Burma, army, women, recruitment, Banyol Kong Janoi and Maung Myo

Are you a single woman between the ages of 25 and 30?

If the answer is yes, Burma’s military may be looking for you.

For the first time in 50 years, the Burmese army has started recruiting female cadets.

23-year-old Ma Phyu believes she will get the job.

“This is the first time that women can get a position in the army. There’s tight competition, but I’m very interested. They will also give some money, a salary. Once candidates are selected, they will be assigned for duty in different places.”

Ma Phyu is not her real name. She prefers to use an alias because she’s worried that talking to the media might jeopardise her chances of getting into the army.

In the past, women could only apply as nurses.  Now, the army is recruiting women for senior positions. They wont be sent into combat though.

“Now, even a small number of women are able to join up, it’s a positive sign that our country is on the road to reform,” says May Sabe Phyu, from the NGO, Gender Equality Network.

Every candidate must apply to a military command office in Yangon.

“All of our family members are in the military – my grandfather, father and now my younger brother. I’d be very proud to be an army officer,” says this 22-year-old applicant who feels that the army is already in her blood.

“Now they’re calling for positions in the army, so I’ve come to apply.”

The Burmese military has controlled the country for more than 30 years and has an abysmal human rights record…. including widespread rape of women in conflict areas.

The human rights group ‘Kachin Free Burma’ recently reported the rape of a 15-year-old girl and her mother by members of the military in Kachin state.

International watchdog Human Rights Watch has also warned that given the army’s record, female recruits could become a target for sexual abuse or harassment.

But this doesn’t seem to stop women from applying.

One candidate who comes from a military family says some 10 thousand women have applied to join the army so far. But no official record is available.

Local rights groups are pushing for greater protection for female soldiers.

“We have to make sure that there will be laws to protect women from sexual harassment in military units,” says U Aung Myo Min, director of the human rights education organisation Equality Myanmar.

“Otherwise, regardless of the positions these women take up, men might not respect them just because they’re women. With no clear rules and regulations, there will be sexual harassment on the ground.”

Many young people in Burma have grown up with a distrust of the military….and it was the younger generation that were behind many of the democracy uprisings against the military government.

But Ma Phyu believes it is all in the past.

“I know whatever the previous government has done may affect Thein Sein’s current government. The same applies to this government….whatever it does will have an impact on the next government. But I don’t take this personally. If we do well in the future, we will be fine.”

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