Many civilians at the grassroots level are determined to make a contribution to peace in their communities, but lack the confidence or the ability to influence the country’s current decision-makers. Others have the confidence and the networks, but lack a basic understanding of issues concerning peace and security. This makes it hard for them to work effectively.
Five decades of military rule, an isolated economy, and ongoing war in ethnic minority areas have left Myanmar weak and divided. Officials are ill-equipped to create a political and cultural environment that supports openness, and builds trust among the people of Myanmar. Wealth and power remain in the hands of a few, and only those with political connections have opportunities to better their lives.
Since 1987 Myanmar has been listed among the least developed countries in the world, according to the United Nations. It is impoverished, it’s underdeveloped, and because it lacks trustworthy sources of information, misinformation is rampant. While the military allowed the current civilian-elected government (the National League for Democracy) to take office in 2021, the military still retains control over key areas of policy, especially security and home affairs. Because the country has more than 100 ethnic groups, with many of them having their own militia, it’s politically and culturally at odds.
Nonviolent Peaceforce is helping local actors to protect civilians and build peace in regions where there’s conflict. Between 2012 and 2017 NP trained civil society and ethnic armed groups in ceasefire monitoring and civilian protection. Since 2018 NP supports women and youth to become leaders, training them to respond to issues that are important to their communities. In doing so, NP is creating opportunities for discussions between groups and allowing civilians to participate in the early stages of Myanmar’s peace process as well as local decision-making processes. NP also has brought together representatives of civilian protection networks from different ethnic areas to reduce isolation and create learning opportunities. In a similar way, NP has connected women and youth from various groups to strengthen their voices and encourage the population to pay more attention to their needs.
NP collaborated with USAID to illustrate the wide range of women and organizations engaged in peace-related activities across Myanmar. These infographic maps counter the claim that there are no women in Myanmar with the expertise needed to resolve longstanding conflicts. You can view the maps here.
Nonviolent Peaceforce sees a need to continue strengthening the resilience of communities in conflict affected areas, especially for women, youth and displaced people. As Myanmar's peace process is facing a deadlock, communities on the ground are likely to experience continued armed conflict in the foreseeable future. While programming in support of the peace process has become increasingly difficult, opportunities to support local civil society initiatives at the grassroots level remain. Many of the ceasefire monitoring networks NP has supported since 2017 have repositioned themselves as peace support networks and moved their focus away from the peace process towards social cohesion, inter communal harmony, human rights, or internally displaced person (IDP) support. They have requested NP to continue to support them through this transition and beyond. In particular, NP sees a need for community-based networks that assume a nonpartisan, mediator role in bringing different communities, ethnic groups, authorities, religious leaders together in safe spaces to address issues of concern. These efforts could help not only to resolve these issues, but to increase trust among communities and authorities, de-escalate tensions between different ethnic groups and model nonviolent approaches to managing conflict.
Myanmar shares a border with China, the original epicenter of the pandemic. Our teams heard preliminary reports of COVID-19 starting as early as January 2020, with the first COVID-19 case officially confirmed in late March 2020. The country has since restricted travel and is closing its borders in response to the pandemic.
Many community members are scared of violence and want to evacuate – but now, with travel restricted to prevent the spread of the virus, villages are being shut down and many others are stuck in camps for displaced persons. With the lockdowns, humanitarian groups do not have the access they need to provide the most basic of resources, such as food and medicine. One woman explained: “We are not scared of COVID-19, we are scared of conflict.” So many civilians are caught between the fear of violence and the fear of the virus – a choice that no one should ever have to make.
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Our team quickly adapted and we are now working remotely and connecting with community leaders over video chats. This way, we are able to continue to support communities across the country over the phone and via computer. This is a clear result of your investment in peace: supporting communities from afar during the current health crisis would be impossible without the relationships we have been building since our start.
You have supported our program to train emerging women leaders on community organizing. Now, a group of emerging women leaders have translated COVID-19 prevention education materials into their local language. They stay connected with our staff and other emerging women leaders through Facebook chat groups and Zoom to share ideas across the conflict-affected regions.
You have supported a group of community members who have been strengthening the ties between people in their community. Now, this group is building on their work on resiliency. You have helped empower them to face COVID-19 together.
Thank you for standing with our community partners in Myanmar, especially now.
“It’s not just society that does not favor women, it is also the women themselves who think they only deserve to be the supporters, but not the main characters… training can make women realize that they are not inferior to men and they are equally capable to be monitors”. Peace observer in Shan State
women were trained in ceasefire monitoring.
emerging women leaders were trained in advocacy.
influential women leaders were contacted.
Our Team in Myanmar
Head of Mission: Rosemary Kabaki
Office: No. 99B Myay Nu Condo, Room 406 Myay Nu Street, Sanchaung Township Yangon, Myanmar
Conflict is inevitable. Violence is not. Stay updated on the latest news on nonviolence in action.