Why are women missing from the peace talks?

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - FIONA MACGRE­GOR f.macgre­gor@mm­times.com

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.”

Photo: Fiona MacGre­gor

Nang San San Aye speaks to con­stituents in Hsi­paw town­ship.

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