In pursuit of power : politic, patriarchy, poverty and gender relations in New Order Myanmar/Burma




Khin Mar Mar Kyi, Ma

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This thesis explores the effects of the social transformation of Burma under military rule on Burmese women who face multiple gender-based structural inequalities and violence. I examine how gender specific roles and responsibilities and social values have changed over time: this has negative effects for women and men within Burma and for Burmese migrants in neighbouring countries, especially Thailand. Through their stories, I show how women and men cope with these changes and struggle to fulfil their perceived responsibilities. I also examine how changing value systems and state policies have led to increasing sexual violence and exploitation, such as prostitution and trafficking, reflected in the soaring rates of HIV/AIDS. Burma has been a closed country for decades. Research, especially into the everyday lives of the mass of the population, has been almost impossible. As a Burmese-Australian citizen and an exile I have been able to overcome this difficulty through my involvement with Buddhist monks, family and other contacts within Burma. My exile status has given me privileged access to Burmese migrants living and working outside Burma, particularly on the Thai-Burmese border. This thesis backgrounds current social transformation in Burma through investigating changes under colonialism, nationalism, and now militarism. The ultimate outcome of extreme nationalist sentiments, under the Do Bamar Asiayone (We Burmese) nationalist organisation, was the establishment of the military, the Tatmataw. Since independence in 1948, except for twelve years under the democratic Nu government, Burma has been ruled by military regimes, which have held power by means of violence and violations of basic human rights. The current regime has engineered massive social transformations, which have resulted in social suffering which can operate in gender specific ways. Patriarchal, racial and class-based ideologies of colonial Burma and Burmese nationalism continue to influence, state ideologies and hence the lives of men and women in modern Burma. The thesis explores how the current regime exercises state power by borrowing or reinventing concepts and values from Buddhist and other Burmese traditions, such as hpon, pwe and zat- pwe which are deployed to legitimate patriarchal power and privilege. There is evident restructuring of gender relations in contemporary Burma. Women face double jeopardy: they lack power and resources but are expected to fulfil feminine responsibilities according to customary ideologies. Under conditions of extreme poverty they are expected to provide food for their families. The twin evils of military repression and poverty have also changed the roles of Burmese men, and compromise their and self-esteem. Many turn to alternative displays of masculine identity, such as drinking (allowed under current conditions) or physical and sexual violence, to cope with their difficult lives.






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