Fighters say the group empowers women, who have been targeted by soldiers in village raids.
Activists in Myanmar’s Sagaing region have formed the country’s first women-only anti-junta militia, a collection of students, teachers, farmers and white-collar workers fighting to take back the country from well-armed government troops who toppled the democratically elected government in a Feb. 1 coup.
Hera, 16, said she quit high school to take a position as commander in the Myaung Women Guerrilla Group (MWGG) after watching soldiers attack unarmed protesters and civilians.
“The local civilians must flee their homes when the soldiers arrived in the village,” she said. “I shed tears whenever I see them in the refugee camps, and it motivates me to fight. I have no fear because I was willing to give up my life when I signed up to be in the group. I want to fight for democracy.”
The military has launched offensives throughout Myanmar’s remote border regions that are under the control of ethnic armies and anti-junta People’s Defense Force (PDF) militias, and reports suggest that troops regularly raid villages, looting and burning homes and attacking civilians.
Junta security forces have killed 1,275 civilians since taking over in a Feb. 1 coup, according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. At least 80 of those killed were women, the group said. Last week, soldiers allegedly raped two young women in Chin state’s Tedim township, prompting rights groups to decry the military’s use of “sexual violence as a weapon” since the coup.
A member of the MWGG who gave her name as Amera told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the group was launched in Sagaing’s Myaung township last month to empower women who might otherwise be preyed upon by raiding troops.
“It is assumed that women’s hands are meant for the rocking the cradle, but we want to show to the people that our hands are also capable of armed resistance to the military regime,” she said.
“Besides, we women face discrimination in many ways, given the situation in the country. All in all, we have come out to break down the barriers that limit the role of women in society.”
Amera said that MWGG fighters now regularly participate in operations using explosives and “exterminating military informers.”
A MWGG platoon commander named Athena told RFA that she took up arms to serve in her brother’s place after he was killed in a mine explosion during a militia training drill.
“My family members were worried at first and they asked me to come back home after my brother died. But I decided not to go home until democracy has been restored,” she said.
Women in resistance movements
Many women have taken part in anti-junta movements since the coup, with some joining the armed resistance and others peacefully protesting the military regime.
On Sept. 6, 11 women-led protest groups from Yangon, Mandalay, Monywa, and towns in Sagaing joined together to form the Women Allied Forces.
A woman protest leader who organized daily actions against the military coup in Monywa told RFA that the formation of an all-women militia is a significant milestone in the resistance movement.
“The situation [since the coup] has led us to demonstrate that women can do the same jobs as men. I think these resistance movements bring more equality and may help to eliminate discrimination in the future,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal.
“Some people think it is not so special that women participate in protests. But it is extraordinary to see the women bravely fighting in militia group. They have made their mark in the history of the resistance movement.”