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Burmese women campaign for human rights (Panties for Peace), 2007
The Panties for Peace campaign began in 2007 in the country of Burma. It quickly found legs as a strategic campaign launched by Burmese women aimed against the extreme brutalities performed by Burma’s military regime. These included systematic and extensive sexual, physical and emotional violence against Burma’s women. The campaign strategically played on the weaknesses of their opponents by exploiting the belief held by many in the military Junta that female undergarments would drain power from the military regime by cursing their soldiers.
Panties for Peace was especially strategic in that the women acting and their allies were not required to attend a single gathering or protest. In a country where mobility was often being restricted and movements of the public heavily observed, this campaign was perhaps even more effective as women could participate regardless of their mobility or ability to leave the home. Women could participate from anywhere and did not experience any greater danger to their safety than would be found in their everyday existence in Burma.
This movement was spearheaded by the Lanna Action for Burma Party (LAB; also known as the Lanna Action for Burma Panty Party). LAB was first formed in 2007, and became best known for this strategic use of delivering symbolic objects to weaken the military junta keeping Burma in a state of emergency. After the conclusion of the panties for peace campaign, they became the first party to officially register to contest the Burma 2010 elections. They campaigned with their primary slogan “Clean Panties: Clean Politics.”
The goals of this leadership were to raise awareness about and put a stop to the massive violence and sexual exploitation of women at the hands of the military in the country of Burma. Although this campaign was born out of a revolution including frustration about economic conditions and political freedoms, this was the only campaign in Burma to focus wholly on the wellbeing and safety of Burmese women. The campaign did not have a clear goal in itself; it was part of a much larger movement for the safety of the country in itself. From the perspective of the women involved the degree of success in this campaign was quite high. In fact, a powerful female spokesperson from LAB released the following statement regarding their success with the panties for peace campaign:
“Over the last 12 months Than Shwe and his Generals have been hit with a barrage of panty power from all over the globe. We have seen his health fail, cracks in the military, we have seen SPDC stumble bumble and fumble…taking many wrong turns following their silly road map to hell. Their grip is loosening daily and they are too obsessed with their addictions and greed to notice.
“Than Shwe and the SPDC, we are here to tell you that not one of your tricks nor a single one of your lies has fooled us for a second. You’re not dealing with the UN now…you are dealing with us…the angry women of Burma and the rest of the world. We regret to tell you that your reckless stupidity and ongoing cruelty has led us to decide to escalate our attack on what is left of your tiny tiny tiny little pong!”
These women greatly employed the use of delivering symbolic objects and symbolism as a method of nonviolent action. Not only did these women send their panties in to military leaders, they also engaged in other nonviolent actions involving symbolic objects. These included hanging photos of Than Shwe around the necks of stray dogs with the knowledge that being associated with a stray dog is a highly offensive symbol in Burmese culture. In a striking act of escalation these women even went so far as to bake several birthday cakes for Than Shwe with his photo on it. These cakes were in the shape of female underwear and were publicly fed to stray dogs in an effective shaming and diminishing act.
It is difficult to pinpoint the specific degree of success on this campaign. Overall, the campaign gained incredible growth and experienced significant momentum. This campaign was a part of a larger, more successful movement. Violence against women in Burma is still continuing to this day, though there have been changes in the democratic situation of the country. Beginning in 2008 Burma is now considered a “democratic nation”, though the results of their elections are highly suspect and their house of commons is made up of more than half military personnel. Overall, Burma rates as a highly corrupt nation on the Corruption Perceptions Index with a rank of 176th out of 180 countries worldwide and a rating of 1.4 out of 10 (10 being least corrupt and 0 being highly corrupt) as of 2010 (transparency.org). The military also remains notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including allegations of systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves as porters for the military. (State of Terror Report)
This campaign began in 2007 and it is difficult to locate an exact end point. Though Panties for Peace is no longer an active campaign in the country of Burma, and Burmese people have experienced some superficial changes in their democratic situation, allied nations, including Canada have been known to offer their support by sending panties to Burma as recently as 2007.
There were many allies in this campaign who were showing support and solidarity without acting as third party interveners. Women around the world were able to show solidarity in the fight for the safety of Burmese women by an action as simple as dropping their underwear in a mailbox. Organizations Burma UK and Burma US acted in solidarity with this campaign as well as women in Thailand, Canada, Australia, Germany, Laos and many more.