliver babies in the jungle without medical assistance. Many infants do not receive their needed lifesaving vaccinations. Little children were killed by targeted airstrikes on schools. And moreover, as a result of weaponizing conflict related sexual violence as an instrument of war, many girls and women are suffering serious physical, mental and sexual health outcomes,” Bamvo said at the event. 

@giwps /Twitter | The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted Myanmar activists and United Nations ambassadors to address ongoing human rights violations and violence against women in Myanmar.

Naw Susanna Hla Hla Soe is the minister of Women, Youths and Children Affairs in the National Unity Government, the organization that the European Parliament recognizes as the legitimate government of Myanmar. She said the military junta carried out an airstrike on the town of Kawkareik, Myanmar, the morning of the conference in response to rebel forces freeing political protesters from the local prison.

The attack was not an unusual occurrence, according to Hla Hla Soe. 

“Every day we hear that the junta are fighting, killing, hanging,” Hla Hla Soe said at the event. “Our hearts are broken every day that our relatives, our friends, young people are giving their lives.”

Thinzar Shunlei Yi, founder of Sisters2Sisters, an online solidarity movement launched to raise awareness for the use of excessive force by Myanmar’s military, said progress against gender-based violence can be made through the recognition of Myanmar’s history of violence against women, which stems from even before the coup.

“The time is right for passionate criticism that will uproot discriminatory practices and norms that have poisoned our society for generations,” Shunlei said at the event. “Only when misogynists and patriarchal ideologies are subdued can Myanmar women live in peace and security.” 

Bamvo warned that if the people of Myanmar do not receive international support soon, authoritarian leaders around the world will be emboldened to escalate their crimes against humanity.

“It is likely that a series of catastrophes will follow if we do not get timely international support and intervention,” Bamvo said. “Failure to give attention to Myanmar will lead to the rise of other authoritarian regimes. It will threaten our rule-based world order.”

Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-6985).

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