Often, all people in the West know of Myanmar is one woman: the impeccably turned-out, Oxford-educated, Nobel Peace Prize-winning, democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
On November 8, 2015, Suu Kyi’s once outlawed political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won an absolute majority in Myanmar’s most free and fair general election to date —further elevating her profile.
Suu Kyi’s story was compelling, even before the NLD’s incredible victory catapulted her to (tentative) power. The daughter of an assassinated independence hero, Suu Kyi spent almost 15 years between 1989 and 2010 confined to house arrest. While she was detained, her British husband, Michael Aris, died without the opportunity to say goodbye, and she drifted away from her two teenage sons. She sustained herself through playing piano under a leaky roof, as her house and life fell into disrepair around her.
But despite her impressive credentials, as one (exceptionally privileged) person Suu Kyi is far from representative of a large and diverse country. And while she is an inspiration to many Burmese women, she is also difficult for most to relate to. Unlike Suu Kyi, the average Burmese woman is still limited by restrictive gender norms. In terms of challenging Burmese patriarchy, Suu Kyi is far from the be-all and end-all — in fact, she rarely speaks about women’s issues. As Suu Kyi’s embraces party politics many people believe her commitment to human rights is being compromised too, leaving other women to take up the fight on the ground.
I spoke to ten Burmese women who you probably haven’t heard of, who are all defying convention to also lead change in Myanmar, often in radical, alternative and creative ways.