Zin Mar Aung on the Importance of Women in Peace and Politics in Myanmar
Zin Mar Aung is a women’s advocate from Myanmar who spent 11 years as a political prisoner for distributing pamphlets, letters and poems supporting the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Since her release, Zin Mar Aung has been deeply vested in her country’s return to democracy and has focused her efforts on strengthening civil society. In March 2012, she received the International Women of Courage Award from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Zin Mar Aung has been working with IFES since April 2012 on women’s political empowerment under the Global Women’s Leadership Fund. Most recently, she and the Yangon School of Political Science collaborated on the design of a workshop that would increase the advocacy capabilities of women’s groups in Myanmar. During a recent trip to the United States, she spoke with IFES Senior Gender Specialist Jessica Huber about 2013 International Women’s Day and Myanmar’s women’s movement.
Huber: What are some of the things you and some of the other organizations have planned for International Women’s Day? Also, what are some of your general priorities for women in the transition process?
Zin Mar Aung: Currently, thewomen organizations are still emerging, especially during this transitional period. Our organization is now celebrating International Women’s Day in Mandalay; this event is a first for Mandalay.
We introduce and bridge local women to international events; that is our theme and we are very excited for this event. In Naypyidaw and Yangon, other women organizations are also celebrating International Women’s Day.
Huber: Talk to us about this trip. Who you have met with and your goals?
Zin Mar Aung: First, of our delegation arrived here in D.C. and we met with Senator John McCain and brand new Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry.
Later we visited New York to meet with Ambassador Susan Rice; later we went to Texas to visit Southern Methodist University (SMU) and we had the opportunity to meet former President George Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush at Bush Institutes.
We got short term – one/two day – trainings at Bush Institutes (in D.C.) [from] the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and the United States Institute of Peace.
[I received] intensive training regarding political parties and how to give a message to media, advocacy and rule of law. I have also been to Arizona State University (ASU) and met law and journalism students; visited the law department at ASU; and took place in roundtable discussions [on] sustainable tourism.
Huber: Describe your work and the work you do in your country.
Zin Mar Aung: I am [the] founder of Yangon School of Political Science. Two years after I was released [from prison] we met other colleagues and like-minded friends and noticed our society and our people need more political education before they engage in politics. That’s why we founded Yangon School of Political Science, especially to train political activists and young people.
On the other hand, I am one of the founders of Rainfall Gender Studies Group; our target is to get more women in Parliament. We try to motivate and advocate women and political parties.
Huber: What are some of the successes you’ve seen in the past few years?
Zin Mar Aung: We have a lot of partners, like IFES. Last year, [IFES and the Yangon School of Political Science] successfully finished two kinds of training. [This includes a] three-day intensive training on the role of women in public and political life and the role of women in peace. We called women leaders from the community for the three-day trainings and civil society women leaders for the role of women in peace. The Yangon School of Political Science has an outreach program, like mobile training. We visited 10 cities and townships for outreach programs for youth participation and democratic transitions. We have just finished, and now we are preparing for a study tour to the Philippines and Indonesia with some of our outstanding students and voters.
Huber: Have you seen a lot more women try to make room for themselves within the negotiating process in your country?
Zin Mar Aung: It is still challenging because the role of the women is still the advocacy role – trying to promote their voice. You know the peace talks with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the government have no women. But we can point to the successful peace talks with Karen National Union (KNU) and the government. The KNU delegations were led by women. Some women organizations point out that women leading the peace delegations is why they win.
Huber: Can you tell us a little bit more about the partnership you have with IFES beyond the workshops? How has this partnership led to additional successes?
Zin Mar Aung: For the future, we need technical support on research and advocacy. We hope to get support based on research to explore current transitions and women’s rules to make better advocacy in the future.
Huber: What additional steps can the international community take to promote women’s involvement in the peace negotiation and the political process in general?
Zin Mar Aung: Most of the conflicts are happening in developing countries, so the common thing is lack of capacity, I think. We have the willingness to do and participate in the peace process, but we do not know how to advocate or who should be the participants in this process.