The Lady: Assessing Aung San Suu Kyi’s Commitment to Democracy in Burma

By Ariana Criste
Staff Writer

The National League for Democracy (NLD), a political party in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi, swept the polls in the mid-November elections–the first open election in Myanmar since the nineteen nineties. This election is a historical landmark for Myanmar, which was previously under the leadership of an authoritarian military junta. A momentous and long overdue victory, these elections mark the beginning of the transition away from the iron grip of the ousted military junta to the promising future of the NLD.

Aung San, Myanmar’s champion of democracy, spent fifteen years under house arrest and was only released five years ago. She is a Nobel Peace Laureate and has drawn praise domestically and internationally for her grace and poise during her fifteen years under house arrest, which she underwent for her involvement as a protest leader in protests against the military junta. As perhaps the most famed political prisoner in the world with a streak of defiance, many look to The Lady, as she is commonly referred to, in hopes that she will address and find solutions to the communal violence and ethnic tensions that Myanmar is facing right now.

Indeed, ethnic conflict within the country is at a critical point. The ethno-religious minority that is native to the Rakhine state of Myanmar, the Rohingyas, willingly face unsafe conditions to flee by boat for neighboring countries in hopes that they will be welcomed and gain some sort of recognition from these countries. Since 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have been killed in communal violence fueled by anti-Muslim sentiments and carried out by the majority group of Burmese Buddhists, including extremist Buddhist Nationalists in the country. Amnesty International has referred to the Rohingya people as “the most persecuted refugees in the world,” and they are a stateless people who are disenfranchised. As a result of this marginalization, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have decided to flee their home to seek better conditions elsewhere.

Aung San’s silence on the plight of the Rohingyas has drawn international criticism. In the past, The Lady has rejected the view that the crimes against the Rohingya constitute ethnic cleansing. She has also said to not “forget that violence has been committed by both sides,” and told international media to not “exaggerate” the situation. The only Rohingya-related issue that she has taken a stance upon is the two-child policy that some provinces in Myanmar implemented for Rohingyas that she believes are discriminatory.

The forecast for Rohingyas under the NLD does not seem optimistic. Aung San’s silence echoes the majority opinion that the Rohingya are Bengali immigrants or foreign aliens. Much of the base of support for the NLD comes from the Buddhist extremists that are carrying out the attacks against the Rohingya population.

For what are likely reasons of political expedience, it is unlikely that Aung San or the NLD will address the Rohingya issue. They are navigating a post-authoritarian political landscape where the military stills plays an active role in politics and will hold seats in the government even after the transition between parties occurs. If they showed active support for the Rohingyas or other Muslim ethnic minorities, it is likely that the loss of perceived political legitimacy would play into the interests of the military.

The NLD is walking a narrow line as it tries to move forward with the transition towards democratization in Myanmar. External forces are vying to hasten or slow this transition. Political actors, some domestic and some international, have varied expectations for the party. The NLD must balance outcries from NGOs about the Rohingya crisis, especially considering the media attention on the issue right now. They also have to deal with external imposition of ideals of democracy from the West and from investors in the state who may not have a complete idea of the situation domestically, and who have expressed discontent with the pace that Myanmar is democratizing at. They must maintain political legitimacy against a military regime that actively tries to detract from the legitimacy of their leadership. To do this requires the NLD to narrowly maintain viewpoints and policies that do not alienate their political base, much of which holds very anti-Muslim sentiments.

In this light it is unlikely that, under Aung San, the Rohingya peoples will see their cause furthered. While this provides hardly any consolation, it is also unlikely that violence from an institutionalized, state-led level will worsen. It is very probable that the state of Myanmar’s transition to democracy will be a positive force in the lives of the Rohingyas and other ethnic or religious minorities in the state. All of Myanmar will see tangible benefits from the transition to democracy from the previously brutal military government, and the NLD will likely lessen the active oppression on the populace that was experienced under the previous government. As state corruption and brutality decrease, the Rohingyas should experience marked improvement in their situation. This prediction must be taken with a degree of reservation, however, because it is unlikely that they will gain true state recognition and rights in the near future. This is not politically feasible in the current climate, which is why noted human rights champion Aung San and the NLD are avoiding the issue. It seems that, for this marginalized and persecuted group, the National League of Democracy under Aung San will not be a shining beacon of human rights advancement. Still, with Myanmar’s slow path of democratization, the Rohingyas can expect gradual increases in their rights and privileges and, hopefully, integration and acceptance into Burmese society.

Image by Rob Beschizza

 

THE CUTTING, THE VIRUS, THE FISTULA


Joyce Sunday
Staff Writer

I can never forget the girl, how the women held her down with the sharp blade ready to cut off her female genitalia, and her innocence. As the blade started coming towards her direction, she began to struggle, cry, and scream. All those tears fell on the deaf ears of the women strongly holding her down, spreading her legs wide open. I couldn’t watch, so I left the room, though her shouting pain echoed in the silence. After a few minutes, she was taken out of the room by her mother, her legs tied. She had been abused, but now was rewarded with gifts because the experience had made her a woman. This was the first time I ever experienced the female genital cutting, or rather what my society will call the “womanhood initiation ritual” of a five-year old Nigerian girl.

Female genital cutting is the “partial or complete removal of the clitoris”, or inflicting of other injuries to the female genitalia. Girls are often subjected to cutting before they reach the age of puberty, though cutting still may occur anytime between puberty and marriage as well. There are three major types of female circumcision: type I is the clitoridectomy, type II is the excision, and type III is the infibulation. The clitoridectomy involves either the partial or whole removal of the clitoris organ. The excision type is the partial or whole removal the clitoris organ, as well as the inner labia, which may be accomplished with or without removing the labia majora. The infibulation, which narrows the vaginal opening by creating a seal, is the most severe type of female circumcision and is performed by cutting and repositioning the labia. After this procedure the two sides of the vulva are stitched together to cover the urethra and prevent continuous bleeding.

In most countries circumcision practices are performed by untrained operators who have limited understanding of the female anatomy, and also often lack surgical skills. The clitoris has about eight thousand sensory nerve endings, and it is located at a very sensitive neurovascular area of the female genitalia. Any attempt to remove or alter a tiny amount of tissue can cause serious medical and physical problems. Certain medical complications like severe pain, prolonged bleeding, and hemorrhage can cause death or immense shock for the victims of female circumcision. In some cases, while the victims are still alive, prolonged bleeding can cause severe anemia which can affect the development of the girls. Some infections such as tetanus, ulcers, septicemia and gangrene have been encountered after the circumcision procedures as well. In third world countries especially, unexperienced operators perform surgery with unsterilized instruments, leading to the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus, Hepatitis B and other blood transmitted infections. The infibulation is the most severe type of circumcision, and can cause long-term health complications because it affects urine drainage, as well the flow of the menstrual blood through the vagina. Pelvic inflammatory diseases that arise from infibulation can lead to infertility, pelvic pain and painful periods (dysmenorrhea). Yet another medical condition that can arise from circumcision is keloid formation, which may cause pain, itching and disfigurement of the female genitalia.

Intercourse, pregnancy, and childbirth can be more difficult for circumcised women. Female genital cutting reduces the size of the vagina, making it difficult for its victims to have sex, or give birth, without being in pain or having their genitalia skin ripped apart. During birth, the head of the fetus may be impeded by the stitched up area of the genitalia, resulting in intense contractions that can cause perineal tears. When the woman has a weak contraction and the delivery of the baby’s head is detained, the fetus may die. This may additionally result in necrosis of the genital septum, which is the separating of the bladder and the vagina, ultimately leading to vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). Vesicovaginal fistula, also known as a type of female urogenital fistula (UGF), is a condition which allows the continuous discharge of urine without any control.

Female genital mutilation affects millions of women worldwide, and thankfully, a known reversible surgery exits. One by one, female genital circumcision survivors are being cut for a second time, but now to reclaim what they lost. The “defibulation” procedure, also known as female circumcision reversal operation, is not performed by many surgeons. Luckily, a select few doctors, such as Dr. Marci Lee Bowers of the San Mateo Surgery Center in California, is an American gynecologic surgeon that has performed this rare surgery on over one hundred patients. Most of her patients are women born in Africa, but now living in the United States. She was the first surgeon in the United States to ever carry out this reverse surgery. According to Dr. Bowers, after the reverse surgery, the clitoris is still found even in the worst cases of female circumcision. When the scar tissue is opened and the mutilation is reversed, the female genitalia can be restored, which will bring back the sensuality of the clitoris. Despite these efforts, there is still a need for more research and investment to provide additional surgical techniques that would be accessible to the victims of female genital mutilation.

Image by Jackson

HILLARY’S 2016 CANDIDACY: A LONG AWAITED ADDITION IN THE INTERNATIONAL LINE OF FEMALE LEADERS?

HILLARY'S 2016 CANDIDACY: A LONG AWAITED ADDITION IN THE INTERNATIONAL LINE OF FEMALE LEADERS?

By Rebecca Benest
Staff Writer

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially announced her candidacy for president in the 2016 election. While many of her supporters were first alerted over email, she quickly released a YouTube video featuring many American families in all their diversity, culminating in her announcement. “I’m hitting the road to earn your vote because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.” Clinton’s support among the democratic populace is also widespread and strong. A Real Clear Politics poll taken in April reported she held a 50-point lead over Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden, her closest competitors, and according to Sean Spicer of the Republican National Committee, her chances of losing the nomination are as high as his of “getting struck by lighting riding a unicorn”. Hillary’s campaign means we are seriously looking at placing a woman at the head of our nation; electing a woman to that decision-making position signifies a more widespread agreement that gender cannot and should not diminish one’s capabilities. While ultimately it should be the politics of the nation’s ruler that matter above all other factors, a female president in the United States is a big step, and is long overdue.

Her campaign marketing, at least so far, is not particularly aimed at her pull as a female leader, and she seems dedicated to working as hard as necessary toward her goal. In a memo to her campaign, she wrote, “we are humble, we take nothing for granted, we are never afraid to lose, we always outcompete and fight for every vote we can win.” Nevertheless, in a world where women are increasingly crucial to international and domestic politics and peace building, the United States is ranked 79th in terms of women’s political participation. This puts us far behind many countries that we designate as “third world.” In this sense, Hillary Clinton’s election could mean a step forward, adding to a line of women internationally who have made that same step.

Hillary’s election could also mean her addition to the Council of Women World Leaders, an organization of current and former female presidents and prime ministers. Also in that network are several women who have made huge steps in the fight for gender equality. Corazon Aquino, the first female president of the Philippines and in Asia, established a new constitution and congress, broke up national economic monopolies, and was named TIME Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1986. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, fought to change Ireland’s immigration policy and was active in international human rights as the first head of state to visit Somalia after the civil war in 1992 and Rwanda after the genocide in 1994. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president in Liberia and in Africa, brought up the Liberian GDP from $604 million in 2006 to $1.7 billion in 2012; she also received, along with two others, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work toward gender equality. The newest addition to the Council is Atifete Jahjaga, the first female president of Kosovo and the nation’s youngest president. Since her election in 2011, she established the National Anti-Corruption Council, which is dedicated to female and minority equality. Whether or not their platforms rest on gender equality, their presence and capability in those leadership positions works to expand horizons and opportunities internationally.

It is by no means necessary, however, to run a country in order to make a difference. There are myriad examples of women changing their environments locally. Marisa Ugarte epitomizes this: After experiencing human trafficking in Tijuana, Mexico, working with runaway teens, she founded the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition in 1997. The organization works with agencies on both sides of the US-Mexico border to combat commercial and sexual exploitation of all persons. Working with one person at a time, Ugarte and her organization will make a difference in those lives. She has been recognized for her accomplishments by the International Foundation of Human Rights and former President Bill Clinton, and will be speaking about human trafficking at an event hosted by San Diego’s Ambassadorial Roundtable on May 7th. Ugarte is just one of so many others working to improve conditions in the world around her, and over time it is becoming increasingly possible for other women to do the same. In this sense, support for Hillary Clinton and Marisa Ugarte, both hardworking, intelligent, and capable of shifting their environment, lead to a similar conclusion. Women and men, more and more, are lending their support toward putting more qualified and hardworking women in positions of decision-making power.

Image by Mike Mozart