Why are women missing from the peace talks?
Barely any of the delegates are female, revealing the absurdity in aiming for ethnic equality and reconciliation while ignoring gender equality.
“I THINK women have advantages in terms of negotiation skills and can be involved – by speaking nicely, not through hard words – in making peace.”
She may seem to be playing into stereotypes about female softness, but Nang San San Aye has proven her capacity for steely determination.
The last time the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy MP for Thibaw/Hsipaw township spoke to The Myanmar Times she was part of a convoy attempting to rescue hundreds of civilians. That was in May, when residents of her northern Shan State constituency were trapped in the middle of fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Shan State Army-North.
During a temporary lull in the booming of heavy weapons fired from the surrounding hills, she walked up to soldiers blockading the road and persuaded them to phone their commanders. She then talked the military heads into allowing the convoy through.
For the rest of the day she worked helping families, nursing mothers, infants and frail elderly people into trucks before accompanying them past the Tatmadaw cordon as night fell and the heavy weapon fire started up again.
If her parents were fearful that politics was a risky field for their daughter, it is unlikely they ever imagined just how much danger she would be willing to put herself in while fighting for people’s rights.
“My uncle was the head of the village and they had seen him tortured and beaten by the military so they didn’t want me to go into politics, because they didn’t want to see me suffer,” she said of her early discussions with her parents about her career choice.
“But now we have democracy, and I am young so I have to work for people,” she said.
“Also, I am educated. If educated people do not work for the people, who will work for them? Very few ethnic people are educated,” she added.
Her goal, since she was young, she says, has been to become a policymaker so she can bring real change to people’s lives, adding her early inspiration was the last saopha of Hsipaw, Sao Kya Seng, whose story features in the recent movie Twilight Over Myanmar, based on the book by his wife Inge Sargent.
The saopha was never heard from again after being arrested under General Ne Win in 1962 – long before Nang San San Aye was born. But stories of his dedication to his people left the young Shan woman determined to act.
“He was a prince so I knew power could do good.”
Among her more recent bids to do good in her role as a state MP, she approached the commander of the Tatmadaw’s North East Command to raise the issue of villagers being arrested by his men and accused of being soldiers from ethnic armed forces operating in the area.
“I went and negotiated with him and told him about the villagers’ problems. Then I made ID cards for the villagers to show they were true villagers.”
Nang San San Aye rejects the idea that as a woman it is difficult for her to carry out negotiations with the military.
“It never disturbed me that I was a girl. Sometimes I even forget I’m a woman.”
Nang San San Aye speaks to constituents in Hsipaw township.