A Young Burmese Woman’s Fiery Passion for Human Rights

Wendy Maw

The tide is turning in Burma. Recent months reveal noticeable shifts in the political landscape – political prisoners freed, activists removed from government blacklists, press restrictions eased, and some censorship lifted. Yet, human rights violations persist in the country, with women’s groups uniting to condemn sexual abuse in war-torn areas such as the Kachin State. Increasingly, women’s civil society organizations in and out of Burma are demanding to be included in all aspects of government peace processes; how else to ensure that women’s rights are on the agenda? And while women’s organizing in Thailand along the Burma border is relatively strong, reinforcing the women’s movement inside Burma is an extra challenge. That is why women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs) working inside Burma – such as Wendy Maw – are filling an urgent gap, especially with the huge potential of the emerging women’s movement in the country.

Wendy Maw is well aware that as a WHRD, she risks threats and intimidation, especially with the militarism in certain areas of Burma. But Burmese people, as she says, “really hunger for human rights education.” And this motivates her to continue, despite the danger.

Years of experience as an activist and trainer exposed Wendy Maw to social injustice, particularly concerning women, and shaped her conviction that women must organize themselves and fight for their human rights. For two years, she volunteered as a teacher of gender training at the Rattana Metta organization, before a period as a facilitator in Colourful Girls, an organization that teaches young girls in monasteries. Wendy Maw first became involved with JASS during her time at Equality Myanmar, part of the broad network of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB). A long-time JASS partner, HREIB facilitates a broad range of human rights training and advocacy programs for grassroots organizations and community leaders.

Wendy dreams of a society where Burmese women are empowered to initiate rights-based solutions to social problems. Apart from giving human rights trainings, she also facilitates processes to raise gender awareness.

Women in the cities do not experience as much violation and abuse based on gender. But domestic violence and gender-based discrimination still exist. Women carry the burden of rearing their children. They have to do all the household chores and they also have full-time jobs. They have to take care of their parents, husbands, and children. In the gender roles, they work twice as long.

“In the rural areas, women are so poor, and there is so much trafficking, rape and sexual abuse. Women in the Kachin state, living in the midst of the civil war, are raped by soldiers. In the rural areas, they are raped by their own families and by villagers. Many are victims of sex trafficking.

Wendy first engaged with JASS Southeast Asia (SEA) processes at the “Strengthening JASS SEA” workshop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in June 2012. The annual JASS SEA campaign – ‘One Day, One Voice’ – made a great impression on Wendy and she led ‘One Day, One Voice’ action in Mandalay at the end of 2012. Most recently, she participated in the January 2013 meeting in Bali of JASS SEA’s regional coordinating group. Wendy’s involvement is very timely as she shares the JASS vision. Like JASS, Wendy imagines a peaceful, democratic and just society. Like JASS, Wendy’s fiery passion for human rights is fanning the flames of the future, building a feminist movement in Burma.

“If I have the chance, I want JASS SEA to focus on a Burma campaign,” she says. “JASS SEA can help us a lot, especially on how to do campaigns systematically to mobilize and to organize women.”

With the activisim of young women like Wendy, with her intense passion for defending women’s human rights and for organizing women, Burmese women can hope for a bright future ahead.

Currently, Wendy Maw is a freelancer. Though no longer included in the HREIB formal structure, she is still an active human rights advocate and part of the HREIB network. She is also JASS SEA’s regional coordinating group (RCG) representative of Burma.