Join Internationalism from Below and Haymarket Books for this discussion of the popular uprising in Myanmar today and why it matters globally. A panel of women will discuss three specific aspects of this momentous upheaval: labor struggles, the feminist dynamic, and the role of ethnic minorities.
Since February, an uprising has been in progress against a military coup in Myanmar. The military, which has been in power since 1948 when the country became independent from Britain, declared the coup to overturn the results of a legitimate election in which the National League for Democracy gained a majority of seats in the parliament. Over 1000 protesters have been killed, over 4000 arrested and 20 sentenced to death since the coup. The majority of the population have been denied any type of COVID care or vaccination. A general strike involving most sectors of the population has been ongoing. Women, who have been explicitly challenging misogyny and the second-class status of women in Burmese society, have come out in support of the uprising. Various oppressed national minority populations, including the Rohingya, have also joined the uprising. The opposition National Unity Government is now calling for a federalist alternative to the military-civilian government that ruled from 2015 on.
But the Myanmar uprising faces severe challenges. The military, known as Tatmadaw, is a cult-like institution with half a million troops. It trains soldiers from a young age to see anyone other than the Bamar ethnic majority as criminal and sub-human. The military is also a corporation controlling large investments in Burma and elsewhere. It has its own banks, schools, hospitals, and mobile network. This brutal military regime is supported by China, Russia and India, which have investments in Myanmar. These states sell arms to the government and see the continuation of military rule as necessary for their own immediate and strategic interests in the region. U.S. and French companies like Chevron and Total have helped the army through their investments in the oil and gas industry, even while the U.S. and various European states claim to oppose the coup.
The combined might of the capitalist state-army, which promotes ethno-religious chauvinism and misogyny, and the important strategic role which Myanmar plays for various global powers, makes its military government hugely powerful. Authoritarian powers around the world are also learning from the coup for their own fascistic purposes. The struggle in Myanmar and similar struggles around the world cannot move forward without global grassroots solidarity to oppose the military government and to give voice to Myanmar women, striking labor activists and ethnic minorities.
Debbie Stothard is an active promoter of human rights in Burma and the ASEAN region. During her 32-year career, she has worked as a journalist, community education consultant, governmental advisor, and trainer in Malaysia, Australia, and Thailand. In 1996, she founded the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma) and was elected Secretary-General of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in 2013. She developed the first women-specific human rights training program for Myanmar in 1997, an initiative which is ongoing, and has supported many local and national young women leaders in Myanmar.
Yasmin Ullah is an independent Rohingya social justice activist. She was born in the Northern Rakhine state of Myanmar. Her family fled to Thailand in 1995 when she was a child and she remained a stateless refugee until moving to Canada in 2011. Yasmin has served as the President of the Rohingya Human Rights Network, a non-profit group led by activists across Canada advocating and raising public awareness of the Rohingya genocide. She was a research coordinator for the Free Rohingya Coalition, and has worked on various projects such as the Time to Act: Rohingya Voices exhibition with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Genocide Learning Tool with the Montréal Holocaust Museum and the anthology I Am a Rohingya: Poetry from the Camps and Beyond, in which her own poetry appears.
Myra Dahgaypaw is the Managing Director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. She is a Karen human rights activist from Karen State, Eastern Burma. She was an internally displaced person and a refugee prior to resettling in the U.S. at age of 13. Myra has played a strong role in her community as an organizer and a human rights advocate. Previously, Myra worked as a human rights advocate at the United Nations with the Burma Fund United Nations Office. Myra hopes one day to see a unified country at peace once the crimes against humanity and unchecked impunity in Burma are put to an end.
Frieda Afary is an Iranian American librarian, translator, and activist. She produces the blog Iranian Progressives in Translation and writes about the Middle East and the politics of solidarity for a variety of publications, including New Politics magazine. Her essay “The Iranian Uprising of 2019-2020” appeared in the recent book A Region in Revolt: Mapping the Recent Uprisings in North Africa and West Asia, edited by Jade Saab and published by Daraja Press.