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Thursday, November 5, 2015
Women’s Rights Activists in Myanmar Receiving Death Threats From Extremist Buddhist Monks
If there’s one thing that can unite the religions of the world, it’s misogyny. It seems even Buddhist monks in Myanmar have gotten on the “send death threats to female activists” train; making life even harder for women’s rights activists there who have a hard enough time dealing with the fact that there’s not even a word for vagina in Burmese, let alone equality.
A group of female activists is attempting to educate women about sexual health, and that very simple act is turning them into enemies of the state. Buddhist monks who are members of the Ma Ba Tha organization, loosely translated into English as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, have been sending death threats to the activists in an attempt to silence them and preserve the taboo nature of female body parts and sexuality. The Guardian explains how deep the taboo nature of women’s bodies goes in Myanmar, particularly around the subject of menstrual blood:
Garments that have come into close contact with a woman’s lower half, such as the traditional htamein (a wraparound skirt worn by most women in Myanmar) or underpants, are considered unclean, even after they have been washed. They are also believed to have the ability to rob men of their hpoun – a concept that could roughly be translated as “masculine power”.
As such, it is taught that these items of clothing should never be hung in a place where men will have to walk under them. It is also unacceptable to wash men’s clothes in the same bowl or machine as women’s garments, for fear of contamination or loss of power.
One such women’s rights group, Akhaya Women, was founded by Daw Htar Htar, who talks about how important it is to teach women about their sexual selves:
The traditional view in Myanmar is that women’s genitals are dirty, which leads to degrading views about women in general. When society degrades women no one respects them. Sex education is important in teaching women to value themselves.
Lucy Stevens, a social researcher at Akhaya, explains:
For many women, this is the first time they have been able to talk about their bodies freely without fear of judgment. This experience helps women develop a positive relationship with their body, build self-confidence and recognise their right to exercise ownership over it, as well as freedom from discrimination in the home and in public.
In spite of much of Myanmar’s outdated, misogynistic attitudes toward women, women’s rights activists like those at Akhaya have been holding workshops devoted to women’s sexual health. Meanwhile the Ma Ba Tha are growing in political power, having recently supported getting laws passed that tell women whom they may or may not marry as well as other “race and religion” laws that technically apply to everyone, but disproportionately affect women, because of attitudes like the above.
If you’d like to show solidarity with the local work these women are doing,Akhaya’s website has contact information. Send them a note showing your support, or ask about other ways you can help! Because there won’t truly be gender equality until there’s gender equality everywhere.