“I was arrested when I was 18 years old because my father was a Member of Parliament for the political opposition in Burma. Eventually my entire family was arrested. I spent 7 years in prison until I was released in 2012. Since I was a kid I have seen and lived a lot of injustice—I understand how it feels, the challenges faced by women and the poor people in my country. I realized the political system in Burma doesn’t benefit all of us, and since then I have tried to change the system to better the situation of women. We must see that all human beings are the same. We have to take care of each other to build a beautiful world.”
Wai Wai is a brave young peace and women’s right activist who is determined to end the persecution faced by her people, the stateless Rohingya in western Burma.
She is the director of the Women’s Peace Network Arakan – an organization that conducts training to promote better understanding between the Rohingya and Rakhine peoples in western Burma. Wai Wai is also the co-founder of Justice for Women, a network of women lawyers providing legal aid to Burmese women.
Wai Wai’s life as an activist started in prison. In 2005, while studying law, Wai Wai was arrested because she was the daughter of Kyaw Min—a Rohyinga who was elected member of Parliament in 1990. The military government opposed his election, and the family had been facing harassment from Burmese authorities ever since. First her father was arrested, and then two months later Wai Wai and the rest of her family also were sent to the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon.
While in prison, Wai Wai started to realize just how challenging life is for ethnic women—many of whom had turned to drugs and prostitution because of extreme poverty. Under a new government led by President Thein Sein, Burmese authorities released Wai Wai and her family from prison in 2012, along with hundreds of other political prisoners. Wai Wai’s life mission became working for women’s equality and to improve the lives of her fellow Rohingya.
The ethnic division and violence between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims of Burma has escalated over the past three years, leaving more than 150,000 homeless – mostly Rohingya. The government limits the movements and freedoms of the Rohyinga peoples, and many young Rohingya feel a great sense of hopelessness. According to Amnesty International, the Rohingya have suffered from human rights violations under Burma’s military dictatorship since 1978, and are among the most persecuted people on the planet. Most recently, during devastating floods in western Burma, the government restricted international aid—including food and medicine—designated for the Rohyinga peoples.
Wai Wai and activists like her are doing important work in promoting tolerance in western Burma and the engagement of women and youth to end human rights abuses in Burma. Burma’s ongoing violence against ethnic minorities is a challenge to Wai Wai’s work, but her hopes for Burma remain the same; democracy and the protection of equal rights for all.