Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on Nov. 13. She has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years. Her release came six days after Myanmar (Burma)’s first election since 1990. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) — the junta’s party — won more than 75 percent of seats in the election, which has been criticized as being rigged.
Many have speculated that the USDP released her in hopes of calming anger over the election and deflecting international criticism.
Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, who secured Burma’s independence from Britain in 1947. It was a democratic republic until 1962, when General Ne Win led a military coup d’état. Suu Kui was living abroad with her English husband and children when she returned in 1988 to care for her ailing mother.
It was then that Ne Win stepped down, which led to mass demonstrations for democracy. Suu Kyi decided to stay and the National League for Democracy (NLD) was formed, with Suu Kyi as its general secretary.
A military junta took power and, in 1990, a general election was called. The NDL won 80 percent of the parliament seats, and Suu Kyi would have been the Prime Minister. However, the junta nullified the results, and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest.
Upon being released, Suu Kyi told thousands of her supporters, “We must work together in unison.” Many wonder just how much of an impact Suu Kyi can actually make under the tightly controlled regime. How soon and how much will the impact of Suu Kyi be felt?
Perhaps we shouldn’t underestimate her. She was largely shut out from her supporters for the last seven years, so it is significant now that Suu Kyi is able to mobilize and assert control over her party. It’s been reported that she intends to embark on a tour of the country in the next few weeks to rekindle peaceful opposition to the government. She has also filed an affidavit as part of a lawsuit to oppose the dissolution of the NLD, which was based on the fact that, out of protest, it did not take part in the recent elections.
Suu Kyi is one of the world’s few Asian female leaders, and she is undoubtedly the most revered and beloved. Her resilience after decades of imprisonment is a testament to her ability to lead her people. There needs to be more women like her.
Which begs the question, how can we create more female leaders in Asia, even if on a small scale?
First, there are many children in parts of Asia who are just getting by. Many of us in the United States have the means to contribute to the health and well-being of these kids through sponsorship. One of this year’s Northwest Asian Weekly Asian American Pioneer, Tonie Alejo, does this. She sends money through international organizations and helps pay the basic living expenses of six children in the Philippines and one in Brazil. When parents (and their children) don’t have to worry about basic necessities, they are able to concentrate on the children’s education.
If you don’t have money, but you do have time, consider mentorship. Many young students in Asia want to learn English, and there are websites that will set you up with a pen pal. You can instant message online or write letters. How great would it be to encourage and inspire a young person as you help him or her with English language skills? ♦