Mee Mee has made her mission to persuade Burmese women to set aside their fears and take a more active role in politics.
Mee Mee has been imprisoned three times for her role in Burmese politics—in 1988, 1996 and 2007—and has spent a total of 10 years behind bars in nearly half a dozen prisons. Since her release from prison, Mee Mee has joined the network-building efforts of the 88 Generation group, traveling around the country and learning how to use social media to develop what the group calls its “Discussion on Peace and Open Society”.
Her own role in this effort has been to draw women into the discussion. She said that despite meeting many women who participate in everyday political activities, most say they don’t know how to get more politically involved. The main obstacle for women, she said, is fear, something that most Burmese understand only too well after decades of oppression. But gender stereotypes are also a problem, as “Women tend to exclude themselves from political roles,” she said.
“I would not force them to accept any ideology without knowing the meaning of it themselves,” she said. “I want women who join politics to be able to think for themselves about what is right or wrong, using their own critical thinking.” Part of this process is teaching women that they are already actively engaged in politics. “If they are doing philanthropic work, we have to explain to them that this is also political work. Gradually, their thinking changes,” she said.
Although some now say that a quota should be set to make more room for women in politics, Mee Mee said the first priority should be to ensure that women are qualified to fill leadership roles, by giving them the skills they need to succeed in politics.
Courage is also needed to deal with issues to don’t have any easy answers. During a number of recent trips to Arakan State with Nilar Thein, Mee Mee saw first-hand that some attitudes die hard. There is a lot of work to be done there to develop people’s thinking about many things, she said about her encounters with local people in the strife-torn state.
Although sheer determination to do the right thing has been the driving force in her life, Mee Mee said she could not have come this far without the support of her family, especially her husband, who has been very understanding of her efforts.
Despite her obvious passion for politics, however, Mee Mee said she has no interest in becoming a politician and running in the 2015 election.