Leading Ladies
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, June 25, 2019


Leading Ladies

By Shah Paung SEPTEMBER, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.9


Burma’s long tradition of principled and influential leadership by women carries on in the work of activists and social workers in exile


The New Light of Myanmar, the Burmese junta’s main mouthpiece, recently reported on a meeting of the Myanmar [Burma] Women’s Affairs Federation to celebrate this year’s Myanmar Women’s Day. During the meeting, members of the pro-junta group denounced opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, as a destabilizing force and someone who “has done nothing good for the nation.” The meeting ended with the chanting of slogans.


Such is the sad state of women’s affairs in Burma, where an internationally-renowned woman of courage and conviction languishes under house arrest, while the junta pressures others to make scripted accusations and sing political slogans. It was not always so. Throughout history, Burmese women have played active and influential roles in Burma’s national and political life.


Burmese historical chronicles such as the Taungdwingyi recount tales of the Panhtwa Princess who ruled the ancient city of Beikthano before its destruction in the fifth century BC. Other historical chronicles—the Yazawingyi, Yazawinlat, and The Glass Palace Chronicle—tell of Queen Nam Hkam, also known as Malasandi, who reigned in Thagya-in, now Sri Kshetra, another center of ancient Pyu civilization. Local legend has it that a Queen Kywaypi reigned in Arakan State in the 3rd century AD.


Other women are known to have played vital roles in Burma’s imperial past. In the mid 15th century, Queen Shin Saw Bu—daughter of King Razadarit and an important ruler of the Hongsawaddy dynasty (1453-1472) in her own right—donated her weight in gold for use in the first gilded coating applied to Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.


Not all of Burma’s influential women were so respected or compassionate. Although judged far more harshly by history than Shin Saw Bu, the controversial and vicious Supayalat, Burma’s last queen, had enormous influence in the political and social affairs of the Mandalay palace before the fall of King Thi Baw to British colonial forces in 1885. Some historians claim that she, and not her reputedly gin-loving husband King Thi Baw, ruled Upper Burma until the British annexation.


During colonial times, the writer Khin Myo Chit, author of Colorful Burma, was at the forefront of anti-colonial demonstrations in 1938.

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