Herstory: Ang Sang Suu Kyi, The Face of Nonviolent Revolution in Burma

Ang Sang Suu Kyi is one of the most important contemporary icons of democracy. She is an admirable and fearless woman who set aside everything to fight for the Burmese people’s freedom and human rights. She is an epitome of strength without the need for violence.

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Image courtesy of jpaingphoto.wordpress.com

Ang San Suu Kyi was born in Rangoon on June 19, 1945, one of three children. Aung San, her father, was the founder of the modern Burmese army and the man who sought to liberate Burma from the British Empire. He was assassinated by his enemies two years later.

In 1960, Ang Sang Suu Kyi went to India to live with her mother, graduating with a political degree in New Delhi. Her further education was obtained at Oxford, where she was awarded her BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1969. Soon after, she moved to New York and worked for three years at the UN, focusing on budget matters. In 1972, she married Dr. Michael Aris. They had two sons together, Alexander and Kim, and lived between the US, England and India during the 70s and 80s.

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Aung San Su Kyi’s mother meets her grandson Alexander for the first time, Michael Aris at the back (1974). Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/

Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988 in order to take care of her dying mother. The political situation in Burma at this time saw the resignation of the Burmese dictator U Ne Win. He left the country to be led by a military junta, but was still active in orchestrating violent acts against those who had continued to protest against him. At this time, Burma was renamed as the Union of Myanmar.

Suu Kyi in particular became very vocal against U Ne Win. In August 1988, she spoke in front of 500,000 people at a rally in front of the capital’s Shwedagon Pagoda, appealing for a much-needed democratic government. This had caught the junta’s attention and she was placed under house arrest in 1989. While she had the option to leave the country and be free, she insisted on staying and being part of the struggle. She was determined to see the junta free all political prisoners and return Burma to a civilian government.

Suu Kyi’s first house arrest ended in July 1995, and she remained busy for the next couple of years attending to the founding of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and working to become part of congress – still under military harrassment. In 1998, she set up the representative committee and declared it to be the legitimate ruling body of the country; two years later in September 2000 she was placed under house arrest by the junta for this action.

Her second house arrest ended in May 2002, but a year later she was again placed on house arrest after the NLD clashed with some pro-government demonstrators in a street bout. From then on, her sentence was renewed yearly and even with the international community coming to her assistance each time, she was still not released.

MYANMAR. Rangoon. 1995. Daw Aung San SUU KYI, nonviolent activist and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize

Suu Kyi spent her time reading during her house arrest, image courtesy of http://heroinesofhistory.wikispaces.com/

In May 2009, Suu Kyi was due to be released but ended up being arrested again because of a violation of her house arrest terms when she allowed an intruder to stay two nights in her house.

The UN declared Suu Kyi’s detention to be illegal, based on Myanmar’s law, that same year. But despite this, Suu Kyi still went to trial and received a three year prison sentence, which was later reduced to eighteen months. Many had believed that such ruling was only made to keep her from running in the upcoming multiparty parliamentary elections.

To show their support for Suu Kyi, the NLD disbanded as a result of their refusal to re-register their party. Because of this, there was no opposition on the government parties that ran and won most of the legislative seats, subsequently receiving fraud charges soon after. Six days after this election, Suu Kyi was again released from her house arrest.

Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is freed

Suu Kyi’s first move as a free woman was to greet thousands of supporters and photographers who were gathered outside her house (November 2010), image courtesy of http://www.dailymail.co.uk/

During her two decade long stay in Burma, Suu Kyi had to endure the pain of separation from her family – her husband and her two sons. It was a difficult decision she had made to put her country first and family second. Even more tragic was not being present when her husband Michael was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and died two years later. She rarely saw her sons during the period of her house arrests.

The NLD announced that they would re-register as a political party in November 2011, and two months later Suu Kyi formally registered to run for a parliament seat. After a long and exhausting campaign, they announced that Suu Kyi victoriously won a seat in April 2012. On May 2 of the same year, she took her oath as a member of parliament and assumed office.

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(May 2, 2012) Ang San Suu Kyi taking her oath together with the elected members of the parliament, Image courtesy of www.asianews.it

Suu Kyi won several awards in recognition of her fight for peace and democracy. In 1990, she was the recipient of the Rafto prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In 1991, she was given the Nobel Prize for Peace, with her two sons accepting the award on her behalf. She used the 1.3 million dollar prize money to form a health and educational trust for the people of Myanmar.

The following two years she gained two more awards: the International Simon Bolivar Prize and the Jawaharlal Nehru Award, among other honors and accolades. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in December 2007 by the US House of Representatives, following an impressive 400-0 voting. In May of 2008, then president George Bush had signed this vote into law, thus making Suu Kyi the first person to ever receive such a prize even while imprisoned.

Aung San Suu Kyi visit to Berlin, Germany - 10 Apr 2014

Image courtesy of http://www.theguardian.com/

Now at the age of 69, Ang Sang Suu Kyi is still very much involved in Myammar politics as opposition leader in the present parliament. While there is still much to do in Myanmar’s journey towards full democracy, Ang Sang Suu Kyi has done more – and continues to do more than her part in a noble mission that benefits the people of Myanmar today and tomorrow.

Through it all, she has demonstrated power and the ability to make a radical change even in the most unfortunate circumstances – the mark of a truly inspiring woman.

 

Resources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19667956
http://www.humanrights.com/voices-for-human-rights/daw-aung.html
http://www.biography.com/people/aung-san-suu-kyi-9192617#arrest-and-election
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11685977
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/9349279/The-pain-of-Aung-Sun-Suu-Kyis-sons-parted-from-their-mother-for-25-years.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aung_San_Suu_Kyi

Herstory: Corazon C. Aquino, A Leadership of Love and Democracy

As the first female president of the Republic of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino – or Cory, as she is fondly called – is best known for leading the Filipino people into the 1986 People Power Revolution and eventually restoring democracy in the country.

cory_portrait

Image courtesy of junglekey.com

Born the sixth of eight children on January 25, 1933 in the province of Tarlac, Maria Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco hailed from a wealthy family of Chinese, Spanish and Filipino descent that was known in both the banking and political spheres of that time.

The young Cory was said to be very shy, studious and a devout faithful of the Catholic Church. She lived in Manila until the age of thirteen when she moved to the United States, eventually earning her bachelor’s degrees in French and Mathematics from the New York-based College of Mount St. Vincent in 1953. She returned to Manila and had started a law degree when she met Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, who, like Cory, hailed from a family that was considerably wealthy. The ambitious journalist caught her eye, and Cory abandoned her law school plans to instead get married.

Ninoy’s career path switched from being a journalist to being a politician, and within the span of two decades he rose up the ranks of politics until he eventually became a senator. Throughout these times, Cory remained staunchly supportive of her husband’s political career but preferred to stay out of the limelight. In the background she was raising their large family of five children and raising funds for her husband’s campaign, which had made things very tight financially for them.

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Ninoy and Cory Aquino’s union bore 1 son and 4 daughters, image courtesy of president.gov.ph

Ninoy challenged the dictatorship of then president Ferdinand Marcos frequently and was eventually imprisoned for eight years by Marcos. In 1980 he was permitted to go to the US for medical treatment on agreement to never return. During this time abroad, Cory stepped into the limelight more, passing on Ninoy’s messages to the media for the people.

In 1983, on the day he arrived back in the Philippines, he was assassinated.

Ninoy’s assassination was the last straw for the Filipino people, who had been suffering in a deteriorating country under the rule of the Marcos regime. With a government neck-deep in debt and the desire for a candidate to finally depose Marcos, Cory assumed her husband’s place as opposition leader and ran in a snap election which Marcos himself had initiated. At first, Cory showed reluctance in running, but with the support of one million signatures that was the evidence of the Filipino people’s trust in her, she agreed to run against Marcos for the presidency.

The election period saw Marcos resorting to degrading remarks to ridicule Cory’s campaign, using sexist statements to put her down. But while Marcos stated that Cory was “just a woman” and had a place in the bedroom and not in politics, Cory simply answered with “May the better woman win in this election.” Not only was her gender attacked; her lack of political experience was also scoffed at. To this, the young widow responded with honesty: that unlike Marcos, she admittedly had no experience in lying to the people, cheating, stealing money and having political opponents assassinated.

The snap elections of February 1986 declared Marcos as the winner, and the entire country was outraged at the fraud. As she never believed in violence being the solution, Cory still called for peaceful civil disobedience protests and mass boycotts as well as organized strikes against the media and various businesses owned by the Marcos family.

Through these acts of peaceful and effective demonstrations, the Filipino people all the more supported Cory and eventually gathered together for the People Power Revolution. This peaceful demonstration was comprised of thousands of people from all walks of life and religious orders. Despite sending out tanks and armed troops, noone was harmed and many of the troops eventually came to side with the peaceful demonstrators. By the end of the month, Marcos fled to Hawaii and Cory was installed as the first female president of the Philippines on February 25, 1986. This same year, Cory also became TIME magazine’s choice for Woman of the Year.

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The Peaceful People Power Revolution (1986), image courtesy of manilaspeak.com

At the onset, Cory’s presidency was all about helping the country recover from the trials borne out of the Marcos dictatorship years. She had a new constitution drafted and created the Presidential Commission on Good Governance (PCGG), a unit assigned to go after the ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the Marcos family. Her presidency had a strong emphasis on human rights and civil liberties; she and her cabinet had numerous peace talks with a number of Muslim secessionists and communist insurgents. The economy also experienced a bit of breathing space as the Aquino government was able to pay off US $4 billion worth of debts. Her time as president was not an easy one, with so many things to repair and numerous Marcos supporters that made coup attempts on her governance, but she remained faithful to her promise of serving the Filipino people.

When her term came to end in 1992, there was much clamor for the popular president to run for a reelection. However, Cory strongly declined all requests for her to extend her term. She was a true model when she opted to show her capability to be both a good president and citizen, unlike Marcos who wanted to remain in power indefinitely. She graciously and willingly stepped down and made way for her successor Fidel Ramos, who also happened to be her defense secretary during her administration. But despite the end of her term and return to normal citizen life, she still remained to be vocal and opinionated about important political issues that came to rise after her term.

In 2009, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino passed away due to colon cancer. Her passing drew global attention, and thousands were present at her wake and funeral. Global figures had their share of acclaims for Cory, including Hillary Clinton and Pope Benedict XVI giving their own words about Cory’s bravery, steadfast commitment to freedom, strong rejection of violence and overall love for her countrymen and women.

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Philippines at the funeral of the Mother of Democracy, image courtesy of foreignpolicy.com

Cory served with sincerity, and a love for the Filipino people. Her journey from being a homemaker to becoming an advocate of democracy and respected politician represents an extraordinary metamorphosis and she remains a powerful icon in the Philippines, Asia and around the world as a leader who brought forth momentous and radical change in this world.

 

There are also great articles documenting her life on the following websites:

http://www.amazingwomeninhistory.com/corazon-aquino-revolutionary-president-philippines/

http://www.biography.com/people/corazon-aquino-9187250#early-years

http://asianhistory.about.com/od/philippines/p/Biography-of-Corazon-Aquino.htm

Check Corazon Aquino’s life in photos:

http://content.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1914109,00.html

To read inspirational quotes by Corazon Aquino:

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/c/corazon_aquino.html