Sexual Violence in Myanmar – June 2021
In February 2021, the Myanmar military staged a coup that has denied the results of the 2020 elections where the National League for Democracy (NLD) won the majority of seats. Since then, the Myanmar army (Tatmadaw) have been raging a deadly war on their own people, country and economy. As at 17 June – 137 days since the coup – 865 people have been killed (AAPP) including at least 51 children and 47 women (Women’s League of Burma).
“Dehumanizing” – women violated in Myanmar’s prisons
Since the start of the coup, there have been reports of sexual violence and gender-based harassment by police and military. In prisons, woman have reported not only sexual violence since the coup but the “dehumanising” experience of lack of menstrual hygiene supplies, insufficient numbers of toilets with running water and the inability to ‘manage menstruation with dignity’. Read more.
Women fight back: undergarments as an act of resistance
Since February 2021, more than 60 per cent of protestors taking part in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) are women. Though the brutality of the Tatmadaw affects all of Myanmar’s citizens, women – particularly women in ethnic areas – are most vulnerable. Yet women are holding firm and uniting for a more inclusive society for women in Myanmar. In April, women across Myanmar began using their traditional undergarments – htaimein – as an act of resistance. They are using their sarongs and undergarments as flags and hanging them across roads as a deterrent to stop the tatmadaw from attacking protesters. The use of htaimein is clever as they are believed to be ‘unclean’. According to Buddhist belief, if a man comes into contact with one or walks under one, it he will reduce his masculine superiority. Read more.
Since the Myanmar coup, women have reported sexual violence and other gendered harassment and humiliation by police and military officials. One common “dehumanizing” experience in Myanmar prisons: no sanitary napkins during menstruation. https://t.co/w8HoHLoYW8 pic.twitter.com/xFTO9u3qA5
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) June 14, 2021
Sexual Violence and gender-based atrocities are nothing new
Although the recent military coup will likely see further increase in the reports of sexual violence in Myanmar, sadly this is not a new situation facing women. The Tatmadaw have been committing gender-based violence atrocities on the women of Myanmar for decades. Women in ethnic areas have suffered heavily and sexual violence increased significantly towards Rohingya women from August 2017.
On International Women’s Day (IWD) 2018, KWO released a Statement highlighting the increase in numbers of Burma Army entering into Mutraw District in Karen State which cause hundreds of women and children to flee in fear. They also stood in solidarity with the Rohingya women who were experiencing high levels of sexual violence:
“Finally, we cannot ignore on this day of celebration the incredible abuse by the Burma Army of Roghingya women. The use of rape and murder by the Army is well documented. We have personally experienced rape as a weapon of war by the Burma Army We had hoped we were one of the last groups of women to suffer at their hands. Sadly, we were not. It is time to put an end to that abuse and refer General Min Aung Haling to the International Criminal Court. It is time to place meaningful sanctions on the Army until real peace, democracy and human rights are established. Their time is up. We have waited too long, our time is now. No women from Burma of any background should experience these attacks, not the Rohingya, not the Shan, not the Kachin and not the Karen. We should not suffer at the hands of our husbands and we should not suffer at the hands of the Burma Army.”
APHEDA Stands with the Women of Myanmar
Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA will continue to stand with the people of Myanmar – in particular women – who are fighting back against the military coup. On the Thai-Myanmar border, the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) are working around the clock to support thousands of displaced people in Karen State who are in desperate need of food and shelter. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that there are now nearly 230,000 displaced since the start of the coup – 60,000 of them in Karen State. You can help our partner organisations on the Thai-Myanmar border stay strong as they resist military oppression and deal with a humanitarian crisis. Donate today.
Here’s something we wrote back in early 2018 highlighting the situation facing Rohingya women (read full article):
Sexual Violence facing Myanmar’s Rohingya Women
Since August 2017, horrific accounts of sexual violence against Myanmar’s Rohingya women have been clearly documented by health workers and humanitarian organisations in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Each case describes the perpetrators as wearing uniforms indicating that almost all of them were military personnel.
While the situation facing Rohingya women has received recent media attention, the use of rape as a weapon of war in Myanmar is not new. Union Aid Abroad APHEDA’s long-time partner organisation, Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO), has been documenting prolific sexual violence in eastern Myanmar for many years (read ‘Shattering Silences’) and has more recently documented cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) taking place in refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border (read ‘Salt in the Wound’). In 2002, the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) published ‘License to Rape’ which details hundreds of cases of rape and sexual violence by Myanmar army troops in Shan State. This was followed by similar reports by women’s groups in Karen, Kachin, Mon, and Chin states, as well as national reports by the Women’s League of Burma, paving the way for UN agencies and experts to address this widespread and systematic problem.
Though the violence and impunity documented in these reports are similar, the recent violations targeting Rohingya women appear to be more organised, intensive, and brutal. However, the pattern of denying acts of sexual violence and further victimisation of survivors who speak out has been consistent across the country. The climate of sexual violence has also made women and girls more vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Rohingya woman and human rights activist, Wai Wai Nu will speak out on rape as a weapon of war in Myanmar at the Sydney Opera House as part of All About Women 2018.
- License to Rape, Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), May 2002
- State of Terror, Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), February 2007
- Shattering Silences, Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), April 2004
- Driven Away, Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT), May 2005
- Catwalk to the Barracks, Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM), July 2005
- Dignity in the Shadow of Oppression: The abuse and agency of Karen women under militarization, Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), November 2006
- Unsafe State – State-sanctioned sexual violence against Chin women in Burma, Women’s League of Chinland (WLC)
- Courage to Resist: Women Human Rights Defenders of Burma, Women’s League of Burma (WLB), November 2007
- Caught Between Two Hells, Burmese Women’s Union (BWU), December 2007 – Eastward Bound, Kachin Women Association Thailand (KWAT)
- In the Shadow of the Junta: CEDAW shadow report, Women’s League of Burma (WLB). November 2008
- Nowhere Else to Go, Woman and Child Rights Project (WCRP), August 2009
- Walking Amongst Sharp Knives, Karen Women’s Organization (KWO), February 2010
Stand with Myanmar
The military coup in Myanmar on Monday 1 February 2021 has sent shockwaves throughout the world. We are witnessing the rapid disintegration of democratic transition and a return to full military control. The country has already been suffering as a result of the global economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the precarious situation of the country, this coup will have further negative impacts on the lives of people in Myanmar and along the Thai-Myanmar border.
Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA has stood with civil society organisations, trade unions and activists in Myanmar and on the Thai-Myanmar border for over 25 years as they have struggled for peace and democracy.
We must continue to stand with them now.
By making a donation today, you will help APHEDA’s partner organisations in Myanmar and on the Thai-Myanmar border stay strong as they resist military oppression and build political power during the crisis. For our partner organisations in Myanmar, it is crucial that they retain the successful movement-building work they have already achieved and that they are equipped with the resources they need to operate under a state of military oppression. They are in for a long struggle ahead and will need to increase their organising, advocacy and education on the ground. On the Thai-Myanmar border, our partner organisations are dealing with an urgent humanitarian crisis as the airstrikes intensify and people are displaced.