My Kyal Sin loved taekwondo, spicy food, and good lipstick. She adopted the English name Angel. Her father waved goodbye to her with a hug when she took to the streets of Mandalay, central Myanmar, to join the crowds peacefully protesting the recent military takeover.
The black T-shirt that Kyal Sin wore during the demonstration on Wednesday (3) was stamped with a simple message: “Everything will be fine”.
That afternoon, 18-year-old Kyal Sin was shot in the head by security forces, who killed at least 38 people across the country that day, the bloodiest day since the military coup in the country. February 1, according to the United Nations.
“She is a heroine in our country,” said Ma Cho Nwe Oo, one of Kyal Sin’s best friends. She too has participated in daily protests that electrify hundreds of cities across the country. “By participating in this revolution, our generation of young women is showing that we are no less courageous than men.”
Defying the risks, women have placed themselves at the forefront of the Burmese protest movement, signaling strong rejection from generals who ousted a civilian leader and reimposed a patriarchal order that, for half a century, repressed women.
They gathered by the hundreds of thousands in daily protest marches, representing teachers’ unions, textile and medical workers – all categories in which women constitute the majority. The youngest are often on the front lines, where the security forces seem to have chosen them as targets. On Wednesday, two young women were shot in the head and another was shot near the heart. All three are dead.
Earlier this week, military TV stations reported that security forces had been ordered not to use live ammunition and that, in self-defense, they would only shoot people in the lower body.
“We could lose heroines in this revolution,” said Ma Sandar, deputy general secretary of the Myanmar Workers’ Confederation, who is participating in the protests. “The blood of our women is red.”
Wednesday’s violence, which has brought the death toll since the coup to at least 54, reflects the brutality of armed force being used to slaughter the most innocent citizens. At least three children have been killed in the past month. The first fatal victim of military crackdown after the coup was a 20-year-old woman shot in the head on February 9.
The deaths of protesters shock and anger human rights defenders around the world.
“The Myanmar military must stop killing and arresting protesters,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Thursday. “It is totally heinous for the security forces to shoot live ammunition at peaceful protesters across the country.”
In the weeks following the start of the protests, groups of medical volunteers took to the streets to help the injured and dying. Women reinforce a movement of civil disobedience which paralyzes the functioning of the state. And they challenge the gender stereotypes in force in a country where tradition says that clothes that cover the lower bodies of men and women should not be washed together, so that the female spirit does not contaminate the clothes. men.
With provocative creativity, people have tied sarong lines, known as “htamein”, to protect protest areas, knowing that some men are reluctant to cross them. Others posted images of General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of the army that organized the coup, hanging from the clothesline in an affront to the general’s manhood.
“Young women are leading the protests because we are motherly in nature and we don’t want to let the next generation be destroyed,” said Doctor Yin Yin Hnoung, 28, who dodged the bullets in Mandalay. “We are not concerned with our own survival. What concerns us are future generations.
While the army’s inhumanity extends to many of the 55 million Myanmars, it is women who have the most to lose from the generals’ return to full power, after five years in which they have shared. power with a civilian government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw, as the Armed Forces are called, are deeply conservative, even issuing official statements expressing their opinion on the importance of good ladies wearing modest clothing.
There are no women at the top of the Tatmadaw, whose soldiers systematically gang rape women from ethnic minorities, according to UN surveys. In the generals’ worldview, women are often seen as weak and unclean. The traditional religious hierarchies of this predominantly Buddhist country also place women at the feet of men.
The prejudices of the military and the religious are not necessarily shared by Burmese society as a whole. Women are educated and vital to the economy, especially in the business, manufacturing and civil service sectors. More and more women are finding their political voice. In the elections last November, around 20% of candidates for the National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi’s party, were women.
The party won with a devastating majority, defeating the more male-dominated Union Solidaire et du Développement Party. The Tatmadaw considered the result to be fraudulent.
“We women have taken the lead in the fight against the dictatorship because we believe it is our cause,” said Ma Ei Thinzar Maung, 27, a former political prisoner who, alongside another woman of the same age, led the first public demonstration. Rangoon against the coup d’état, five days after the seizure of power.
Ei Thinzar Maung and his fellow protest leader Esther Ze Naw participate in protests during the day and go into hiding at night. About 1,500 people have been arrested since the coup, according to a local watchdog organization.
Both are politicized from a young age and have made their voices heard in defense of ethnic minorities at a time when most Burmese were unwilling to admit the military cleansing campaign launched by the army against Rohingya Muslims. At least a third of Myanmar’s population is made up of a constellation of ethnic minorities, some of whom are involved in armed conflict with the military.
The two women led a demonstration on February 6 wearing t-shirts associated with the Karen ethnic group, whose villages have been overrun by Tatmadaw’s troops in recent days. Esther Ze Naw is part of another minority, the Kachins. At the age of 17, he spent time in the camps where tens of thousands of civilians were taken from their homes by the Tatmadaw offensives. She recalled how military planes flew over the fields, launching artillery at women and children.
“It was then that I was engaged in the struggle to abolish the military junta,” she said. “People who are minorities know what it is, they know where discrimination leads. And we women are still considered a second sex.
“This must be one of the reasons why activists seem to be more engaged in human rights issues,” he added.
The National League for Democracy is headed by Suu Kyi, but men predominate in its upper echelons. And, like the Tatmadaw, these upper echelons tend to be reserved for members of Myanmar’s ethnic majority, the Bamar.
As security forces continue to shoot unarmed protesters in the streets of Myanmar, the makeup of the protest movement is much more diverse. There are Muslim students, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks, drag queens and a legion of young women.
“Generation X is a fearless generation,” said Honey Aung, whose younger sister, Kyawt Nandar Aung, was shot to the head in the town of Monywa on Wednesday. “My sister participated in the protests every day. She hated dictatorship.
In a speech broadcast this week by an official propaganda publication, Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief, expressed his contempt for the irregularity of the demonstrators, with his “indecent dress, contrary to the Burmese culture”. The general opinion is that this definition covers women who wear pants.
Moments before being shot and killed, Kyal Sin, dressed in sneakers and ripped jeans, mobilized other peaceful protesters.
As people fled tear gas from security forces on Wednesday, Kyal Sin brought water to wash his eyes. “We are not going to run away,” she shouted over a video recorded by another protester. “The blood of our people cannot reach the ground.”
“She’s the bravest girl I have ever seen,” commented Ko Lu Maw, who captured some of the latest footage of Kyal Sin in an alert and haughty pose amid a crowd of prostrate protesters.
Under the shirt, Kyal Sin wore a pendant in the shape of a star. His name means “pure star” in Burmese.
Her friend Cho Nwe Oo recalled, “She said, ‘If you see a star, remember, it’s me’. I will always remember it with pride.