KACHIN STATE, Burma — A recent report from the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) cites more than 100 documented instances of rape of Kachin women since 2010. This systematic rape is tied to the Burmese military, which is thought to be using rape as a weapon against the Kachin minority. This minority group primarily resides in the Kachin and Shan states of northern Burma.
The incidents were “more than random isolated acts,” says the League to FirstPost, and that “their widespread and systematic nature indicates a structural pattern: rape is still used as an instrument of war and oppression.” As the Global Justice Center senior counselor Akila Radhakrishnam explained to TIME, “there are few modern conflicts that do not involve rape, as harming the women is a direct way to dismantle the core of a vulnerable population.”
The League tied the many rapes to more than 35 military units across the state.
It is not uncommon for many of these rapes to go unreported–or at least uncontested–within the Burmese judicial system. However, that debilitating trend seems to be turning around. TIME recounts the story of Galau Dau Yang, a victim of militarized rape, who reached out first to the hospital and also to the police.
Yang’s openness, though “particularly unusual,” according to Radhakrishnam, sparked a sense of solidarity amongst the Kachin women, and other women began to speak up.
In a separate case, weeks went by with no word of what happened to an officer that raped a young girl in a Kachin village. Fuming with frustration, the local community “spread the word through their network of pastors, activists, media professionals and politicians,” reports TIME. The buzz eventually led to a trial in civilian court, the first of its kind in Burmese history.
Most trials of this kind are heard in military court, which often ends up with the officer leaving clean with no repercussions.
According to Tin Tin Nyo, General Secretary of WLB, progress must stem from the judicial system and increased vocalization. “There can be no real reform without stopping all forms of violence,” Tin Tin iterated to Burma International, “correcting the judicial system, amending the Constitution and enforcing the law to protect women’s lives.”
Unfortunately, the current peace process between the government and minority states is male dominated; a strong female voice must be present in order to reach justice for Kachin women.
These rising murmurs, however, have established an international voice. In 2013, more than 130 civil society organizations wrote letters to United States President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott urging them to reconsider their relations with Burma and stand up for women’s and minority rights.
As long as the women’s vocal battle cries against militarized rape continue to grow louder and gain harmonic solidarity, there is hope for the Kachin women. “Without women’s representation in the political dialogue for peace,“ says the WLB, “achieving sustainable peace and putting an end to abuses against women will not happen.”
– Mallory Thayer