Nang Mya Oo is one of 24 female candidates from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), who will be competing for a State Assembly seat in Taunggyi Township Constituency No. 1 in the November 8 general election.
In the interview, 46-year-old community advocate-turned-politician Nang Mya Oo discusses the role of women in politics and the challenges she faces as a female candidate.
Q: What was your role in the community before you became a politician?
A: I joined the Shan Literature and Culture Association in Taunggyi in 2005. During that time, I was responsible for youth leaders. Later on, I was promoted to be the association secretary. At the same time, I helped at the Namkhong Organization, a healthcare services group.
Q: When did you become involved in politics?
A: The reason I became involved in politics is that I have been working in the community for over 10 years. While I was working, I questioned why other people gave our land to other people—I really didn’t understand. Since then I tried to study this issue and found out that the cause was the 2008 Constitution.
Another reason is that our leaders were put in prison. Each of them was sentenced to over 90 years and together they were sentenced to over 1000 years in prison. These reasons stuck in my heart. I realized that working in the community alone could not change anything about the 2008 Constitution. So it was then that I began to understand that the only way to make a change was to work in politics.
There was also no good education available to us. The Burma military has their own hospital but not one for us. I felt like there was no equality.
Q: if you won the election what would be your priority?
A: If I won, I would be put at the Shan State government level…But our priority is to amend the 2008 Constitution, we will be working together from both houses (Upper House and Lower House).
There are also other issues that we will have to deal with such as ongoing fighting and education development, and so on. However, we cannot do anything without solving the 2008 Constitution issue. We will keep fighting.
Q: There are two main Shan parties. Why did you choose to join SNLD?
A: Actually I was one of the team members helping SNDP (the Shan National Democratic Party) when it started. But, I was not ready to join because I was a member of Shan Culture and Literature Association. As a member, we had to think about our security because at that time it was quite dangerous to participate in politics. Another thing was that my children were very young back then. That’s why I did not join. Later on we set up youth group called Shan Youth Organization. At the same time, SNLD registered again and I decided it was the right time for me to join SNLD.
Q: Why do you think SNLD is the right party for you?
A: I was ready when SNLD set up the office in Taunggyi. At that time, Sao Khun Htun Oo was just released from prison. They did not have enough members because Shan people had already joined the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) or the SNDP. Also, SNLD’s policy is based on the Panglong Agreement. Thus, I decided to join SNLD.
Q: Can you describe some of your experiences during the campaign?
A: Even though Taunggyi is the capital city of Shan State, there are not many Shan people there. The largest group is Burmese, the second group is Pa-O; Shan is the third group. When we went to the community to collect data, we found out that the population of Shan people in Taunggyi is very low. For example, in four villages in the west of Mai Daw we did not see any Shan people. In other areas, like east of Mai Daw, the villagers didn’t know anything about the election. They didn’t know where or how to check whether they are eligible to vote. Some people did not even have ID cards. Shan people who are living in Pa-O and Danu-controlled areas do not dare to speak out about Shan and there are no Shan people serving high positions these areas. I feel very sorry to see things like that. There are so many things that we need to do.
Q: What are the biggest needs in the communities?
A: What they want is no fighting, no soldier recruitment, and no harassment from other ethnic groups. They also want to have ID cards. Many of them do not have any sort of documentation. Many people who worked in another country, like Thailand, are facing problems returning because they do not have money or do not have the documents to travel back. In many places, there is also no electricity and not enough water to grow crops.
Q: What will you do for them?
A: I want to do many things for them but it is impossible if the 2008 Constitution is not changed. First, the 2008 Constitution has to be amended. If we win enough seats, it will allow us to be able to work for them. But, I want to tell the public that the infrastructure development is the responsibility of anyone in parliament. For me, I will provide them with human rights and women’s rights because many people are fearful to speak out. For example, they do not dare to speak to the leader of the village if their names are not on the voting list.
Q: What will you do if you win the election?
A: Our priority is to amend the 2008 Constitution. If we win enough seats in the parliament we will try to hold a Panglong-style meeting which will include every group in the country in order to bring peace in the country. We will work with those who are in the parliament and outside of the parliament to amend the Constitution.
Q: How many parties are you competing against in your constituency?
A: There are eight parties including USDP, NLD, SNPD, PNO, FUP, Danu, two individuals and SNLD.
Q: There are not many Shan in Taunggyi. What challenges have you faced in preparing for the election?
A: In the area where I’m competing, there are seven Burmese government troops’ camps and ethnic armed groups which is very difficult to deal with. I also have to compete in areas which are populated with Burmese people, such as Nyaung Shwe and Aye Thar Yar Townships. This is a very big challenge for me. Every time we give a speech, we have to speak in Burmese or put Burmese language in our campaign leaflets.
Q: Which challenge has been the biggest?
A: My biggest challenge is being a woman. I understand that it’s hard for men to accept women as their leaders. Another challenge is that many people go out to work in the daytime and we have to campaign in the evening, but for a woman, it is not appropriate to go out at night.
Q: There are very few women who are in leadership roles. What will you do in order to get support from the public?
A: We have to try harder and we have to show that we can also be in leading roles. However, this does not mean we push the men away. We just need a chance to prove that we can do the job just as well. We have to create a positive image of a woman leader. While we have other responsibilities such as taking care of children, I believe women can also be leaders. We want all men to understand and believe in us.
Q: What words of encouragement would give to women wanting to get involved in politics?
A: Nowadays things are changing, including in parliament where there should be at least 30 percent women participating. I always say that even though our body is not free our brains can help thinking [of ideas]; one of our hands is feeding our children but the other hand can help. So, I urge all women to get involved.