Translated by Nyein Nyein Pyae from the Burmese originally.
Edited for brevity and clarity by FORSEA.

These men present themselves as the ones who make ultimate sacrifices while exploiting their tangible and intangible power over their respective constituencies.

Her no-holds-barred reflection (originally published here in Burmese) exposes their male chauvinist, discriminatory tendencies towards women, also revolutionaries, expose their sexist view, that their woman comrades contribute less to the mission. Sacrifices which are made by men and women in the resistance organizations and broader movements exist in different forms and types. People’s participation in current resistance movement springs from a deeper sense of responsibility to dismantle Myanmar’s oppressive structures which invariably produce gender inequalities and injustices. While crying “system change” – as opposed to mere “regime change” in Naypyidaw, these men’s vision of a new society anchored in freedom, equality, and justice remains dubious, unrealized and unrealizable.

Moreover, it delves into how the limited (grudging?) acceptance of gender equality by Myanmar resistance organization’s patriarchal leadership perpetuates and normalizes exclusionary practices against women’s participation and political representation. Naw May Oo’s essay points out that a genuine commitment to democratic principles necessitates the inclusion of women, in various levels of revolutionary leadership, not simply as cooks and hospitality ushers in meetings and gathers, or “homemakers” and breeders of children. The resistance movements and their signature exclusion of women from policy and leadership positions undermine the very foundation of a just society.

How could Myanmar’s revolutionary movements claim to be fighting for equality, ethnic and political, while systemically exclude or relegate half their communities who are women and girls?

When the gap between the leadership’s words and deeds becomes too noticeably wide the talk of “equality” is nothing more than systemic hypocrisy.

A movement (or movements) fighting against the all-male tyrannical leadership, that is Myanmar’s universally despised military junta, lacks revolutionary credibility if it is not grounded in any higher principles – including gender equality. Swapping one set of exclusively male leadership (Myanmar generals) with another set of exclusively male leadership (Myanmar’s resistance leaders) isn’t exactly revolutionary. Not in the year 2024.

May Oo Mutraw advocates the embrace of “intersectionality” in the way resistance movements, particularly the current leaderships, conduct their business.

Systemic change is a worthy goal, to be sure. But individuals, especially male revolutionary leaders, need to self-reflect on how they themselves are perpetuating the old system of gender injustices, despite their rhetoric of “system change”.

The Achilles’ heel of the leadership of the Spring Revolution and its impact on women

By May Oo Mutraw

In this essay I offer my critical and close-up observations regarding the prevailing view within Myanmar’s resistance movements – that male revolutionaries make ultimate sacrifices.

Revolutionaries are, in fact, not solely motivated by sacrificing their life out of a singular ethnic or national allegiance. Nor do they join resistance exclusively for a nation or ethnic people which they immediately identify with. Rather, these revolutionaries are agents of radical change driven by a deep sense of responsibility, an informed consciousness, and an acute awareness of pervasive systemic injustices. These multiple factors – and the resultant ethos – translate into a commitment to dismantle systemic structures of injustices. Their commitment is, to put it another way, grounded in the understanding that human society founded upon principles of mutual respect and reciprocal recognition is not simply desirable but also a moral and strategic imperative.

Every individual is believed to be entitled to inalienable rights to exist and flourish. Every nation, culture, language, and literature is valued as an indispensable and distinctive component of humanity at large as a species. Oppression, in all its manifestations such as gender and class discrimination, exclusion, and acts of condescension and bully against women and various minorities, is shameful. It results in a deep stain on societal and communal fabric. For that reason, those of us who cry for radical change must champion equality for all, irrespective of superficial markers such as gender, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity and faith.

The notions, doctrines, structures, and leaderships that necessitate radical transformation

 Differences in principles and values

Organizations and those in leading positions who are currently spearheading the revolution in Myanmar must avoid replicating the very structure of oppression they seek to dismantle. The current struggle to dislodge the men in one military uniform in Nay Pyi Daw and take their seats alone will not do.

Beyond political and military struggles lies the necessity for a deeper revolution which requires the revolutionary leaderships – exclusively male at things stand – to self-consciously avoid reproducing same obsolete ideas and behaviors they vehemently oppose in one context (political dynamics among the Burmese military and revolutionary male leaders), but embody in another (for instance, gender relations).

All revolutionary leaders – and the rank-and-file members – must not succumb to the self-serving temptations to replicate and reproduce the gender discriminatory characteristics, attitudes, justifications and doctrines, as well as behaviors. Failures to radically transform these inherently discriminatory gender relations does undermine the legitimacy of the revolution at large. It exposes the revolutions and their leaders the valid accusations of hypocritical, which in turn risks degrading the revolution. Dismantling a vicious system and establishing a virtuous one requires not only strategic maneuvers and overtly political calculations, but also self-conscious adherence to a core set of principles and values including gender equality.

For such principles and values which guide the revolutionary leadership will necessarily shape the direction of a new, just and equitable society, the ultimate social goal of our overtly political revolution.

Myanmar underwent a dramatic shift since the 1962 military coup led by Ne Win. The military’s subsequent rule has been characterized by systemic attacks, employing various tactics, that disproportionately target non-Bamar ethnic groups and non-Buddhists for discrimination, exclusion and even wholesale destruction (in the case of Rohingya in Western Myanmar).

Local and international organizations have documented that the military’s systematic weaponization of sexual violence against specifically women and girls from diverse non-dominant ethnic communities. When the military leadership – needless to say, all male – use rape as a weapon of political and military subjugation – or civil war – against rebellious non-dominant ethnic groups, the military academies and officers’ training schools become incubators of state- or regime-sanctioned rapists in the front lines. While rape as a weapon of “counter-insurgency” operations against ethnic minorities, which took up arms to fight for political autonomy, may be the most obvious institutionalized crime, the lesser but pervasive type of discrimination against women, systemic suppression and violation of women’s civil rights, denial of women’s political representation, constitute other types of crimes against women.

Consequently, those revolutionary movements and their leaderships that seek to overthrow such a vile military institution, must cultivate characteristics, behaviors, and principles fundamentally better and different from those of the military and the system of oppression which the Burmese generals maintain and operate.

Likewise, a major obstacle to a successful revolution (and success of various resistance movements) is the prevailing discriminatory and exclusionary attitudes and practices which come to characterize Myanmar military. Among them are disregard for democratic principles and values. Sadly, our resistance leaders and their male followings embody the military’s standard behavior. The existence of such unprincipled behavior and thought pattern among resistance movements weakens the revolution as a whole. For it demoralizes a large number of female participants in these resistance movements. Moreover, this negative feature of the resistance movements extends beyond the immediate circles of revolutionaries. Its ramifications are felt within the broader communities of resistance – and the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-faith society at large.

Differences in quality of leadership

The civil war was born alongside the country’s independence and stemmed from a confluence of factors including the central government’s failure to put into practice the Union of Burma’s founding principle of ethnic group equality. Instead the post-independence leadership of Prime Minister U Nu proceeded to build a unitary state, while paying lip service to a federalist parliamentary democracy in the formative decade of 1950’s. Once ousted in the decisive military coup in March 1962, the ex-PM finally admitted that he was never really for genuinely federalist union where the constitutionally right of secession by the non-Burmese.

Inevitably, those who were wronged and subjected to injustice sought to rectify this self-destructive unitary state building by waging armed resistance movements. Their pursuit of group equality stems from a fundamental aversion to the inherent injustice and societal dysfunction embedded within this unequal system of power sharing. Their political aspirations arose not just solely from ethnic affiliation but also from a fundamental human desire for freedom, equal treatment, and social liberation from discriminatory practices and oppression.

A genuine progressive revolutionary movement, by definition, embodies and seeks to realize these emancipatory values not merely in the overtly political arena but also in social relations inherent in politics.

Employing the very same unacceptable behaviors and reprehensible characteristics deemed antithetical to the ideal of self-respecting human individuals undermines and negates the resistance’s core values. Perpetuating the very injustices the revolution purportedly aims to dismantle severely damages its legitimacy. Discriminatory and exclusionary behavior against individuals, particularly on the basis of sex and gender, as well as ethnic and religious identities, within a revolutionary movement directly contradicts its core principles. It in fact exposes a fundamental failing of leadership of the poor leadership quality at best and the absence of progressive thoughts and practices at worst. In addition, these hypocritical deeds, veiled under various pretexts and justifications, indicate not only a profound lack of genuine political will among those who occupy the commanding heights of the revolutions, but also a clear sign of the absence of understanding of the contemporary political and ideological waves that have enveloped the world of the oppressed peoples and communities globally.

As we resist discrimination and oppressive rule, it is equally crucial to resist undemocratic acts that perpetuate these injustices, in particular, the discrimination and exclusion of women, which typically come with different excuses. In fact, those men who lead the revolution ostensibly for “system change” – the buzz words of Myanmar’s resistance movements – bear an inherent responsibility to avoid becoming discriminators, exclusionists and oppressors themselves, within their respective resistance organizations. They must lead by example. They must walk their talk.

Myanmar’s ongoing struggles against systemic racism, ethnic discrimination, and gender-based exclusion, the hallmarks of the Burmese military’s regime that has plagued Myanmar for over seven decades since its independence in 1948, must be seen through the lens of intersectionality. That is to say, the confluence of Myanmar’s struggles from the country’s variously oppressed ethnic, religious and woman communities underscores how the multi-layered oppression and various types of discrimination, exclusion and destruction (in the case of the Rohingya) interface.

Current problems and challenges

Discrimination against women by the National Unity Government (NUG)

In Myanmar, where women comprise over half the population, the utter lack of understanding and appreciation of the essentialness of women’s political representation is a major leadership failure. Consequently, not appreciating and trivializing women’s role holds the revolution at large back. For the male-dominated leadership leads to sidelining and silencing the voices of half the country’s population. Such leadership hinders the movement’s potentials, turns the moral and strategic imperative of inclusion and hurts the revolution’s sustainability. A successful, if long revolution requires the full participation and empowerment of all societal segments, above all women.

In this specific respect, the National Unity Government (NUG) which purports to speak for the current Nway Oo or Spring Revolution needs to be held to to account for its leadership failure to promote women’s political representation and inclusion in policy and decision-making positions. In the last 3 years since it was birthed by the organic revolt against the coup of 2021, the NUG is found to exclude – not include – women in important discussions, meetings, and decision-making circles. This underrepresentation, despite Myanmar woman activists clamoring for equal voice contradicts the principles of an envisaged democratic society. This largely male leadership failure raises serious doubts as to the NUG’s commitment to gender equality. Then there is another issue of ethnic group representation. Furthermore, the NUG’s outright opposition to increased inclusion of women and their political representation in a series of recent political negotiations and policy discussions renders hollow its claims of working towards a federalist democracy.

It is utterly unacceptable that this revolutionary entity staunchly resist women’s inclusion and political representation from organizations such as the Women’s League of Burma. The NUG’s opposition to gender equality contravenes international law and human rights standards. Besides, the NUG’s resistance against the push for inclusion of women in leadership in and of itself threatens any future prospect and viability of building Myanmar as a functioning federal democracy, which is to be anchored in the principles of gender and ethnic group equality.

Women’s inclusion and participation in politics throughout different stages of conflict resolution, political negotiations and peace-building processes, is enshrined in international law. According to numerous research findings about inclusion, gender equality in policy and political decision-making is essential for a functioning democracy. Realizing meaningful change and ensuring equality for every citizen should be paramount considerations for those in leadership.

Regrettably, in Myanmar’s prevailing revolutionary conditions, the NUG – both organizationally and individually – are guilty of discriminatory, oppressive, exclusionary, and disrespectful practices that are manifestly against gender equality. From the highest-level leaders of the current National Unity Government to their technical support team, the NUG have sidelined or deemed unimportant as women’s inclusion and political representation. There have been consistent push backs by NUG against any real discussion of lack of gender equality. Some even blatantly claim that women are not crucial stakeholders in revolutionary politics.

These sexist and exclusionary narratives are unacceptable and unhelpful in building and expanding the foundation of a potentially successful revolution. And yet many leaders and influential figures within NUG and its support bases, continue to peddle these exclusionary narratives which categorically discriminate against women. They undermine trust in the revolutionary movement at large.

The Thaungyin River (a tributary of the Salween River) which forms part of the border between Thailand and Myanmar. The river is the scene of clashes between the Tatmadaw and Karen militias. Often Karen people cross the river either in order to enter Thailand as refugees or to go back to Burma. Wikipedia Commons

Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs) and Respect for Gender Equality

Ethnic revolutionary organizations and many of their leaders are not unfamiliar with democratic principles and values. Given their enduring struggle for liberation from systemic oppression, discrimination, and violence, they are typically assumed to understand, appreciate and accept these principles and norms of gender equality. Furthermore, the role of women within these organizations has undergone varying degrees of change, particularly as the women’s movements gained momentum over the past two decades of the revolutionary period. This period witnessed a notable shift towards increased recognition of the imperative of gender equality. This progress coincides with the emergence of feminist movements within these respective societies of various ethnic communities throughout Myanmar.

In spite of this, it is disappointing to see that ethnic resistance organizations the fail to translate their exposure and understanding of the vital need for gender equality into practice. The recent events I have witnessed within the ethnic resistance organizations serve to illustrate my point – that actualization of gender equality remains inconsistant, un-even and low in priority.

The main points outlined in the joint position statement resulting from negotiations between the National Unity Government (NUG) and some key Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs) remain essentially identical to those previously agreed upon by the EROs amongst themselves within the ethnic revolution camp at large, as well as between EROs and other majoritarian Bamar- revolutionary groups. These same points and agreements are the same old political priorities, albeit in various forms, in the course of the country’s decades old political and military conflicts.

While the points and facts outlined in such statements may not be entirely new, there are also evolving concepts, emerging circumstances, and new realities within a more open society and global ideological currents. One crucial aspect of the changing contexts is women’s political inclusion and representation. The women’s movements have become stronger within ethnic revolutionary societies since the late 1990s. Therefore, the emerging norms of gender equality and inclusion have also reshaped the role of women within respective organizations.

Nevertheless, significant challenges remain even within these more ideologically progressive ethnic revolutionary organizations and communities. In some organizations, entrenched male-centric structures and patriarchy are still strong. Many male leaders of EROs still view and frame women’s political inclusion and equal representation as “Western ideas”, which the armed revolution (s) can ill-afford.

EROs’ stance on gender equality varies widely. The extent to which each ERO recognizes and implements gender equality depends on various factors, including ideological orientation, leadership dynamics, external pressure, geography, and engagement with civil society and international actors.

Generally, even these man-dominated EROs — despite themselves having endured oppression, exclusion, discrimination, and violent coercion, and despite claiming to fight for equality, justice, democracy, and human rights — often fail to acknowledge the injustices and inequality faced by others (women, Muslims, and Rohingya). There appears to be a lack of genuine reflection on the inherent injustice and inequality perpetuated within society. The absence of empathy for the oppressed others marks the leaderships of EROs.

The NUG and its allied EROs issued a “joint position statement by allied organizations engaged in revolutionary struggle towards annihilation of military dictatorship and establishment of a Federal Democratic Union” on 31 January 2024. In the process of doing so, they refused to accept women’s political representation and inclusion, citing that if they accommodated the demand for inclusion of women’s organizations, they would also have to allow other groups such as Protest Strike Committees. This sort of reactionary exclusion in the revolution constitutes a significant setback. This set back is the direct outcome of the leaderships’ decisions. Their anxieties regarding what they call “an influx of various groups” should not be the basis of their justification for excluding entire segments of society, particularly women.

The joint position statement, from its title to the points outlined, warrants further scrutiny and a deeper analysis. That analysis should address the absence of consistency between the words and the political will to translate the words into actual deeds. The clarity of the wording and meaning, possible deliberate distortions and selective readings of concepts used.


The revolutionary leadership of Myanmar lacks an understanding that one basic factor in fostering justice and equality within society is not driven by a (personal) sense of jealousy comparing one’s (privileged) position relative to another’s, but rather rooted in the fundamental necessity for betterment in human conditions. Such leadership accordingly fails to address the issue of discrimination against any individual or social category (group), whatever the cause of such discriminatory practices and stances, whether actively denied or simply neglected. Furthermore, the leadership fails to consider – and act in accord with – the principles of basic respect and equality for every person.

The oppressed are expected to stand up for their fellow oppressed people. And they do speak out against the oppressors. And all struggles for human emancipation over time get more complex and more challenging. That’s a given. But Myanmar’s current leadership of resistance disregards certain key issues such as gender equality and instead engage in certain gender exclusion while dismissing the oppression of certain minority groups (such as Rohingya) as less than worthy of their attention and support. Such blatant discrimination within the resistance leadership is deeply disappointing and counter-productive .

This cancerous practice of creating the hierarchy of political significance on grounds of gender and (less than worthy) ethnicity, has plagued both Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations (EROs) and the current Bama-dominated National Unity Government (NUG).

The idea of equality, gender, individual and group, is inherent in both federal and democratic visions of a good political society. Equality is a cornerstone in the fight against oppression, discrimination, and exclusion. It entails being equal before the law and having an equal right to benefit from legal protection and provisions. Merely possessing a basic understanding of equality without actively seeking to translate it into a daily political practice is a crucial weakness in the leadership circles of Myanmar’s resistance movements.

Additionally, the exclusion of women and minorities through discriminatory practices and marginalization based on various excuses and pretexts is deeply concerning. To many woman activists and “lesser” minorities, this persistent reactionary practice within the revolution at large is frustrating, shameful, and disappointing, and dangerous weakness of the leaders of the current revolution.

Therefore, I urge all organizations and leaders of the revolution to commit themselves to these principles. And translating the commitment into organizational policies and practices is long overdue.

Naw May Oo Mutraw
January 31, 2024
75th anniversary of the Karen Revolution

Posted by May Oo Mutraw