Organization: Burmese Women’s Union
Tin Tin Nyo grew up in an activist household; her parents were involved in the All Burma Student Democratic Front, a group that has been fighting for democracy and human rights in Burma since it was established in 1988. When Tin Tin became an adult, she joined the Burmese Women’s Union to advocate for women’s rights and leadership.
Women are not treated with equality in Burma. Instead, Tin Tin says women are expected to remain quiet and submissive and are not typically involved in politics. “People have been living with this patriarchal system for so long, even women themselves are used to it and accept it,” says Tin Tin. “You are made to think political work is men’s work.”
Tin Tin is fighting for government and military officials to do more to end sexual violence, which is alarmingly common in Burma during years of conflict. More than 600,000 people have been displaced as a result of conflict and violence, and many live in refugee camps where conditions are ripe for violence against women. During conflict years, soldiers used rape as a weapon of war. Those who survive sexual assault from soldiers often have no mechanism for justice, since police are hesitant to bring charges against military officials. In many cases, police require rape survivors to provide eyewitness evidence, which is often impossible.
Tin Tin and the Burmese Women’s Union also believe women’s voices must be included in political processes, including peace negotiations. “A peace agreement can be a grand contract that can actually enlighten women’s future. We want to break the stereotype that women cannot lead or be decision-makers. Women should be part of the decision-making body in every institution that is fighting for democratization and human rights,” says Tin Tin. In recent peace negotiations, women have been excluded entirely, or just one or two women have attended but have not been invited to speak. “Whenever there is a conflict, women are the ones who suffer the most, and when it comes to the solution, women are excluded. Women need to be involved in peace processes because otherwise their issues will not be discussed.”
Tin Tin and other women’s human rights defenders in Burma face an uphill battle in getting women’s voices heard. Government officials and other leaders aren’t interested in women’s issues, says Tin Tin, and don’t support women’s involvement in peace negotiations. When Tin Tin worked with the Women’s League of Burma, another women’s rights organization, they launched a major report on sexual violence in conflict; however, prior to the report going public, Tin Tin received calls from prominent government officials involved in the peace negotiations, pressuring her not to release the report. “We were told it would hinder the transition to democracy,” says Tin Tin. “But our intention was very clear—we want to stand for the women who are voiceless and who are being victimized, who are raped and killed.” Tin Tin and Women’s League of Burma released the report despite external pressure, making sure that women’s concerns around sexual violence were heard during peace talks.
As a women human rights defender, Tin Tin considers it her duty to continue speaking out, even as women are pressured to remain silent. “It is like a war that is extremely difficult to win,” she says. “We don’t have weapons; our strongest weapon is our voice. We have truth and sincerity. These are the weapons that we have to use for all the women that are voiceless and helpless.”
Still, Tin Tin’s activism is a part of who she is, and as she sees the next generation of women leaders in Burma rise up, she’s inspired to continue her work. “I never think about withdrawing from this movement. I can see the fruit of our work; I see that a million women are becoming strong and independent, and they themselves are starting to fight for their own freedom. I can see that our work has impact, and this impact continues to give me motivation.”