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The Ongoing Tussle Between Democracy, Military And Citizens In Myanmar — A History

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Burma was separated from India in 1937.On January 4, 1948, Burma got independence from British domination.

After Independence

The economy was shattered due to war, towns and cities were devastated. They decided to attain peace by a policy of non-participation, but due to internal strife, it did not result in peace. Burma stopped accepting aid from the US and rejected all foreign aids because a general support was given to Taiwan by the United States. By 1958, Burma attained peace and there was an economic revival.

There were some quarrels in the ruling party (AFPFL) between Thakin Nu and his associates. Thakin Nu invited Ne Win (Army Chief of staff) and Aung Sons (second in-command) to accept dictatorship. Seeing the situation, Ne Win established security to stabilise the situation and re-elections took place in February 1960, in which Thakin Nu won with an absolute majority.

In March 1962, Ne Win led a military coup and arrested Thakin Nu and several Cabinet Ministers. Ne Win suspended the 1947 Constitution. He ruled the country with the Revolutionary Council, which consisted of senior military officers. He stated that his purpose was to make Burma an accurately socialist state. He took various steps and eventually implemented a type of command economy. But his steps did not improve the economy as there was low investment in agriculture and industry, and the military replaced civilians in crucial administration ranks. Then, he assured a new Constitution.

Thakin Nu

In September 1971, a meeting was held with various ethnic groups and other groups to draft a document. In December 1973, a referendum was conducted for the amendment of the new Constitution and it was approved. Elections were held and Ne Win was elected as President in 1974. After the following steps, Burma’s economy slowed down. Myanmar started receiving funding from Japan and Asian Development Bank.

Some of the economic reforms proposed in 1987-88 deregulated the socialist policies and encouraged foreign investments.

Although Ne Win retired as President and Chairman of the Council Of State in November 1981, he was still in power. There were some protests. Saw Maung took control of the government and he became the Chairman of SLORC as well as Prime Minister. In 1989, Burma was changed to Myanmar by SLORC.

Emergence Of The NLD (National League for Democracy)

The NLD was founded by Aung Shwe, Tin Oo,Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of Aung San). The League’s main aim was to bring democracy and get free from military dictatorship. The Opposition coalition (i.e. the NLD itself) won some four-fifths of the seats. NLD’s leader Tin Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi were arrested in July 1989 and weren’t released. Worldwide attention was given to Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 (she was under house arrest till 1995).

Saw Maung was reported to be in poor health with her role as the Prime Minister and Chairman of the SLORC by Gen. There was a social organisation (USDA) and by the 21st century, more than one-fifth of the country’s population belonged to this organisation. The SLORC initiated a lot of cease fires with ethnic groups and gave a greater control to the government.

The military doubled their troops’ strength between 1988 and 2000. In 1997, the military rebuilt itself and changed its name from SLORC to SPDC. The SPDC continued to harass the NLD. Then, the UN called on the economic sanctions against Myanmar in 1997.

Late in 2000, the SPDC initiated some secret talks with Aung San Suu Kyi when she was under house arrest and decided to negotiate with her by releasing 200 political prisoners. In 2003, Khin Nyunt was named the Prime Minister and he promised to conduct free elections and draft the Constitution, he had short-term rule and allegations of corruption.

In late 2004, Nyunt was placed under a house arrest and was replaced by Gen Soe Win. In 2003, the SPDC held back Aung San Suu Kyi. In September 2007, the monastic community presented a large-scale demonstration and called for democratic reforms; the military drew widespread international criticism.

In preparation for the parliamentary elections, a series of reforms were passed in March 2010. In 2008, a new Constitution was drafted and reserved 25% of the seats for the military. There were two laws specified that people married to foreign nationals or convicted of crimes were not eligible to participate in the elections. Aung San Suu Kyi was married to a British citizen. In 2010, elections were conducted and the USDP won it. Aung San Suu Kyi was released in 2010. In 2015, elections were conducted and the NLD won the elections.

San Suu Kyi was not permitted to become President, because constitutional provision banned candidates who had children of foreign nationalities. So, Htin Kyaw took up the post of President. The administration faced some challenges as the periodic riots against Rohingya Muslims had reawakened.

In 2017, Suu Kyi’s international image suffered after the Rohingya crisis. A genocide of the Rohingya Muslims was conducted. In early 2018, it was estimated that over 80,000 Rohingya fled the country since the first crackdown in 2016.

On March 21, 2018, Htin Kyaw resigned as President. In March 2020, the NLD introduced some amendments — they wanted to reduce the minimum number of legislature seats reserved for the military over a period of 15 years. However, these amendments were not passed because in 2008, the new Constitution that was written said that 25% of the seats will be reserved for military. In 2020, elections were conducted and the NLD won with a majority of seats. The USDP and the military rejected the results and alleged that this was fraud. The Election Commission rejected it and said there was no evidence of fraud.

On February 1, 2021, the Parliament was scheduled to meet for the first time after the elections, and the military did a coup and seized the power of the ruling party. They said that there was fraud in elections, that’s why they did a coup. But actually, there was no fraud in the election and it was done with proper procedure. Eventually, people got angry and came on the road for protests.

The military opened firing, which killed thousands of people. Some countries like the UK and USA have declared economic sanctions. Also, all the newspapers are shut down as newspapers became a medium to spread nationalism and provoke citizens to protests in the first place. Recently, there was news that more than 100 protesters have been killed in Myanmar. Violence continues on the streets and we are yet to see where this coup will take the future of the country and its people.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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