“Everything is undecided right now, but we have to be hopeful. Without hope, how can we survive?”
May Sabe Phyu is a Kachin social worker and activist from Burma. She is the director of the Gender Equality Network and founded the Kachin Women’s Peace Network and the Kachin Peace Network to promote the rights of Kachin women. She spent the first part of her career as a social worker supporting HIV/AIDS victims.
You started your career as a social worker. What made you decide to take a different career path?
After working as a social worker for a long time, I realized that I wasn’t able to do enough and I wanted to work at the policy level of the state. Working at the community level, we can’t change much without good policies.
What have you learned throughout your involvement in policymaking and politics?
In Burma, we have a lot of priorities in government—and women’s rights and gender equality are not among them. Whenever we are talking about gender equality, policymakers’ responses are, “What are you talking about? Women in Myanmar are enjoying their full rights and there are no gender equality issues in this country.”
You founded the Kachin Women’s Peace Network and the Kachin Peace Network. Can you tell us more about these networks and why you established them?
Around April 2012, some of the Kachin women who were working in Yangon (Myanmar’s capital) with different non-governmental organizations and I decided that we should do something for women in the internally-displaced person (IDP) camps and in conflict areas. We assembled Kachin Women’s Peace Network, mainly focusing on women, peace and security. Since then, we have visited a number of IDP camps in remote areas, trying to identify women’s needs and advocating for humanitarian organizations to address those needs. Many people living in Yangon at the time were not aware of the challenges faced by thousands of internally-displaced people in Kachin state, so we decided to raise awareness by using media. That’s how the Kachin Peace Network was established.
Can you tell us about the challenges that women activists in Burma face?
When I was a social worker, I didn’t need to worry about myself, or my family. Being an activist, you never know who’s watching you, who is following you. Some people in our country don’t want to see women having a strong voice. Whenever women have a firm stance on their rights, other people will attack them.
You have faced incredible risk—including arrest—for your work. What gives you the strength and courage to continue?
If I hadn’t been arrested, I would never have learned about the judicial system in my country. Whenever I encounter a big challenge, I always try to learn something from it rather than whining and complaining.
Visit the Gender Equality Network's website.
Visit the Kachin Peace Network's Facebook page.
Visit the Kachin Women's Peace Network's Facebook page.