‘We are warriors’: Women be a part of struggle towards army in Myanmar

Before taking over arms towards the army authorities in July, Kabya May had by no means worn trousers.

Like many ladies in Myanmar, the 23-year-old trainer from Sagaing area was accustomed to sporting an ankle-length sarong referred to as a htamein. Now, she is a member of the Myaung Women Warriors, Myanmar’s first publicly introduced all-female fighter group.

“I joined because I want to root out the dogs,” mentioned Kabya May, utilizing what has grow to be a derogatory time period for Myanmar safety forces. “The reason I joined a women’s only resistance group is to show that women can do what men are doing.”

Kabya May is one among an growing variety of ladies who’ve joined the armed resistance to army rule for the reason that coup on February 1. Four feminine fighters advised Al Jazeera that together with destroying the army dictatorship, they wish to overturn conventional gender norms and guarantee ladies play an equal position in constructing a brand new nation.

Al Jazeera is utilizing pseudonyms for Kabya May and the opposite ladies featured on this article as a result of danger of army reprisals.

Women have performed a distinguished position within the protest motion that emerged after military chief Min Aung Hlaing seized energy.

Garment manufacturing facility staff have been among the many first to take to the streets, and girls proceed to march on the entrance strains of pro-democracy demonstrations. They have additionally been distinguished in an ongoing Civil Disobedience Movement and in main requires ethnic minority rights.

Women have at occasions actively used their femininity as a instrument of resistance. Challenging a superstition that it’s emasculating for a person to go below, or come into contact with, a lady’s decrease clothes, ladies have waved flags fabricated from sarongs, affixed coup chief Min Aung Hlaing’s picture to sanitary pads, and strung sarongs, knickers and used sanitary pads throughout streets to mock and humiliate safety forces and cease them of their tracks.

Women haven’t been spared the army’s crackdown on dissent: the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) advised Al Jazeera that out of 1,260 folks killed by safety forces for the reason that coup, not less than 87 have been ladies, whereas greater than 1,300 of the 12,000 folks sentenced, jailed or charged have been feminine.

Women’s participation in armed resistance actions in Myanmar shouldn’t be new. Some of the nation’s largest ethnic armed organisations declare a whole lot of ladies of their ranks, and Naw Zipporah Sein, the previous vice-chairperson of the Karen National Union, served because the lead negotiator for ethnic armed organisations throughout 2015 peace talks that led to a landmark ceasefire settlement with the army.

The Myaung Women Warriors following the assault on the police station with a gaggle of People’s Defence Forces[Supplied]

But a research on ladies in ethnic armed organisations in Myanmar revealed in 2019 by the Peace Research Institute Oslo discovered that total, ladies have performed subordinate roles, that male leaders didn’t recognise ladies’s skills and ignored their concepts, and that ladies’s potential to contribute to peace in Myanmar was “greatly undervalued”.

Fight for equality

The coup has sparked a broad reevaluation of such entrenched views, and the protest motion – led primarily by younger folks – is demanding a sweeping overhaul not solely of a flawed political system, but additionally social inequities.

Amara, spokesperson for the Myaung Women Warriors, advised Al Jazeera that the group seeks to problem restrictive gender categorisations. “Society frames certain tasks for men and women,” she mentioned. “We march to break these stereotypes, and to show that the hands that swing the [baby] hammock can be part of the armed revolution too.”

Before the coup, Amara had by no means imagined she could be a revolutionary fighter. But witnessing the killings and violence round her compelled her to take what she noticed as a needed step.

“I took up arms only when I had no other choice,” she mentioned. “I have anxiety about what kind of danger will befall me … On the other hand, we are determined that we have to win this. We are preparing our mentality; we don’t feel normal, but we have to control our minds.”

The Myaung Women Warriors is one among a whole lot of armed resistance teams, identified generally as People’s Defence Forces (PDFs), which have emerged throughout the nation since about April.

“As the whole country is in the revolution, we are playing our role, and also promoting women’s role,” mentioned Amara.

On October 29, they have been a part of a coalition of individuals’s defence forces that burned down a police station. Amara mentioned the act was meant to discourage troopers and police from utilizing the station as a base from which to assault native villages.

Women attend a PDF coaching session. Those Al Jazeera spoke to mentioned they’d grow to be more durable because of the coaching and have been decided to point out they have been as robust as the lads [Supplied]

Photos of the operation have gained broad traction on social media.

Amara says that seeing the general public’s help has given the ladies energy to proceed, however that they continue to be centered on their mission.

“We are women warriors, which means we are ready to fight anytime and anywhere. Warriors are brave, decisive, and loyal … We are ready to fight for the people.”

Kabya May, the previous trainer, joined the armed resistance two months earlier than the Myaung Women Warriors group was established. Like many younger folks throughout Myanmar, she determined to take up arms after dealing with mounting hardships, bodily insecurity and an more and more bleak future.

“Since the coup, nothing has gone well,” she mentioned. “Young people feel we are wasting our time. We cannot travel freely. When the [military] dogs come, people are afraid. I don’t want to see those things anymore.”

The oldest of 5 youngsters, she had graduated from teacher-training faculty in early 2020, contemporary with hope that her month-to-month wage might allow her father to retire from spraying pesticides on native farms for day by day wages.

But months later, faculties closed throughout the nation due to the pandemic, and he or she started working at a barbecue store as an alternative.

The coup prompted mass trainer strikes towards working below a military-run administration, and Kabya May signed on. When the barbecue store the place she was working shut down, she joined her father spraying pesticides and taking different labour jobs she might discover. “My family is big and we depend on daily wages,” she mentioned. “If we don’t work for a day, we have nothing to eat.”

When she heard that individuals from her township have been forming an armed resistance group, she requested whether or not ladies might be a part of too. In July, she started coaching.

It was not solely her first time sporting trousers, but additionally the primary time she had stayed in shut quarters with males from exterior her household.

“When I first joined, I felt shy, but later on, I felt comfortable and we became comrades,” she mentioned. “When I trained with [men], like push-ups, I tried to keep up … I faced muscle and back pain, but I endured it.”

Revolutionary life

In Kayah State and neighbouring townships in Shan State near Myanmar’s southeastern border with Thailand, two younger ladies advised Al Jazeera that they joined native armed resistance teams after the pandemic and coup destroyed their instructional plans, they usually have been compelled from their houses by escalating battle.

Since May, PDFs in these areas have joined present ethnic armed organisations to wage a formidable entrance towards the army, which has responded with ways together with air assaults, arson and indiscriminate shelling. Some 165,000 folks have been displaced throughout Myanmar’s southeast, out of 223,000 newly displaced throughout the nation since February, in line with the United Nations.

When clashes unfold throughout Kayah State in May, Pale fled her village in Demoso township, operating to the mountains together with her household and others from her village.

“The weather was cold and water scarce. We didn’t bring sweaters or coats and we brought food for only one to two days,” mentioned the 21-year-old, who had been attending college till the pandemic. “We had to come back under bullets and combat to collect necessities.”

As days turned to months, Pale’s hopes of a immediate return pale, and he or she started interested by methods to help the resistance motion. In July, when a pal invited her to hitch the native folks’s defence drive, she agreed.

Assigned to be a medic, she is treating sufferers together with these injured by the battle. She additionally participates in bodily conditioning and coaching, takes turns within the kitchen, and tends to farms deserted by displaced villagers, giving them among the crops within the camps the place they’re now living.

While some folks can not deal with the rigorous calls for or following orders, Pale says it has toughened her up. She has additionally grow to be accustomed to the sounds of warfare.

“The first time I heard gunfire, I was so scared,” she mentioned. “We have become used to it now because we hear it all the time. We believe that our lives are in God’s hands, and when our time comes, we will die … This is how we motivate each other to continue.”

Even although men and women at occasions tackle totally different roles, Pale says that the expertise of the hardships of revolutionary life collectively has fostered a way of camaraderie and fairness. “There are many roles women can play. Some women want to join, but their parents do not allow them because people see us women as soft and weak,” she mentioned. “We need to show that we are able. We can do it.”

Weapons coaching for girls at a coaching camp of the Demoso People’s Defence Force [Supplied]

The expertise of displacement additionally motivated Nway Oo Pan to hitch the native folks’s defence drive in her native Moebye township, Shan State.

“After the military’s inhumane treatment toward people, I thought to myself, ‘Am I going to get treated badly just like that, living as a displaced person, or am I going to fight back?’” requested the 20-year-old, who earlier than the pandemic was additionally a college pupil.

Now, she is living and coaching alongside female and male recruits. “We face many challenges. I have never lived in the forest; I have spent my whole life studying. We have to climb up and down mountains and hills daily under the sun and rain. I have gained totally new experiences,” she mentioned.

“I don’t even notice my menstrual cramps anymore because I have to train and travel a lot in the forest. Before, whenever I had menstrual cramps, I always stayed in bed. Now, I am in the forest and I live with others. I cannot stay like that anymore.”

Nway Oo Pan selected to be a fight fighter, the place greater than fearing for her life, she worries that she can be a burden to different fighters if she can not sustain. But day-to-day, she is gaining confidence.

“My mindset has become strong that we can do what men do,” she mentioned. “I want to achieve gender equality through this revolution.”

This article was supported by a grant from ARTICLE 19 below Voices for Inclusion, a challenge funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.