Burma 2015: The Make or Break Moment for Democratization

January 22, 2015
03:00 pm - 04:30 pm

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20004


Zin Mar Aung

Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

with comments by

John Knaus

National Endowment for Democracy

moderated by

Sally Blair

International Forum for Democratic Studies


About the Event

Liberalization by the Burmese military regime has been much-lauded on the international stage since its implementation in 2012 by President Thein Sein. However, the military apparatus continues to wield overwhelming influence over the legislative, executive, judiciary, and economic state sectors. Instead of continuing the momentum of liberalization, the state has allowed religiously-based ultranationalist movements to gain power and infringe on human rights, especially women’s rights. Distortion of nationalist ideas and manipulation of religious chauvinism have become serious challenges confronting further democratization in Burma. In this situation, democrats, civil society organizations, and women’s rights advocates face serious hurdles in the shrinking space allowed to them. In her presentation, Zin Mar Aung evaluated the current challenges and opportunities for Burmese civil society to counter military influence and the rising tide of Buddhist ultra-nationalism. She offered recommendations for domestic and international action on these issues and strategies for empowering a new generation of leadership. Her presentation was followed by comments from John Knaus.

About the Speaker

Ms. Zin Mar Aung is co-founder of RAINFALL, a Yangon-based organization that empowers women in Burma through human-rights trainings and awareness-building at the community level. A former prisoner of conscience, she was arrested in 1998 for participating in the student-led democratic uprisings against Burma’s military regime and released eleven years later. In 2009, she formed a self-help group for ex-political prisoners and co-founded the Cultural Impact Studies Club to promote the idea that democracy is compatible with Asian culture. In 2011, she co-founded the Yangon School of Political Science, a NED-funded institution that educates young activists in the values of democracy. For her efforts to strengthen women’s rights, democratic values, and conflict resolution in Burma, she was awarded the International Women of Courage Award in 2012 by then–Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. During her fellowship, Zin Mar Aung is developing a roadmap for women’s political empowerment in Burma, with recommendations for how women may participate effectively in political life. She is also producing a training manual as a resource for women’s organizations in Burma. John Knaus is senior program officer for Southeast Asia and North Korea at the National Endowment for Democracy.