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Breaking the Silence

Vendors, Burma (

Vendors, Burma (Donna Cymek/Flickr)

3. Disintegration of Family Structures
Poverty and environmental degradation due to the state policies have contributed to the disintegration of traditional family structures. Pressure on women and girls to find work outside the home to contribute to the family's survival becomes immense.

Forced migration:
People are losing their livelihood under the rule of the military SPDC. Rural households are no longer able to rely only on the income provided by agriculture work, due to the state policies. Since the economic opportunities are limited in rural areas, women choose rural-to-urban migration as the best solution for survival. They come through brokers, who recruit young women to work as housemaids, hospitality girls in restaurants and factory workers in urban areas or other parts of the country, especially border towns. Many others come to Thailand to work in labor intensive factories where they can get a relatively higher income than working in industrial zones (38) in Burma.

The idea of migrating to another place of greater opportunity may seem an attractive option for women, despite the risk and hardships. However, many hundreds of thousands of migrant women workers in Thailand from Burma are doing the "three D" jobs: dirty, difficult and dangerous, which Thai workers are unwilling to do. Although the exact number is not known, it is estimated that at least two million people have left the country since 1988; many of these are ethnic people who have suffered from the regime's anti-insurgency policies as well as abuses accompanying the state's development policies. The January 2002 figures of the Burma Border Consortium (BBC), the largest relief organization assisting refugees from Burma in Thailand, show that the number of refugees inside camps is 137,934. There are also more than one million illegal immigrants from Burma. It is impossible to estimate the total number of undocumented migrant workers from Burma, but recent data from the Thai ministry of Labour and Social Welfare states that 257,354 men and 193,981 women registered workers are from Burma.

The state policies have also led to large numbers of Internally Displaced People (IDPs), who have fled or been driven out of their homes, and are living in the forests and hill tracts without security, regular food, or access to medical services, and are in heavily land-mined areas. The BBC estimates the number of IDPs in Burma's border areas has reached over a million.

4. Gender-based violence
The patriarchal culture reinforced by the military has also made women vulnerable when they are outside home.

State violence: (39) SPDC officers and troops frequently rape ethnic women in conflict areas with impunity. Rape is used as a tool to demoralize and destroy ethnic communities, and serves as a continuation of civil warfare off the battlefield. Attempts to seek justice by the survivors and their communities are either ignored or retaliated against, which heightens the terror induced by the crimes.

Violence in migration: Migrant women in neighbouring countries, because of their illegal status, continue to be vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse by authorities, employers and other civilians. Violence against women from Burma in neighbouring countries, such as Thailand, is more opportunistic than systematic as in Burma but remains a serious constraint on women's movement, as arrest, deportation and rape by authorities is a constant risk. Deeply entrenched systems of patronage in the government, police and army in Thailand, for example, offer effective legal and social protection to rapists.

Trafficking and Forced Prostitution (40): Due to the expansion of both unregulated domestic work and the sex industry, these women often find themselves in entirely unfamiliar situations, without the support of usual family or social structures. Their inexperience exposes them to dangers that they are unprepared to navigate. Trafficking of girls and women is one of the most serious outcomes of poverty and environmental destruction in Burma. In some circumstances, girls and women make the difficult choice to engage in risky sex work. In others, many girls are trafficked into sex work without their prior knowledge, and are essentially imprisoned by their debt bondage. Deprived already of their land, their traditional livelihoods, and their food security, these women and girls are also denied the support provided by their families and communities. (41)