From where I stand: “I will never stop advocating for women’s rights and security. Because if women don’t feel secure, how can Myanmar be secure?”

Phyu Lin is a strong advocate for gender equality and human rights in Myanmar. For more than 20 years, she has been promoting the empowerment of women and gender justice in the peace process in the country’s civil and ethnic conflicts.

“I have spent my adult life advocating for gender equality and human rights in Myanmar. With our ongoing peace process, it is now more important than ever that women are part of the decision-making. Without women’s meaningful participation in the peace talks, sustainable peace will not be possible, essentially because more than half of the population’s voices will not be heard.

To promote women’s rights and gender equality, we need to work collectively. That is why I co-founded AGIPP, an alliance consisting of women’s rights organizations in Myanmar with the shared goal of achieving gender justice in the peace process. After years of various organizations working on this endeavour separately, we realized that we need to come together to make real impact. Contributing to positive change, however, requires endless advocacy work and a lot of patience. Because women are still largely absent from decision-making, we often need to wait for many years before seeing even the smallest progress.

The main problem is that the area of women, peace and security doesn’t receive enough attention. The conflict in Myanmar has at least now made it possible for us to say how important the topic is. I don’t believe that leaders would be equally interested in these issues if there wasn’t a conflict. It is not that I want our country to be in conflict, but I have noticed that the current situation is providing an entry point to bring gendered security issues into the agenda. But we need to understand that women, peace and security is not relevant only when there is conflict. We always need to work on the improvement of women’s protection, leadership and participation, even in times of peace.

Much has happened in the 20 years since the UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was implemented. Twenty years ago, no one dared to speak about human rights and gender equality in Myanmar. We also didn’t have the right knowledge or support for it. It was only after the revolution in 1988 that people started to raise public awareness about these issues. People wanted to see change, especially the youth. I was only 18 years old during the revolution and seeing all these women’s rights groups who dared to be critical and speak up about what they believed inspired me to be brave and join the feminist movement as well.

Things are gradually changing for the better in Myanmar and the women’s agenda is gaining more attention, day by day, generation by generation. Our government has started recognizing women’s rights groups, so we finally have a chance to bring our concerns to the decision-making table, much more so today than 20 years ago. Even if women’s groups have been largely absent from peace negotiations, at least we have some representation. Our representation is still too small to change the system, but it is something to start from.

What the next 20 years will bring is difficult to predict. Much depends on the coming election, how decision-makers will take the peace process further and to what extent the issues around women, peace and security will be integrated into peace agreements. A part of me is worried about seeing a backlash on women’s rights, and that all our hard work might be for nothing. To avoid this, we really need the international community to continue supporting us. I will never stop advocating for women’s rights and security. Because if women don’t feel secure, how can Myanmar be secure?”

SDG 5: Gender equality SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Phyu Lin is a women, peace and security activist from Myanmar. For many years, she has been a member of the Gender Equality Network in Myanmar, and in 2014, she co-founded the Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process, AGIPP, which is a diverse and inclusive network of gender equality organizations who work with bringing about gender equality and the fulfilment of women’s rights in Myanmar. Her story relates to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, and SDG 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.