Monday, September 25, 2023

Women Are Targets Of Sexual And Physical Harassment At Military Council Checkpoints

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When two young women were riding their motorcycle cautiously and all of a sudden noticed soldiers in uniform and fully armed at the checkpoints, they thought of turning around.


However, it was too late since there were no other routes. The two young women collected their courage and drove straight to the checkpoint guarded by the soldiers.

The military set up checkpoints between Ywar Ngan and Pindaya Road. When passing the checkpoint, people must switch off the motorcycle’s engine and walk the motorcycle instead. And when the young women passed the checkpoints, they encountered harassment, recounted Ma Su Nge, who experienced the assaults herself.

SAC forces check vehicles and people at the checkpoint
SAC forces check vehicles and people at the checkpoint.

“One day, one of my friends and I had to walk the motorcycle when we arrived at the checkpoint. At that time, a soldier grabbed the breast of a friend who was pushing a motorcycle. She got startled and yelled. The soldier then kicked her, injuring her as she tumbled down with the motorcycle”, Ma Su Nge narrated the incident with anguish.

The young woman who was assaulted physically and sexually is only 20 years old. Out of humiliation, she did not dare leave her house after being physically abused and booted in front of others.

“She was kicked with military boots, causing damage to her knees, elbow, and face. Some of her motorcycle components were also broken. Despite the fact that there were other people nearby, no one dared to intervene and help her. She even developed a fever when she returned home,” Ma Hsu Nge recounted.

The two young women went to the Pindaya police station to complain about the incident, but the police replied that they couldn’t take any action about it.

SAC forces at the checkpoint
SAC forces at the checkpoint.

Ma Hsu Nge asserted that because the country is in the grip of a military coup, there is little security for women and no room to assist and protect women who are victims of assault and violence.

Ma Khaing from Inlay is another young woman who, like Ma Su Nge, was physically harassed by soldiers at the checkpoints.

“Normally, they would only inquire about the people’s whereabouts.However, physical touch is now used in checkpoint inspections. As they answered inquiries, the soldiers would sometimes tap on the shoulders and touch hands. Others have been subjected to similar assaults. It was terrifying, repulsive, and frustrating. The situation is deteriorating day by day. The soldiers appear to have the intention to inflict mental and physical harm to civilians” Ma Khine noted.

Ma Khaing remarked that it appears that soldiers guarding checkpoints on public roads have systematically and strategically committed physical and sexual assaults and gender-based violence in order to induce emotional and physical harm.

The checkpoints set up by SAC soldiers
The checkpoints set up by SAC soldiers.

“We are afraid to challenge them because they are military personnel armed with guns.They could have thrown their gun at us. There is no channel or institution in place to hold the soldiers accountable for their actions. As a result, soldiers are free to perpetrate violence as they wish. A situation like this is not secured for women,” Ma Khaing  went on to say.

According to Nang Moet Moet, Secretary General of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), the military council forces have been systematically carrying out violence and sexual abuses against women as part of their military strategy for more than 70 years.

“Following the coup, sexual violence and abuses committed by SAC soldiers against women have increased across the country,” Nang Moet Moet added

Sexual violence and harassment targetting women in checkpoints, interrogation centers, and prisons, are widely being carried out by the SAC regime, according Nang Moet Moet.

Police officers under the SAC regime
Police officers under the SAC regime.

“The military council is clearly committing these crimes on a regular basis as part of its military strategy. Those who conduct the abuses are immune from prosecution, and no mechanism exists to punish the perpetrators. As a result, women’s safety in the current situation has reached an alarming level,” Nang Moet Moet remarked.

Under Article 354, intentional physical sexual assault is punishable by two years in prison and a fine.

Similarly, harassment, such as verbal harassment and the intent to commit sexual harassment, is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine under Article 509.

It is said that women who have to go out as part of their daily routines feel insecure and worried because of the presence of military checkpoints everywhere.

The safety and security of women’s lives disappeared after the coup, especially for young women like Ma Su Nge. They will have to continue to live with insecurity, fears, worries, and trauma whenever they walk past the checkpoints like those set up on the Pindaya-Ywar Ngan road in Southern Shan State.

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