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Burma Issues Report on Women in Bur

Reply-To: "Douglas E. Steele - Student at Georgetown Univers" <temp7@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Burma Issues Report on Women in Burma; Part 1 of 2



The Burmese Prostitution Industry in Thailand
     On the 10th of July, 1992, Thai vice police raided a brothel
in the port-city of Ranong, freeing 33 Burmese women who had been
held as virtual prisoners there, some for nearly 3 years. Three of
the women were recovering from a severe beating they had received
at the hands of their flesh-trading bosses as punishment for a
recent escape attempt. The three had been mercilessly whipped with
coat hanger wire, until they had fainted from the pain. Another
woman reported to the police that she had been forced to entertain
sex customers only three days after giving birth.  
     After a period of detention in Bangkok, many of the women were
returned home to Burma via boat. One of that group, named Hlaing
Myint, eventually arrived back to her family in Rangoon. Only 6
hours after her return, 3 plain-clothes policeman showed up at her
house, and asked her to accompany them to the police station "for
a short while". Instead of a brief visit, however, she was
subjected to interrogation by Slorc intelligence officers for the
next three days. They repeatedly accused her of being involved with
the resistance movement along the Thai-Burma border. She was beaten
frequently, especially around the head, subjected to water torture,
and deprived of food and water. The torturers also re-broke her
injured hand, which had undergone a recent operation as the result
of a traffic accident. They continued to accuse her of connections
to Burmese student dissidents and the KNU, although she had never
been involved in any resistance activity. She had spent nearly all
her time in Thailand imprisoned in a brothel, whatever her
political leanings might have been. Her father came to visit her
after two days, paying the guards 2000 kyats for the "privilege" of
seeing her. After observing her condition he made a deal with the
guards, agreeing to pay 10,000 more kyats to the police if they
would release her within 3 more days. She was released after 5 days
of extrajudicial arrest and interrogation, an unfortunate but
common reality for many Burmese citizens under Slorc martial law.
Soon thereafter, however, she was informed by a friend who worked
for the police that an order for her re-arrest had been issued by
a local Slorc magistrate.  Her family decided she needed to leave
Burma immediately. After paying another 2000 kyats worth of bribes,
for travel papers, an ID card, safe passage on an airplane under a
false name, and access to a boat heading back to Ranong, Thailand
- the unpleasant site of her previous prostitution experience - she
found herself on her own, and back in Thailand again, a political
refugee this time around. (Burmese Women's Project report) 
     Ma Thrader is another Burmese woman who found herself    
trapped into prostitution in Thailand. While visiting in Ranong,
and looking for work which could not be found on her side of the
border, a friend of her sister's told her she would arrange for her
to get a good job in the city. She was taken by the woman to a
house, where she was then left for several days. When the woman
returned she was accompanied by pimps who forcibly took Ma Thrader
away - to her new home in a brothel. For several days she was
beaten, injected with unknown drugs, and threatened with a pistol
to her head by the brothel thugs until she finally agreed to begin
servicing clients with sex. The occasional, arbitrary money she was
given for her work was all spent on food and snacks inside the
brothel, since she was not allowed to go outside. She was beaten
one time when they discovered she was trying to save her money,
rather than spending it on the brothel's own food. Eventually, her
brothel was raided by the Thai police, but the boat that was to
carry them back to Victoria Point (Kawthoung) in nearby Burma was
hi-jacked by her former brothel masters, who had followed on a boat
of their own. After bribing the Thai immigration guards, they
herded the women at gun-point back to Ranong - and their former
lives of enforced prostitution - temporarily housing over 200 of
them in a large warehouse to avoid further police raids. (BP,
     "Toe Toe", is a young ethnic woman of mixed Karen/Mon
background who fled to Thailand to avoid capture and rape at the
hands of advancing Slorc troops in her home area, a region racked
by the brutal civil war being waged between the Burmese Army and
ethnic nationality insurgents. After spending several months in a
refugee camp along the Thai border, she traveled to Bangkok, where
she was soon arrested by police as an illegal immigrant. After 15
days in custody, she was repatriated to Kawthoung, Burma, where she
was then detained by the Burmese police, who demanded a 1500 kyat
fee for her release. Having no money, she simply waited in
detention, until a Burmese woman came along and bailed her, and
several other women, out of jail, promising them good-paying jobs
in nearby Ranong, Thailand.  In this increasingly familiar
scenario, Toe Toe soon found herself imprisoned in a brothel, and
forced at gun point to have sex with strangers. She received no
money for her work, and remained trapped in sex slavery until her
brothel was raided by Thai police, and she was taken away again.
(B.U.R.M.A. Newsletter, August 1992)  Unlike these three women, the
large majority of Burmese enslaved in the sex trade are never
"rescued" by the Thai police. But we only learn of the stories of
those rare few who are. In fact, many Thai police and government
officials are directly involved in protecting and facilitating the
flesh trade for their own personal profit, or, at the very least,
allow for its continued, unhindered operation. 
     The three brief, individual stories sketched above highlight
some of the broader forces dictating the often miserable terms of
life for thousands of Burmese woman who are sucked into Thailand's
booming flesh trade every year. High unemployment and a
disintegrating economy inside Burma push many woman to seek
opportunities across the border in Thailand. But the economic
options available for these women upon arrival are very limited,
and often translate into a career in prostitution. Others,
particularly ethnic nationalities from Burma's mountainous jungle
regions, flee into Thailand to escape the brutal counter-insurgency
campaigns of the Burmese Army.  These refugees from civil war are
susceptible to easy manipulation by smooth-talking flesh-dealers,
who often exploit their rural naivete and desperate situation for
their own advantage. Many more are lured and tricked into
prostitution by brothel field agents inside Burma, who make
commissions ranging from US$100-600 for recruiting/deceiving women
with offers of good-paying jobs across the border. (Cultural
Survival Quarterly, Fall 1992)  Upon returning to their home
villages in Burma, many of these young women are too ashamed to
speak out about their often traumatic experiences as prostitutes in
Thailand, and instead emphasize only the bright lights and modern
conveniences of Thai cities to their family and friends. Other
village women, seeing the fancy clothing and jewelry former
prostitutes often bring back with them, are drawn to the dream of
easy money in free-wheeling Thailand, especially when contrasted
with their own bleak economic prospects in Burma. The code of
silence and shame prevents them from ever hearing the whole story
about life in Thailand, until it is too late.  Many Burmese
prostitutes are too disgraced to ever return home, however, and
continue to support their families by staying on and working in
Thailand's sex trade for years, sending what money they save back
home to Burma.  Reportably, a small minority of young girls are
even sold to brothel agents by their impoverished parents for
several thousand baht. But whatever the forces pushing or pulling
them into Thailand, more and more young Burmese women are finding
themselves in a situation dictated by economic necessity. Too many
are being trapped into the extensive Thai brothel network, the one
business sector providing them with available opportunities. Sadly,
this insatiable demand for labor can supply only jobs that are at
best exploitative and degrading, and at worst, a modern form of
slavery and bondage for both Thai and Burmese women.  This
"slavery" is facing more and more public outrage in Thailand as
Thai activists become bolder in their confrontation of the powers
behind the exploitation.  The new Thai government, under the
leadership of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai has also declared war on
the sex business, especially any "business" which exploits
children.  This gives hope that the future may see some positive
     Yet at the present, despite efforts by several Thai women's
groups, Burmese women entering Thailand have virtually no chance
for legal protection. Local Thai police, who theoretically could
offer some protection, are often personally involved in trafficking
women themselves, in conjunction with the brothels. In most cases,
brothel owners, recruitment agents, and pimps treat Burmese women
even more inhumanely than their Thai workers. Furthermore, Burmese
prostitutes are more likely than Thai to 1) have been forced or
tricked into the flesh trade, and 2) work in prison-like
conditions, for little or no pay, with no access to the outside
world, while residing 24 hours a day in the same cramped, bed-sized
room.  As far as compensation, even volunteer prostitutes often see
60-80% of their earnings taken by middle-men, pimps and owners,
while unwilling sex "slaves" are often given nothing (TN 16/7/92)).

As illegal immigrants, Burmese women have less access to medical
treatment, AIDS education, or condom distribution. This is a big
problem in Ranong, Thailand, the heart of the Burmese prostitution
industry, with an estimated 5000 women involved in the sex trade. 
Most of the  clients serviced by Burmese prostitutes in Ranong are
Burmese fishermen or economic refugees, who are often illiterate,
and have little access to, or awareness of, AIDS education or the
practice of using condoms. 

Aids and Prostitution
     And it is this AIDS plague that most ominously threatens the
precarious situation of many Burmese prostitutes. Burma expert
Bertil Lintner reports of a university study on prostitutes and
AIDS in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where there are over 10,000 ethnic
Shan women from Burma working in the flesh trade. The study found
that 72% of prostitutes charging 30-50 baht for their services were
HIV positive, compared to 30% of those charging 50-100 baht, and
only 16% for those over 100 baht in price. Shockingly however, for
those in the industry for over 1 year, the rate rose to 70%,
regardless of price bracket or average volume of customers serviced
per night. (FEER, 20/2/92)  In the port town of Ranong, Thailand,
it is not uncommon for 100% of the Burmese women freed in a police
brothel raid to test positive for HIV. This was the case for 25
Burmese women apprehended in a raid on 19/6/91, 15 more hill tribe
woman released over June and July 1992, and 37 other women
repatriated from Ranong on 25/7/92. (Burmese Women's Project
     Knowledge of AIDS is virtually non-existent among many women
coming from Burma. Even a relatively up-market prostitute
interviewed by Lintner in Chiang Mai declared, "I've never heard of
anyone here getting AIDS. I think somebody is just trying to scare
us". (FEER, 20/2/92)  Often brothel owners will approach their
workers after they have become infected, offer them a few hundred
baht, and tell them it's time to go home and visit their families
in Burma. 
     And it is these returning prostitutes who are accelerating the
spread of AIDS throughout Burma at an alarming rate. The Slorc
government admitted to some 74,000 HIV cases last year, but WHO
estimates would put the figure closer to 100,000, putting Burma at
the top of its list for the AIDS crisis in Asia. The combination of
returning, infected prostitutes from Thailand, with a UN estimated
160,000 intravenous drug addicts inside Burma, and a growing, often
teen-age, prostitute population domestically within Burma, has
created a volatile mix of social problems which threatens Burma,
and its bordering neighbors, with an out-of-control AIDS epidemic
in a few short years. Already a serious health crisis has erupted
in the "AIDS Route" to China's nearby Yunnan Province, which
borders Burma's opium-producing Shan State, and serves as a major
conduit for heroin smuggled out of the region. The convergence of 
1) free-flowing narcotics and a resultant growing addict
population, using and sharing dirty needles, with 2) cheap
prostitutes, at 3) a major trading hub, with highly mobile
entrepreneurs constantly flowing back and forth from other regions,
all combines to create an ideal environment for the spread of AIDS.
Unfortunately, these conditions exist alongside each other at other
major Burmese border cross-points with Thailand, India, and
Bangladesh.  Burma lacks the funds, expertise, health network,
educational means, and political will power to handle a
full-fledged AIDS crisis. When these medical infrastructural
problems are added to Burma's present international position as the
#1 supplier of heroin worldwide, and its regional role as a major
labor pool for brothel recruitment to Thailand, the multiplier
effect indicates a social/medical nightmare on the horizon for
Burma.  The country will probably be the weakest link in any
attempts to clamp down on AIDS in Asia before the plague escalates

AIDS and Repatriation
     It is this very fear of an AIDS disaster which has led to
repeated reports that the Slorc government may be eliminating
HIV-infected women who return from Thailand, by injecting them with
fatal doses of cyanide. Edith Mirante in a recent edition of Burma
Affairs magazine writes that "persistent reports have arisen
regarding Slorc police or military personnel executing people with
AIDS who have been forcibly repatriated by Thailand to Burma"
(Burma Affairs, 15/4/92). On April 1, 1992, Thai Police Colonel
Bancha Jaruseet issued a public statement declaring that Burmese
women freed from brothels would no longer be deported. He made this
statement after receiving a report that 25 women freed from a
Ranong brothel on 19/6/92, and subsequently deported back to Burma,
had all been injected with cyanide by Slorc officials when it was
discovered they had HIV (TN, 2/4/92).  Later it was reported that
only 3 of the 25 were unaccounted for after returning to Burma. The
deportations have not stopped, however, as another group of 97
women were repatriated a few months later. Allegedly, after being
tested for HIV at an isolated detention center inside Burma, 65
were allowed to return to their families, after they produced a fee
ranging from US$100-300, while 32 others, who had tested positive,
were taken away, their fate unknown. (Burma Women's Project report)
Another 37 HIV-infected Burmese women who were repatriated from
Ranong on 9/7/92, were sentenced to 3 years in prison by Slorc upon
their return, for illegally leaving Burma, and 2 more years for
involvement in prostitution (the normal sentence for illegal
emigration is only 3 months). (TN, 25/7/92)  The Thai policy
continues to be one of giving Slorc the benefit of the doubt, as
expressed by Mrs. Saisuree, the former representative for the Prime
Minister's office handling the Burmese prostitute issue.  "I have
no doubt of their {repatriated Burmese women} safety. The Burmese
government has guaranteed their safety", Mrs. Saisuree asserted,
labeling alleged charges of cyanide injections as "uncollaborated
rumors". (TN, 20/8/92) 
     This mixture of prostitution, Burmese economic refugees,
repatriation, and AIDS represents some of the unexpected
consequences stemming from a minor, localized version of Thailand's
broader policy of supportive, profit-driven "constructive
engagement" with Slorc's Burma. This collusion can be most clearly
seen in the oft-mentioned port town of Ranong, along Thailand's
southern-most border with Burma. Ranong is the seafood capital of
Thailand, generating over 150 million baht a day for the Thai
economy, and serving as the primary source for most of Thailand's
domestic seafood retailers, as well as its lucrative export markets
abroad. This major sector of the Thai economy is almost totally
dependent on Burmese labor, and resource-rich Burmese waters.  Over
100,000 illegally-employed Burmese work on the hundreds of Thai
fishing trawlers which exploit the fragile marine ecosystems along
international waters from Burma to India. Thousands more Burmese
are employed on Thai construction projects and in local factories,
meeting Ranong's serious labor shortage needs. According to the
Ranong governor, "the shortage of labor is the most serious problem
in Ranong ... no one wants to work here from our own Thai
provinces", thus making Burmese immigrants invaluable to the area's
economic growth. (TN, 13/9/92)  
     The sex trade is an essential component of Ranong's economic
structure, and growing pressure to clean up their act from Bangkok
worries many local Thai businessmen.  "We'd rather lose face than
see the city's economy go under", admitted one local entrepreneur,
in reference to the essential dynamic of the flesh trade for
successful local business. Since Thai prostitutes are reluctant to
service the hordes of Burmese fishermen in port on any given day,
thousands of Burmese women have been brought in, often through
deception and force, to keep the trade booming. 
     Today, anywhere from 80 to 90% of prostitutes in Ranong's
brothels are Burmese women. Many local Ranong officials find recent
police crackdowns on brothels by the national Crime Suppression
Division police to be cynical political ploys. "Any time that
forces outside Ranong - the CSD police, for example - want to put
on a public display of their efficiency, all they have to do is
come down and "rescue" some Burmese prostitutes and march them out
for a press conference in Bangkok", claims one high-ranking Ranong
official. (TN, 13/9/92)
     Ranong's chief police inspector, Col. Sudchai Yanrat, concurs
declaring, "Burmese prostitution is a link in a chain of problems
arising from trade with Burma. To actively weed out illegal
immigrants and foreign prostitutes would be easy work for police
workers, but such a campaign would ruin the fragile economy of
Ranong, which depends heavily on Burmese laborers." (TN, 13/9/92)
     The deeply entrenched, debilitating economic, social, medical,
moral, psychological, and political quagmires resulting from the
growing use of Burmese women in the Thai sex trade are reflective
of broader problems in Thai-Burmese relations, and their respective
internal societies. These problems reveal yet more of the sick and
rotting fruits being borne from Thailand's accommodating
"constructive engagement" policy towards the Slorc regime. But more
than this, they represent one of the saddest by-products of the
economic disintegration and social breakdown being inflicted upon
Burma by its own self-interested and distorted military rulers.
     In a broader sense, there seems to be a sickness eating away
at the core of modern societies, a sickness that feeds off of
worshiping money and power, and prioritizing economic growth and
political control above basic human decency and respect for human
rights. Until the Slorc is prepared to focus on meeting its own
peoples' economic needs, rather than amassing weapons to keep them
cowering in fear and bondage, the flow of Burmese labor to Thailand
and beyond will continue unabated. And that flow will continue to
be mainly sucked into Thailand's brothel networks until the world's
societies are prepared to order their economies on a higher,
human-based principle that uses a variety of "quality-of-life"
measuring sticks for prosperity and growth, beyond solely the
numerical "bottom line" of profit margin.  The future of thousands
of young Burmese girls depends on Slorc leaders, Thai leaders and
the international community in general cleaning up their dirty act.

What Lies Ahead
     The road ahead for Burma is a rough one.  The 1993 dry season
will be an active one with Slorc troops committed to destroying all
opposition groups in the border areas.  Slorc is trying hard to
convince Thailand to seal the borders between Thailand and the
ethnic minority areas such as the Karen, Mon and Karenni so that
these groups will finally be defeated through a lack of arms and
supplies.  These military campaigns will produce a growing number
of external refugees as well as hundreds of thousands more
internally displaced persons.  If the border is actually closed,
assistance to internally displaced persons could become impossible,
and the fate of refugees fleeing across the border into Thailand
would rest on whether or not Thai authorities would allow them to
     It is very doubtful that Slorc will actually be able to take
Karen strongholds such as Wankha and Mannerplaw.  However, should
they manage to do this, they will not have, as yet, completely
conquered the opposition.  The jungles are big and difficult to
move through.  The Karen, and other ethnic forces can simply adopt
guerilla tactics and continue their struggle from bases deep inside
the jungle.
     Slorc has been using younger troops in their
counter-insurgency campaigns.  Many of Slorc's soldiers who have
been captured or killed are young teenagers with very little
training.  Almost all of them have little or no education.  By
keeping the local economy in such bad shape, Slorc will assure
itself of a continual flow of new recruits as the army is about the
only job these young men can get which will help them care for
their families.  For this reason, there is doubt that the economy
in the country will improve over the next few years, especially the
economic standards of the poor class, despite the "good intentions"
of foreign companies like Pepsi, Total, Daewoo etc, who continue to
invest with the military junta.
     International pressure against Slorc will probably grow, but
Slorc has been carrying out an aggressive international public
relations campaign to try to gain time.  They have released some
political prisoners, opened their doors a little wider to
international investments, opened universities, and have promised
to hold a national assembly early in January of 1993.  This public
relations campaign will continue, but if concrete results can not
be seen, it will not much affect most of the international
     However, Asean countries and probably China will continue to
play an active role in defending Burma.  The only hope is that
Thailand will be pressured enough to finally alter its constructive
engagement policy towards Burma.  Should they do this, other Asean
countries would follow, and Slorc would become more isolated. 
However, with the kinds of investments Thai companies are making in
Burma, a change in Thai policy seems distant.  Even the Electricity
Generating Authority of Thailand, a government organization, is
planning to invest in either hydroelectric dams along the Salween
River, or in a gas pipe line through the Tenesserim Division for
electric generating plants to be built in Kanchanaburi Province of
western Thailand.  Either project will cement Thailand's
relationship with Slorc even more strongly.
     China will continue to supply arms freely to  Burma unless
sufficient  international pressure can be  brought on them to pull
back.   This could  possibly be  brought about  by  an aggressive 
campaign  to urge the United Nations        Security Council to
consider an arms embargo against Burma.  
     There are possibilities that President-elect Clinton of the US
will apply pressure on China to make some important changes
regarding human rights within their own country which might also
encourage China to limit their military support to Burma, but there
is some doubt that he will be able to carry this out with much
success unless the American public strongly encourages him to do
so.  Clinton's possible emphasis on human rights may put some
pressure on Thailand to look more closely at its Burma policy, but
economic interests of a few power brokers in Thailand will prevent
much from changing.
     The opposition groups continue playing a very crucial role in
the struggle, but due to the fact that they are not totally
unified, their power is not focused as much as it could be yet. 
The new draft constitution being prepared by the Democratic
Alliance of Burma (DAB) and the National Coalition Government of
the Union of Burma (NCGUB) is gaining international support, and as
such has become a threat to the Slorc.  However, the constitution
is not well understood by the grassroots, and this could be a very
serious weakness in the future.  
     A federal state system has also been proposed by the
opposition groups as a way of creating a new future for the
country, but there are people who still fear that a federal state
system will destroy the union.  This fear is due to a
misunderstanding of the meaning of a federal state system caused by
several decades of miseducation carried out by the military regime.

The National Convention
     One of the key issues to watch in 1993 will be the National
Convention to be held around January 9.  It will get a lot of
international attention, and many countries, especially Asean, will
use this national convention to try to prove the success of their
policy of constructive engagement.  However, the convention will be
mainly attended by Slorc people, or people whom Slorc can
manipulate.  The voices of the opposition will not be allowed. 
Slorc stated this clearly in their preparation meetings for the
convention held on July 27 of this year.  "It would be unnatural to
invite persons who have no confidence in the Convention to attend
it.  If the armed terrorists are truly serious of attending the
National Convention they ought to abandon the line of armed
struggle.  They will have to return to the legal fold after
abandoning armed struggle.  After their return to the legal fold,
they, like other members of the public will be able to attend the
National Convention by obtaining suitable number of delegates.  It
is quite clear that the armed terrorists in the jungle today have
no other way to attend the National Convention except the one I
have just explained." (Maj-Gen Myo Nyunt, Chairman of the Steering
     The purpose of the National Convention is to draw together
ideas for a new constitution for the country.   Following this
convention, the elected members of the parliament (those not in
prison or in exile) will write the constitution which must then be
accepted by Slorc and finally passed by a national referendum. 
Since September 1988, the country has been without a constitution,
ruled only by military decree.  "The State Law and Order
Restoration Council (Tatmadaw or military) is not an organization
that observes any constitution;  it is an organization that is
governing the nation by Martial Law.  It is common knowledge that
the State Law and Order Restoration Council is governing the nation
as a military government and that it is a government that has been
accepted as such by the United Nations and the respective nations
of the world." (The State Law and Order Restoration Council
Declaration No 1/90, July 27, 1990)
     Following the 1988 uprising and the September military coup
which followed, the political struggle in the urban centers became
closely and actively linked to the armed struggle along the
borders.  This not only strengthened the struggle and brought it
into the international spot light, but it also brought many
thousands of urban people into a working relationship with the
ethnic minority armed groups who had been carrying out their 
struggle in isolation for more than 40 years.  The National
Convention is an attempt by Slorc to once again separate these two
aspects of the struggle.  This could come about in the following
     1)  The national convention will first of all focus
international attention away from the borders and back into the
urban centers and the political struggle taking place in the
convention.  Slorc will have more freedom then to carry out
military campaigns along the border with less international
     2)  Secondly, the holding of a National Convention and the
drawing up of a constitution will result in a new election.  A
civilian government will probably be elected, but one which the
Slorc can hold control over.  The political tensions in the urban
areas will relax and Slorc will be able to concentrate more of its
military forces in the border area. 
     3)  Slorc will probably at this time offer amnesty to all
those who fled to the border since 1988.  Sick with malaria, and
tired of the long struggle, some of these people may return to the
"fold", thus further separating the urban political struggle from
the border armed struggle.
     4)  Slorc will then tell the world that, since there is now a
civilian government and democratic reforms are coming about, the
ethnic forces along the border have no reason to continue their
struggle.  The border struggle will be further isolated.
     5)  An elected "civilian" government will also lead to more
international recognition for Burma as many countries are more
interested in the act of an election than in the actual existence
of human rights and democratic principles.  Western countries tend
to relate more easily to urban political struggles, and an
election, even one organized by a dictator, will probably get more
attention than an on-going rural struggle for land and cultural
     6)  Slorc will continue its program to eliminate the ethnic
minority groups.  There is little chance that they (Slorc) will
agree to any political negotiations with them.  "Since the State
Law and Order Restoration Council is not a political government, it
has no reason at all to negotiate by political means with any armed
insurgent organization."  (Slorc Declaration No 1/90)  A civilian
government, under the thumb of the military, will have little
opportunity to change this policy.
     In conclusion, any constitution which grows out of this
convention will not guarantee democracy for the country or human
rights for the people.  This convention can never bring an end to
the civil war because it can not deal with the root causes of that
civil war in the absence of full participation of all opposition
groups.  And so the war will continue for the millions of ethnic
minority people who live outside the vision of the world's eye, and
who have already suffered for more than 40 years.
     Even though the Slorc strategy could temporarily pacify the
urban centers, the discontent with the military's heavy-handed
control over the people would continue, and would eventually erupt
into another bloody uprising.  This potential violence could be
avoided by making full use of the momentum which still exists now
to bring about the changes the Burmese people want.  Any solutions
which simply cover over the pain and anger the people feel will
eventually lead to more severe suffering.

A Strategy for 1993
Some Thoughts About Strategy
Without a clear and comprehensive strategy, based on strong and
logical analysis, a struggle for national liberation has a small
chance for success.  Such a strategy must be developed by those
struggling for national liberation themselves, based on their own
national history and experience.  The strategy must also control
what kinds of actions support groups carry out and the timing for
such actions.  The initiative must be with those struggling for
national liberation, and the support groups must have enough
respect for them to listen and take their cues from the struggle
itself.  Failure for such a strategy to be developed and followed
by all leads to confusion and lots of time and energy wasted on
actions which may be ineffective at best and counterproductive at
     The national liberation movement must work out a strategy
based on a clear understanding of the weaknesses and tactics of the
opposition, as well as on the strengths and potentials of the
struggle itself.  They may gain valuable information from the
experience and expertise of the support groups, but they must know
how to use that information effectively to develop a winning
strategy.  Their strategy must coordinate and organize the various
international support groups who can, by creative nonviolent
actions in their own countries, help open up space for effective
liberating actions.  The less effective these international support
groups struggle in their own countries, the more violent the
struggle will tend to become.  In one sense, the amount of violence
encountered in the struggle is directly related to the way the
support groups carry out (or fail to carry out) the blocking
     The struggle must be able to identify the weak points of the
opposition, know who provides assistance and defense for the
opposition, and organize the support groups to block at those
points so that forward progress can be made.
     In the case of Burma, the support to Slorc consists of ASEAN
(constructive engagement), China (weapons), international
investments, UN (UNDP programs, the UN seat etc), political and
military support, etc.  For the national liberation movement of
Burma to succeed, effective blocking actions must be taken by
international support groups against these Slorc defenses.  The
slower this kind of action is, the more violent and bloody the
struggle becomes.

What Needs to be Done?
     1.  The Need for a Comprehensive Strategy
     First of all, the national liberation movement must design a
comprehensive strategy which covers the border areas, the inside
underground and above ground opposition, as well as all
international support groups both government and non-government. 
This strategy must encompass all importantly significant areas such
as economic (economic sanctions, boycotts etc.) political (UN, NAM,
ASEAN etc), human rights (grassroots documentation, flow of
information, publications etc), cultural (protection of ethnic
cultures, languages, traditions etc), social (root causes of ethnic
conflicts which have lasted for more than 45 years, religious
differences, etc.), military, nonviolent, etc.  The strategy must
link all of these areas together and be designed in such a way that
they compliment each other rather than compete or come in conflict.

At the same time, the national liberation movement must set up a
list of priority actions and time frames.  For the strategy to be
successful, it must be built around the history, culture,
experience and world perspective of the people of Burma rather than
rely too much on international input.
     A successful strategy must provide all the various Burmese
groups a positive and effective role to play which would all help
focus attention and pressure on a common priority.  At the same
time it must focus and coordinate all international groups which
want to support the struggle in order to gain the most power from
this support.
     2.  UN Embargo
     The priority for 1993 must be to push for an arms embargo and
economic sanctions by the UN against Burma.  Slorc is trying to
focus attention on their National Convention and trying to isolate
the border opposition groups (cutting off all arms and supplies). 
If they accomplish this, they will more easily be able to crush the
ethnic minority forces along the border.  A UN arms embargo would
prevent them from doing this, and would put tremendous pressure on
them to negotiate with the opposition groups.   An arms embargo and
economic sanctions by the UN would also put pressure on Asean
nations to reassess their policies towards Burma.  For an arms
embargo to be achieved, campaigns must be launched around the world
to urge the UN Security Council to take action on Burma.  It is in
the Security Council that such decisions can be made.
     A strong precedent has already been set by a special UN
rapporteur, Professor Yozo Yokota of Japan, who visited Burma on
December 7 of this year.  His report strongly criticized the
Slorc's record on human rights, and indicated that he was not
allowed to freely meet the people he needed to meet, such as Aung
San Suu Kyi and other prominent political prisoners.  With this
kind of report coming from the UN itself, pressure on the UN to
take action against the military junta is more likely to bear
positive fruit.
     3.  Pressure on ASEAN and China
     The second priority is to increase pressure on Asean and China
to end their policies of "constructive engagement" with Slorc. 
More efforts must be made to build up local action groups within
the Asean countries to carry out this work.  Asean-based groups
should first concentrate on translating and sharing information
prepared by Burma opposition groups, and on organizing campaigns to
change national policies relating to Burma.  Dissemination of
information is of primary urgency.  People take action when they
become informed.  National campaigns on Burma can not be organized
if sufficient time and effort have not been put on raising public
awareness of the issues.  The lack of effective Asean-based
campaigns suggests a lack of public awareness.  By translating
information already being prepared by the Burma movement gives the
people of Burma a voice, and that is one of the most empowering and
democratizing contributions Asean groups can give the Burma
national liberation movement at this time.
     4.  Assistance in Documentation
     Opposition groups along the border have a difficult time
collecting relevant information on companies investing in Burma.
Support groups around the world need to help by identifying
companies from their countries investing in Burma (names of
companies investing in Burma can be found in Foreign Investments In
Burma produced by B.U.R.M.A., or in Burma Alert produced in Canada
by Harn Yawnghwe) and doing research on them.  This information is
very important for forming strategies to put economic pressure on
the Slorc.
     5)  Cautious International Involvement
     International support groups must be cautious not to involve
themselves in a way which will encourage the split between the
urban (political) struggle and the border armed struggle which the
Slorc is trying to initiate.  Despite the position many support
groups have against armed struggle, they should be careful not to
create an "either/or" atmosphere.  This will prolong the violence,
and perhaps even make it worse. 
     6)  Economic Needs of the Oppressed
     The world now seems left with only one economic system to work
with.  The "end" of socialism has limited us to capitalism or some
form there of.  New economic structures need to be developed to
give people more choice.
     There is a strong possibility that the poor and oppressed in
a society may have the wisdom needed to suggest some of these new
economic structures and forms.  We have to learn to trust the
oppressed and to listen to them.  Perhaps they can build something
better if given a chance, but we must give them the space and take
the risk of allowing them to do it.
     7)  Grassroots Documentation
     Effective human rights documentation and education can and
should be done by the grassroots.  Not only are they better aware
of the abuses being carried out against themselves, but when they
do their own documentation, they are also empowered which is an
extremely important step in the democratization process.
     Human rights knowledge and documentation tools should be given
to the oppressed in a simple way which they can understand and make
use of and which are based, not on theory, but on the actually
documentation experience within Burma.  This basically rules out
large, money-intensive training programs which are beyond the reach
of the oppressed and outside their world experience. 
     8)  A Comprehensive International Nonviolent Strategy
     A more comprehensive international strategy for nonviolent
struggle should be mapped out which does not emphasize the training
of the oppressed for nonviolent action, but rather challenges the
international community to give the proper kind of supportive
action which will help provide more working space for the
oppressed.  It should be recognized that the oppressed do not
naturally tend towards violence, but use it when they feel they
have no options left.  Effective supportive actions such as
economic sanctions, political campaigns, etc., can provide them
with more nonviolent action opportunities.  Furthermore, the more
the oppressed are trained in nonviolence, the more academic
nonviolence may become. The best nonviolent teacher is a good
     9)  Study of Economic Development Trends Regionally
     Regionally, a more serious study of economic development
trends should be made and action groups all over Asia encouraged to
take this issue more seriously.  Uncontrolled economic growth can
not happen without a large portion of the society suffering. 
Thailand is enjoying such economic growth at the moment at the
expense of Burma and its Indochina neighbors.  In this situation,
human rights can at most be discussed academically.
     10)  Action Needed Without Delay
     From actions carried out by the military junta as reflected
briefly in this report, the trends in Burma seem dangerously
similar to those of the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol
Pot.  The educated people are being dismissed from their positions
or forced to comply totally with Slorc demands,  Thousands are
leaving the country for reasons of safety or for the hope of a
better future.  Education institutions are now without sufficient
and well-trained teaching staff, so the quality of education is
rapidly declining even more, and the type of education offered is
that only acceptable by Slorc.
     People, especially the rural poor, are used by Slorc as slaves
to build roads, rail lines and other infrastructure.  This
infrastructure is designed to provide faster and more efficient
access by the Slorc military into ethnic areas where campaigns to
eliminate the ethnic minorities continue.
     Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled Burma to
seek safety in neighboring countries.  As the military attacks by
Slorc continue, the numbers are expected to increase, creating
tremendous suffering for these refugees, and heavy burdens for the
neighboring countries which must provide sanctuary as well as food,
clothing and medical help.
     The world waited too long to intervene on behalf of the people
of Cambodia.  Somalia also is a haunting example which can not be
taken away from the eyes of the international community.  The "wait
and see" attitude, and the policy of "constructive engagement"
provide no hope for the oppressed who are struggling for survival.
     Effective action at the level of the UN now might mean that
Burma does not have to sink as low as Cambodia and Somalia. 
Actions for positive solutions taken early can mean more hope for
success and less suffering.  
     The world must wake up now and seriously do something about
Burma before it becomes necessary for the UN to launch a massive
campaign to save lives which, simply stated, might come about too
     It is our hope that the information contained in this report,
and the suggestions for action made here will help lead to peace,
justice and full human rights for all the people of Burma.

Burma Issues
PO Box 1076, Silom Post Office
Bangkok 10504 Thailand

phone: 662 234 6674

Burma Issues (formerly Burma Rights Movement for Action,          
B.U.R.M.A.) is a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization that
monitors events in Burma with a focus on human rights, ethnic
minorities and the ongoing civil war.
Janis E. Nickel

     Women of Burma, like many women of minority groups, suffer a
double oppression - first from their position within their own
culture and then from an external, dominant group.  The traumas
which confront these women, not to mention the strength and courage
with which they face life under military rule, is often overlooked.
The power of women has traditionally existed in the home and family
where their contribution to society is usually undervalued.   Men
are socialized to wield their power in the larger sphere which
includes the 'world' of women.  Men fight their battles on
political or military grounds, presumably to preserve a people or
a national identity, and this may well serve some useful purpose -
but - in reality, it is the women who maintain the very fabric of
life.  As long as they continue to bear the children and to weave
the cloth in the patterns of the fore-mothers, a people and their
identity will not be lost.


       Burma is home to diverse ethnic groups who have historically
made various claims about their rights and territories. At the end
of WW II the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, headed by the
charismatic Aung San, led Burma to independence from Britain and
began the movement towards unity and democracy.  Aung San and many
of his cabinet were assassinated in 1947 before any plans could be
implemented.  The political unrest and insurgencies of the
following years seemed to justify the military's rise in power
under the leadership of Ne Win who, in 1962, staged a successful
coup and deposed Prime Minister U Nu. The hope of political
solutions to century-old ethnic problems were subverted or lost in
the strong arm tactics of the junta. Protests and demonstrations
were repeatedly put down.  The largest of these was in 1988. 
Bertil Lintner writes; "The unrest escalated into massive, anti-
government demonstrations which were launched simultaneously on 8
August in virtually every town and city across the country.  This
was met with unprecedented brutality: army units fired
indiscriminately into the crowd, killing thousands of peaceful
marchers, including children." (Far Eastern Economic Review 10/91)
The military, now under the name of State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC), has retained its hold on Burma in spite of the
1990 elections in which the National League for Democracy, under
Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392 out of 485 seats. Aung San Suu Kyi was
put under house arrest and other members of the elected body were
imprisoned, otherwise silenced, or have fled to the border areas. 
     Burma's armed conflict continues - the world's longest still-
running war.  While it is classified as low intensity conflict, it
has destroyed or disrupted the lives and livelihood of millions of
people; people who are economically and politically oppressed;
people who are forced to move from their homes; people who are
subjected to brutality and forced labor; people whose families have
disappeared or been killed.  More than half of these people are
females, females who are victimized and forced to suffer all the
tragedies of a war which is, for most, not of their own making.


      The oppression of women is not limited to any particular
social, economic, racial or political situation, although these
elements frequently embody or define the oppression.  Women of
Burma, from different ethnic groups, suffer varying forms and
degrees of cultural disadvantage, from subjugation by religious
traditions to customs like the restrictive leg and neck rings of
the Palaung. In order to bring about real and lasting change, the
oppressive ideologies and structures, which so often contain the
roots of the problems, must be challenged.  If the situation
involves violence or violation immediate action should be taken to
stop the abuse before deeper issues can be seriously addressed.  In
the case of severe domestic abuse, the abuser should be removed
from the home, although, all to often, it is the abused who flees. 
In the case of the abuse of power on a larger scale, as in Burma,
it is SLORC who should be removed from its position of power but
again it is the abused who must flee. While sexism and gender
discrimination play a powerful role in what is happening to the
women of Burma, and while these factors must be taken into serious
consideration in the rebuilding of a functioning society, the
immediate concerns of women are, directly or indirectly, caused by
the military regime. There is little hope in liberating women when
an entire people is enslaved, and until there is a significant
change in the governing body, women will continue to suffer
injustices, and to endure violence and violation.
     The UN report, which put Burma in the category of "Least
Developed Countries," says;  "Traditionally, women in Myanmar
[Burma] enjoy equal rights with men.  This traditional privilege
enables the women to participate equally in development of the
economy.  Employment opportunities for women are good, and 40 per
cent of the total labor force consists of women.  The principle of
equal pay has always been applicable to them."(1)  While  the
constitution of Burma does afford women equal rights in political,
economic and social affairs, it is a far cry from the reality of
the women in Burma. Traditionally, and in practice, women are
regarded as subordinate to men. While Buddhism, the major religion,
may not support male superiority in essence (although this too is
arguable) it does so in practice. It is a male dominated and
controlled institution which will feed, educate and ordain boys
while it discounts girls. Christian women do not fare significantly
better and Muslim women still live behind the veil.  Politically,
Burma's patriarchal military junta has yet to come to terms with
human rights and it's unlikely that women's rights are an issue.
     The Myanmar Council of Churches is one of the few remaining
organizations to provide general support for women. The only
voluntary women's agency sanctioned by the government is the
Maternal and Child Welfare Association which is headed by women
whose husbands have some position of importance (2a). The nature of
the agency is an indication of the role for which women are valued
and its leadership reveals that the political power women wield is
behind the scenes and is directly related to the status of a
husband or other male relative.  Jarlath Souza reports; "Bo-Kadaw,
the wives of army officers, are the most influential people in
society, and many Burmese people feel that even the Black Market is
controlled by the Bo-Kadaw."(3)  This secondary nature of women's
power is also apparent in the Karen women's organization which was
headed by the KNU general's wife and the duties listed included
organization, health, education, social welfare and preserving the
'traditional moral character' of Karen women(4).  Aung San Suu Kyi
derived her popularity from her late father and until recently "has
been dismissed as a freak accident.  Only after she won the Nobel
Peace Prize have Burmese men come to accept her unconditionally as
a national leader."(5)  She is, no doubt, aware of the fact that
her appeal to local and international sympathies  is a powerful
political tool.
     Women are encouraged to enter traditional fields like nursing
and restricted in areas like geology, forestry and engineering.
"...instead of wasting her energy in pursuit of higher education,
a woman's worth is to stay home to do domestic work"(6a). The new
'Open door economic policy' of SLORC may offer increased employment
opportunities for women, but these are in the areas of hotel,
restaurant and other tourist attractions where they become part of
the service and femininity is exploited in the commercialization of
their sex (6b).  Gender differentiating propaganda is prevalent(7). 
The "Pepsi Beauty Pageant" and other 'beauty events' are evidence
of increasing sexual exploitation as is prostitution, which,
although illegal, is seeing widespread growth in all sectors of
society (6b).  Women of Burma, since pre-colonial times, enjoyed a
greater degree of autonomy and freedom than did other Asian women
(8a,b).  With a strong base in social and economic power and a
movement towards political power it is all the more tragic to
subjugate these women whether it be through violence, coercion or
propaganda.  The voice of Burmese women is noticicably absent in
the rising global expression of female consciousness.

Violation and Violence

     The voice that one does hear is, all too often, a cry of pain
or anguish from the women of the persecuted groups. These women are
not fighting for 'women's rights' but for their lives and the lives
of their families.  SLORC's  policies, political tactics and direct
military offensives have disrupted countless lives and created
untold problems and hardships.  Among the dangers that threaten
them are compulsive relocations, forced labor, rape and/or other
violence, forced prostitution, hunger, homelessness and the death
of family members.
     Relocations:  Women are responsible for the home and the well-
being of the family. In this area women have authority and being
uprooted robs them of control over their lives, the power to make
decisions and the self reliance gained through skills and knowledge
which frequently loose their value in refugee camps or other
temporary settings. One woman expresses some of her frustrations,
"...being a refugee here is very hard.  It's a strange place for
us, and I don't know how to get vegetables here or anything."(9) 
Some of the relocations are from major cities to satellite towns
and are cited as part of an expansion plan to avoid overcrowding.
Some 500,000 urban dwellers were moved to remote areas.(10) "Level
1 & 2" developments, for government officials and employees, appear
to have reasonable living conditions.  The fact that relocation is
often not voluntary and the disruption to family and community life
is overshadowed by the situation of the "level 3" developments. 
These areas are for poor people, political dissidents and other
'undesirables' who are dumped on disused rice paddy land and forced
to build leaf houses or other temporary shelters and survive as
best they can(11d). There are an estimated half million displaced
people inside Burma where humanitarian agencies are denied access
and the condition of the lives of women can only be guessed at. 
Pimps and prostitutes are said to be a big problem. Many children
don't attend school and child labor and trafficking in children is
     Away from the larger cities, situations become more extreme. 
"Many women have been uprooted from their home communities by
Slorc's relocation campaigns and herded into concentration camps,
sometimes separated from their families, often deprived of adequate
food and clean water, frequently subjected to beatings, devastating
disease and repeated rape."(TN 24/07/93)  Entire villages are
forced to relocate, often in absurdly short periods of time.
"People were forced out of their villages in three days time. Men
were imprisoned and killed, women raped inside church buildings."
(11b)  An Oct. 1992 report tells of people from 56 villages in the
Shan State who were abused and forcibly relocated.  At bayonet
point they were forced to leave everything behind, including those
who could not travel, and were marched for five days with little
food and no shelter.  Many died.(13)  Mons report the gang rape of
women, the burning of three villages and the relocation of about
10,000 people by Slorc in March of 1993(14a).  In the border areas,
pretence of viable reasons for relocation dissolve in the violence
and violations of the military onslaught. The intent of the SLORC
increasingly appears to point towards ethnic genocide with an
escalating level of violence against women.
     Forced labor:  The Slorc is notorious for its use of forced
labor in construction projects like roads, dams, buildings, and to
serve as porters for the military. Initially it seemed that only
the men were used. This practice became so widespread and well
known that when the army was seen approaching, all the men fled
(15a-i). "Whenever the Slorc soldiers are coming all of the men in
the village run to the forest to hide so they won't be taken away." 
Women believed that they would not be taken and survivors testified
that they were only used when men were not available or were deemed
too risky. Their lower numbers among the laborers and porters bears
this out. "They only use women because the men all hide in the
forest to avoid being taken as porters, and because they don't
trust the men near the road."  While the use of women for porters
and other forced labor seems to go back to 1988, there are
countless reports of abuse and rape, some from the early 1970s
(16).  Any belief in the inherent respect of the military for women
is negated by their violation and rape of eleven year old children
or sixty year old women, and the use of females as porters is well
documented (17a-h).  Both women and men reported that the military
treats men worse than women. "Men know they'll be treated much
worse than the women so they don't go." It is not clear if rape and
other sexual abuses of women was not considered as 'worse' or if it
was just not discussed.  One man says that if Slorc can't get male
porters they take women and adds, "We hear rumors that the women
have been raped when they're taken as porters, but they never talk
about it."  What is 'worse' may be matter of perspective. Thea
Bock's report says, "More and more women are forced to do so [be
porters] and it's especially them who face all kinds of cruelties
 ..."(18); Jane E. Stevens writes, "Women undergo the worst
treatment.  They reported being raped by one or more soldiers
nearly every night, and still having to carry supplies or
ammunition every day.  Those who resisted were killed."(19)
     Rape (20 a-k):  Reports say that women are taken only if men
are not available but some add that women serve multiple purposes.
"Women are more versatile in their usefulness: forced labor to work
as porters; human shield for the fighting army; property that can
be redeemed for a good sum of money; and entertainment for soldiers
which ends in rape repeatedly." (6c) It is likely that women have,
in the past, simply not reported rape but the shock and surprise
many express suggests an escalation. "I can't believe it - even
though she has a husband and children, they still raped her.  She
was so upset that she tried to kill herself." (20d)  Pippa Curuen
writes that "these rape cases are too widespread to be simply
individual acts of violence and hatred."(21c) The former major,
Mary Ohn, said that Khin Nyunt gives orders to "do what you like -
you rape or take everything - do what you like,"(22) and while
orders of this nature do not likely originate with Khin Nyunt, it
further voices the belief that the rapes are condoned or
encouraged.  A military operation plan which was found on a dead
major strongly suggests a free hand in offensive tactics (23) and
a captured Slorc soldier is reported to have said, "We were free to
rape them [women porters] any time, and they were raped very
badly.(17h)  Mary Ohn adds that while this is meant to demoralize
the opposition it just makes them more willing to fight. One woman
was raped in front of her children and says she was afraid her
husband would be angry at her - he was not, but said; "I'm furious
at the army.  It makes me want to fight them." (20b)  An escalation
in violence towards women could also be more symptomatic than
systematic.  It is recognized my many feminists that rape and
others violations are often perpetrated by men who feel the need to
control others as they themselves are being controlled.  Women and
children, being at the bottom of the social structure, bear the
brunt of the authoritarian methods of the Slorc.  
     There is no evidence that raped women are rejected by husbands
or families but the fear exists and there is still a tremendous
stigma attached to being raped.  One woman says she was raped but
doesn't know about the other eight female porters because "...we're
all so ashamed to talk about it, in case the whole village might
find out."(17e)  Pippa Curuen says that long after Slorc is gone,
the shame and the trauma of these women remains.  In many cases all
run and hide from the Slorc soldiers but, all too often women still
seem to stay in the villages.  It is a mystery that long after the
news of the soldiers has reached the men and caused them to flee,
women still remain and are raped, taken as porters, or both.  Dr.
Cynthia suggests that women are still poorly informed and really do
not think they'll be taken.  Mary Ohn agrees but adds that women
are responsible for their families and often can not just pick up
and run the way the men can.  Perhaps the societal stigma and the
humiliation of sexual assault plays a large part in the silence and
continued unawareness of women.
     Another consequence of rape is unwanted pregnancy.  Several
accounts tell of women 'taking medicine' to get rid of the fetus. 
Dr. Cynthia says that what they actually do is abort by physical
methods, by themselves or with the help of other women.  These
methods are not always safe and she treats many cases of post
abortion trauma, infections and other problems.  Dr. Cynthia adds
that abortion is also used as a method of birth control as many
women are ignorant of alternatives.  The Women's Commission for
Refugee Women and Children reports; "The enormous rate of self-
induced abortions underscores the nation's unmet demand for birth
spacing."(2b)  They recommend a nationwide dissemination of birth
control devices as one of the priority items.  While birth control
is indeed important in giving women power over their own lives one
wonders if this is a priority item for the women of Burma at this
time.  Women who have fled from Burma tend to not be as interested
in birth control as in preserving the lives of the children they
already have. Chantel Mantha writes, "Improving the status of women
is the best way to control high birth rates without compromising
women's dignity.  Women and children access to health and education
has a direct impact on fertility rates.  The World Bank reports
that a reduction in the birth rate of a developing country is
invariably preceded by a notable decrease in infant mortality(24)."
She also cautions against development policies regarding population
control which are based on the elimination of poor people rather
than the elimination of poverty.  In Burma's case it is poverty,
violation and war which create the bulk of women's problems.  It
would appear that Slorc, and the warring dissidents, have a very
efficient method of population control.  They kill each other, and
until this stops any efforts at introducing sane methods of birth
control would seem rather futile.
    Post abortion and post-rape are not the only traumas women will
undoubtedly retain long after the physical wounds have healed (25
& 26). One women tells of being a porter and being kept awake by
the screams of other women. One was beaten and held in a pit for
four months.  One tells of the humiliation and not having "clothes
for changing and some women had menstruation." One was forced to go
on as soldiers tossed aside her 18 month old daughter who was never
found again.  There are women who were forced to bury dead soldiers
and porters; who watched while their villages and belongings were
burned; who saw their husbands and children beaten, mutilated and
killed.  The simple statements of the women underrates the reality
of the horrors. A mother of six describes seeing the body of her
husband. "His eyes had been gouged out and his body was cut in two
up the front." One woman tells of soldiers surrounding a hut -
"they didn't give them a chance to come out though - they just
started shooting.  I found my sisters body later.  She had been
shot from underneath through the bamboo floor and the bullet had
gone right through her chest.  Her body was slumped over a sack of
rice....My mother wasn't hurt; she was still cowering in the hut
when we found her."  The mother was not 'hurt' but can her wounds
be healed?
    When life itself is not under threat, the quality of life
certainly is.  Poverty is a serious problem for women inside Burma
as well as in the border areas.  The military government has turned
a potentially wealthy country into one of the world's poorest. 
Conditions inside Burma are continuing to drive people into the
hill countries and toward the borders.  There are an estimated 200-
500,000 internally displaced persons and refugees in camps in
Thailand have reached 71,000.(07/93) This number continues to
increase and does not include the 20,000 in India and China nor the
280,000 in Bangladesh.  Poverty often causes insurmountable
problems for families. One tragic consequence is the number of
young women and children who are either sold, tricked, or otherwise
seduced into prostitution. Of those who enter the trade
'voluntarily,' most cite the reason as being economic (27)
    Little information is available about prostitution inside Burma
but Thailand's 'contribution' is well documented (27,28,29). 
UNICEF estimated (03/92) that some 40,000 young women/children from
Burma had been sold into Thailand's sex industry; this appears to
be continuing unabated - if not escalating.  Young women are
promised legitimate jobs by 'friends' or agents only to find
themselves being sold to some brothel owner. "Often, the families
will receive an advance on the girl's salary and thus the girls
start work with a debt to pay off."(27h) The girls invariably get
very little, if any, of their earnings, making them financial, as
well as physical and psychological prisoners. Many testify to being
forced or terrorized into having sex with the clients, beatings,
confinement, and having to 'service' many men in one night.  More
rare are the reports of deaths, murders, drug use, pregnancies,
abortions and the selling of babies (28).  The number of Thai
police raids on brothels in the past few years, confirms the
seriousness of the situation (29).  "The brothels were surrounded
by barbed wire to prevent the girls escaping....At least 20 of the
girls were pregnant.  Some of them had been beaten to force them to
continue having sex with clients." (30c) 
     These women are exploited, not only by traffickers and brothel
owners, but also by a network of officials who are 'on the take.'
Col Bancha Jurujareet, head of the CSD Anti-Vice Center, said that
the flesh trade is overseen by gangsters with links in Thailand and
Burma and that immigration officers are involved or 'look the other
way.'(30b)  After being 'rescued' the girls are detained at police
or immigration stations and often suffer further abuse or are sent
back to Burma where their fate is unknown.  Much of the problem
lies in sexist attitudes which find expression in policies and
laws.  The Bangkok Post reports on the demand created by Burmese
fishermen; "Local traders, officials and brothel owners in Ranong
are apprehensive about such pressure [human rights/ sex trade] from
the outside world, saying the sex trade is part of a complex
structure and dismantling it would spell economic ruin for the
province."(30a)  Police Chief Inspector Sudjai said that it was
'normal' for there to be a prostitution problem in Ranong since it
is a special area where Burmese are allowed to work and added: "In
my opinion, it is disgraceful to let Burmese men frequent Thai
prostitutes.  Therefore I have been flexible in allowing Burmese
prostitutes to work here. Most of their clients are Burmese men."
(30c)  Aside from being a racist and sexist statement, this shows
that Burmese men in the border areas also exploit their own women.
     At a time when Japan is issuing public statements regarding
the WW 11 "comfort women," albeit to enhance its political future,
this situation is intolerable.  That a country as politically
closed as Burma is abusing its' women is deplorable.  That a
country, like Thailand, which is actively involved in ASEAN and the
international community, allows exploitation for the sake of
economics and allows its policing body to remain involved or look
the other way is simply unexceptable. The high number of child
prostitutes has encouraged the Thai government to propose new laws
in this area.  Informed NGO's fear that these laws would apply only
to Thai children and would allow for the prosecution of only Thai
dealers in the child-sex trade.  Even the limited mentality of
those who traffic in children would be able to see that this would
do nothing but increase the demand for Burmese children who could
simply be extradited back to their own country.  Burma's Slorc also
acknowledges the problem.  They have begun a "Domestic Science"
course in the border regions.  This is meant to "deter women going
to the other country to earn a living by selling their bodies;...to
check the spread of infectious disease, especially the AIDS,...to
revive traditional Myanmar culture."(7b) Unfortunately this course
teaches only needle-work and cooking which seems to be typical of
efforts to 'rehabilitate' prostitutes - potential or practicing. 
Thailand also has programs like this which teach girls trades
which, at best, offers them such a meager living that it makes
prostitution look like a better alternative.  The solution lies in
empowering women and giving them real economic choices.  Many
groups in Thailand are addressing the problem in various ways, but
real change takes much effort and the process is a slow one.
     An added problem of sexual exploitation and prostitution is
the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (31). AIDS is rapidly
spreading through both drug use and prostitution. Tarantola, An
AIDS specialist said that 300-400,000 people in Burma are already
infected with the HIV virus.  Most Burmese prostitutes have little
or no information about AIDS or its consequences. Recent studies
show that young women are at a particularly high risk.  AIDS is
currently of the great concern but other diseases also continue to
kill both men and women. "Project Care" writes:  "The country
suffers from large-scale enforced relocations by the military,
social decay as the regime undermines traditional religious
authority, and open warfare in which a 250,000 strong SLORC force,
supported by Chinese jet aircraft, stages scorched earth campaigns
in the forests of frontier tribal people.  These conditions are
conducive to the growth of public health crises of any kind:
cholera, plague, malaria, AIDS."(31a)  Malaria still remains the
biggest problem, particularly for women and children who are
frequently malnourished and unable to withstand the repeated
onslaughts of the disease.  Efforts are being made in the border
areas to test pregnant women for malaria and to provide additional

Uncommon Valor

     One could fill page after page with additional stories of
rape, torture and other atrocities perpetrated against women but
one must begin to question whether this indeed serves any useful
purpose beyond proving that these things are indeed occurring, and
that point has been made. Women, thus described, are seen as only
victims who evoke sympathy and who need someone to help them.  The
women of Burma are so much more than this.  They have participated
in the struggle against the repressive regime for a long time in
varied ways (32). The Kachin's Women"s Association has existed
since 1977 and works to free women from social and political
oppression as well as providing support for the KIA soldiers. 
Since 1985 women have participated in the New Mon State Party and
since 1988 they have volunteered in the Karen National Liberation
Army. In 1988 and 89 many women were arrested and imprisoned for
being part of the uprising and the student demonstrations(32 ). Mrs
Raza Linn, now in Bangladesh, leads the Democratic Front of Arakan.
The numbers serving directly in the military are low but they are
represented and some, like Mary Ohn, rise to the rank of Major. 
Most women participate in less dramatic ways.  There are accounts
of women waiting for the sound of guns to stop and then crossing
the river to cook for the soldiers.  One woman is head of her
village because the soldiers tie up and beat the headman "but not
usually if it is a woman." She confronts the soldiers on behalf of
the village.  This seems to be the same calculated risk that women
take when all the men flee the village.  Not all can be unaware
that the soldiers may well take them instead and yet they remain
with their homes, belongings and families.  A man reports on forced
labor and mine sweeps.  "We had to send 5 or 10 people at a time
for 5 day shifts...mostly women go because only they dare face the
soldiers."  Women escaping from forced labor walk for days through
jungles and over mountains, often with children, to find safety. 
Underneath the tragedies lies an undercurrent of strength and
courage which needs to be recognized, encouraged and allowed to
     While the junta maintains its stronghold on Burma it seems
rather futile to talk about the inherent power, strength and
courage of women since these also fall in the face of brute force,
but the Slorc will see defeat while the women will go on.  The
first recommendation would parallel that of many other groups which
seek to bring about real change in Burma.  It involves using the
political power at hand to apply pressure in order to stop all
sales of arms to Slorc; establish international trade and economic
sanctions - persuading Asean and private companies to cease
investments; boycott tourism to Burma; remove Slorc from Burma's UN
seat and encourage other organizations to deny Slorc's
participation; end all aid to Slorc-connected groups, working
instead with the provisional government; insist on the release of
Aung San Suu Kyi and the recognition of the elected government. It
is, however, naive to think that a change to democracy will bring
with it the equality of women. Those fighting for the rights of
women should emphasize changes which encourage the participation of
women at the foundational level of the future, democratic Burma. 
     The World Conference on Human Rights stated, "The human rights
of women and of the girl child are an inalienable, integral and
indivisible part of universal human rights.  The full and equal
participation of women in the political, civil, economic, social
and cultural life, at the national, regional and international
levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on
grounds of sex are priority and all forms of sexual harassment and
exploitation, including trafficking, are imcompatable with the
dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated."(33) 
The participation of women in decision-making at all levels is
crucial.  In areas like, the earlier mentioned, birth control, the
participation of women in government policy would allow them to
make their own decisions without outside intervention/ interference
which may not suit their societal needs or customs. Women's
advocacy groups should take advantage of Slorc's 'open door' policy
and establish contact and dialogue with women.  The Myanmar Council
of Churches or the Maternal and Child Welfare Association are
possible starting points.  UNICEF, UN Development Programme, World
Vision and Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland are also working inside
Burma and, while internal aid is not recommended, these may be
agencies through which contact can be made with women inside Burma
to share insight, ideas and tactics which have lead to empowerment
for other groups.  Why are women absent from the ranks of Burma's
decision and policy makers?  Are Burmese women aware of the
suffering of their sisters and could some of their influence be
directed at alleviating the situation?      
     Dialogue with women at the borders should be much easier since
the Karen, Kachin, Arakan and others have existing organizations. 
They are also in a good position to pursue political and economic
leadership, given their history and the preoccupation of men with
the ongoing civil war.  Encouraging women to form co-ops for
weaving and other handicrafts is good but it may serve them much
better in the long run to teach management, community organization,
economics and political policy.  Many of the women are already
aware of much of this but need to be recognized and encouraged. 
Other women may need to be asked to lay down the needle work and
study development or policy making.  Burma's ethnic groups will
play a vital part in the future of Burma and it is of utmost
importance that women be involved now before male power once again
becomes entrenched in the new regime.  This is not to negate
efforts like gardening, weaving or other projects which may
facilitate day to day survival but these also should be approached
in ways that emphasize development rather than sustenance.  
     Education in human rights should include specifics about the
rights of women and information about rape and sexual harassment. 
The stigma attached to rape must be removed if it is to be reported
and dealt with like other forms of violence.  Rape is not related
to the sexual act of love-making or eroticism.  It is a criminal
assault which emphasizes male control and punishment of women. 
While the rape of women during wars is not new it is nonetheless in
violation of every acceptable rule of conduct.  Not unrelated to
this is the sale of young girls and forced prostitution. Again it
is those most powerless who suffer the effects of the corruption of
those in positions of power and this is not limited to pimps,
brothel owners and assorted officials. There is a vast quantity of
information about the motivations, situations, ages, conditions,
etc. of the young women but who are the men who are creating the
demand for the exploitation of these children?  Why do men have sex
with girls who are being held against their will and forced to
'service' them?  This too, is rape - it is the premeditated
physical violation of someone who is denied the option of dissent
and in this area the Slorc can not be held responsible.  While it
is true that economic difficulties are a major reason that women
are seduced into the trade by various means, it is must also be
recognized that a large market for them already exists.  Those who
participate in the sexual exploitation of children and young girls
forced into prostitution and deem this to be part of male 'nature'
and deny any wrongdoing are in serious need of re-education or
confinement.  Sex with a child or anyone not willing to participate
must be recognized by all, regardless of borders, as an act of
violence with strict legal repercussions.  Foreigners caught in
such activities could immediately have their visa privileges
revoked, extradited and prosecuted by their own countries. 
Individual countries and international agencies must be pressured
into adjusting policies and laws.  Germany has made some headway by
making it a prosecutable offence to have sex with a child in any
country. Unfortunately it took the death of the child to provoke
the required outrage, and outrage is what is needed to provoke any
change in the system. As women we must stand together and voice our
    A much publicized but still vital area of protest is the
continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi who, in many ways,
symbolizes the oppression of women and others who are powerless in
Burma. She writes about the fears that grip her country: fear of
torture, death, poverty, isolation, etc.. "A most insidious form of
fear is that which masquarades as common sense or even wisdom,
condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small
daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's [woman's] self
respect and inherent human dignity."(34)  The daily acts of courage
are particularly applicable to Suu Kyi and other, less renown,
women.  Suu Kyi's continuing committment has been called "one of
the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent
decades." (Nobel Peace Prize Committee)  This must not go
unrecognized by others who are fighting for the rights of women. We
must continue to call for her unconditional release and for her
installation as the leader of the National League for Democracy,
Burma's elected governing body.


      I would like to acknowledge that I am a Westerner, a
Canadian, presently living in Bangkok.  I have not been to Burma
nor walked in the footsteps of Burmese women.  The information in
the above paper was derived from talking to people in Bangkok and
in the border areas as well as reading scores of papers and
documents.  The  observations and recommendations are tentative,
given that both have roots in a western, Christian society, and
should be read with this in mind.  My only connection to the women
of Burma is a deeply held conviction that the oppression of women
is global and that solidarity is a vital part of liberation.  
Sisterhood too, is global.
                                               Janis E. Nickel