“Young women are now leading the protests because we have a maternal nature and we can’t let the next generation be destroyed,” said Dr. Yin Yin Hnoung, a 28-year-old medical doctor who has dodged bullets in Mandalay. “We don’t care about our lives. We care about our future generations.”
While the military’s inhumanity extends to many of the country’s roughly 55 million people, women have the most to lose from the generals’ resumption of full authority, after five years of sharing power with a civilian government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The Tatmadaw, as the military is known, is deeply conservative, opining in official communications about the importance of modest dress for proper ladies.
There are no women in the Tatmadaw’s senior ranks, and its soldiers have systematically committed gang rape against women from ethnic minorities, according to investigations by the United Nations. In the generals’ worldview, women are often considered weak and impure. Traditional religious hierarchies in this predominantly Buddhist nation also place women at the feet of men.
The prejudices of the military and the monastery are not necessarily shared by Myanmar’s broader society. Women are educated and integral to the economy, particularly in business, manufacturing and the civil service. Increasingly, women have found their political voice. In elections last November, about 20 percent of candidates for the National League for Democracy, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, were women.
The party won in a landslide, trouncing the military-linked and far more male-dominated Union Solidarity and Development Party. The Tatmadaw has dismissed the results as fraudulent.
As the military began devolving some power over the past decade, Myanmar experienced one of the most profound and rapid societal changes in the world. A country that was once forcibly bunkered by the generals, who first seized power in a 1962 coup, went on Facebook and discovered memes, emojis and global conversations about gender politics.
“Even though these are dark days and my heart breaks with all these images of bloodshed, I’m more optimistic because I see women on the street,” said Dr. Miemie Winn Byrd, a Burmese-American who served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and is now a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. “In this contest, I will put money on the women. They are unarmed, but they are the true warriors.”