Celebrating 20 years of feminist activism in Myanmar

April 26, 2019

This year marks the 20th anniversary of our partner Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN). SWAN is a network of Shan women actively working in Shan State, Kachin State and Sagaing Division in Myanmar, and Northern Thailand. Their mission is to work towards gender equality and justice for ethnic women amid the struggle for social and political change in Myanmar. To mark their network’s milestone, the women of SWAN wrote a message to supporters.

Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) 20th anniversary celebrations in Myanmar.
Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) 20th anniversary celebrations in Myanmar. Image: SWAN.

It has been twenty years since the day we, the Shan Women’s Action Network, set out to work for gender equality and justice for all in our homeland, alongside the movement for social and political change in the country.

Our sense of sisterhood, our organisational culture of collective leadership and decision-making, our belief in the values of non-discrimination and inclusion have been a source of energy and strength for us in overcoming the many challenges we have faced over the years.

As we move forward and continue to serve the people of our homeland, we confidently hold onto the source of our strength and unity that derives from a sense of sisterhood and team work. We remain committed to creating a space for women’s activism, and catalysing a movement for gender equality in and beyond our communities.

During our first decade, the people of our homeland faced multiple injustices – mass forced relocations by Burma’s military regime between 1996 and 1998 uprooted hundreds of thousands of villagers in central Shan State, forcing them to flee to Thailand; massacres and systematic rape was used to subjugate and terrorise our communities, and we witnessed the exploitation of Shan refugee labour in Thailand.

In the second decade, the situation remained grim for most of the people in our homeland. Our communities were divided by religious and identity fundamentalists, on top of more than 70 years of increased militarisation throughout the country. It is heart-breaking to witness the suffering of our communities continuing to flee their homes and becoming displaced because of escalating fighting among ethnic armed groups within Shan State.

We are convinced that this fighting is instigated by those who, having power and influence, do not want peace but control. These tactics follow a pattern, which is a signal for us to be more resilient and reinforce our resistance.

At the same time, we reaffirm our commitment to defend the human rights and justice of our women and community members. We will keep reminding ourselves and our networks and communities about those with visible and invisible power, and to identify and expose those who are discrediting those of us who are trying to build trust and alliances.

Despite the many challenges and turbulent times, the difference we have made in the lives of many has reinforced our belief in feminist principles, and our commitment to equality, human rights and social justice for all people living in our homeland.

We look forward to celebrating another decade of our work. We are immensely grateful to our supporters over the last twenty years who have continued to believe in the work we do and have stood in solidarity with us since we began our journey for peace and justice for all, especially through the most difficult times. Without you, our efforts could not have impacted the community we work for so effectively. We value your continued and collective advocacy and support, which reinforces our determination to challenge injustice and work for genuine political change and lasting peace in our homeland.

In Solidarity,
Sisters of the Shan Women’s Action Network

You can read more about SWAN’s work in their 20th Anniversary publication [pdf].

SWAN's 20th anniversary gathering included workshops, speeches and dances.
SWAN’s 20th anniversary gathering included workshops, speeches and dances. Image: SWAN.
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