The Myanmar Penal Code of 1860 states;
Of Unnatural Offences
377. Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with transportation for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Policy written in colonies during occupation are inherently structured on the cultural and political norms of the coloniser. Within this environment intercourse against ‘the order of nature’ or ‘unnatural sex’ is usually interpreted by authorities to mean sodomy or same-sex activities that cannot result in procreation. The lineage of such ideologies can be traced back to ideas of religious sinful practice in Europe. Countries previously held by Britain including Myanmar, India, Malaysia and Singapore still hold these colonial era laws in place.
In Myanmar today this law is rarely enforced but because of its existence LGBT people are seen as criminals and are frequent victims of discrimination, violence, oppression and in some cases extortion.
Hla Myat Tun from Colors Rainbow, a LGBT advocacy organisation stated of Myanmar police, "They see them as a walking ATM. If they need to fill their quota, they arrest transgender sex workers, or gay guys. They harass them, they arrest them, even gang-rape them in the police compound" (The Guardian).
Aung Myo Min created Colors Rainbow in 2007 after having realised that Myanmar’s "main human rights violation was ignorance". The organisation trains volunteer paralegals to document occurrences of homophobic and transphobic activities. By recording this information and through further research they aim to educate the wider public and to propose a new anti-discrimination law that they hope the new liberal government, the National League of Democracy (NLD) will adopt.
At a time when Myanmar is leaving behind its authoritarian past and navigating the discriminatory laws put in place by the British it is essential that minorities including the LGBT community are aware of their legal and human rights so that their voice may find a place in the rewriting of Myanmar social and political life.
These messages are being spread effectively though film. This year, Myanmar held their second &PROUD LGBT Film Festival, which premiered a biographical documentary about Aung Myo Min titled Di Lo A Chit Myo (This Kind of Love), among other short films.
Similarly, EngageMedia is holding multiple screenings around Myanmar aiming to educate audiences of the experiences of a wider range of minority groups. Among the films is Turning Tables production That’s The Way I Am, a film exploring a homosexual mans experience in coming out and the fear that characterised his childhood.
From 5-7 October 2016 organisations from all over Asia participated in the Regional Meeting for the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This meeting aimed to strengthen APC's regional strategy for 2017 and beyond.
One of the key points that arose was attempting to find a better way for collaboration between APC members in the Asia region. The participants were also concerned with how this regional collaboration on technology and information can cover gender and sexuality challenges that are specific to particular countries. These points will continue to be discussed in the APC Paper about Theory of Change and Strategy for 2016-2019.
In discussing cutting-edge technology participants raised concern about problems of access to information and technology in the Asia regions. There was discussion about the social and economic costs of network shutdowns on freedoms and human rights in the Indian sub continent. APC also endeavoured to develop a framework on last mile access to examine which countries do not allow community networks, an issue faced in Argentina and which are wireless, like Nepal.
The participants also explored the possibilities of holding a national school for internet governance in Asia so that any member can replicate this in their home country. There was also suggestions to facilitate participation in the design of digital rights camps in South East Asia or more widely, South Asia.
The meeting was closed by a short conference with Bangladesh Minister of Information & Communication Technologies and received a lot of coverage from the Bangladeshi media.
On 12 April 2016, nine women from Mount Kendeng, Rembeng regency of Central Java encased their feet in cement in front of the State Palace, Jakarta in protest against the construction of a PT Semen cement plant.
The women hoped that the protest would symbolise the ‘shackling’ of their lives and their environments by cement. Riem Ambarwati, one of the protesters, described cement as ‘dead earth’ because no living thing can grow within it (Coconuts).
PT Semen began construction of their plant in June 2014 and have since experienced massive community backlash. The communities of Kendeng and also Pati, Grobogan and Blora, where other cement companies have plans to build; are mostly farmers and are concerned that the plant, being build upon the Watuputih groundwater basin area will greatly diminish their primary water source and so impact upon their livelihoods as farmers. The communities also point out that they have always been able to support themselves through farming and do not need or desire the jobs that the cement plants will provide.
The plant could potentially cause the loss of 51 million litres of water. Aside from community opposition the construction of the plant has met with opposition from environmental activists and academics who insist that the mountainous karst area must be preserved. The mining of limestone in the karst region, necessary for the production of cement will have detrimental impacts on the mountains underground water channels that provide water not only to the immediate area but also carry water farther afield.
The Kendeng community were granted an audience with President ‘Joko’ Jokowido who ordered further strategic environmental assessment (KLHS) and all permits to be annulled for the duration of the study. The assessment will involve the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and is estimated to take one year.
The affected communities still fear that this will not deter activities at the plant and plead for a respect of their environment and for dialogue between industrial contractors and local land holders, who in this case had never been previously consulted regarding the construction of the plant.
Natalie Anne Stuart
Khaw Than: A Call in Need is a 3 month film tour in Myanmar organised by EngageMedia. The tour, consisting of screenings and discussions, will be held in Yangon and Mandalay and features a collection of films about the rise of minority rights and interfaith issues.
Over the past few years, minority groups in Myanmar have been victim to increases in discrimination resulting in fear, violence and a regional refugee crisis. Despite the end of military dictatorship and more attention from the international media, the situation is not improving. To aid in this outreach to the media, many filmmakers based in Myanmar have produced documentaries aimed at the international market.
EngageMedia decided to join in this advocacy effort to foster an understanding of minority rights issues by holding a total of 6 film screenings in the country as well as highlighting the issues through an online campaign.
The first screening took place in collaboration with Phandeeyar at their office on the 26 October. We made an open call to those interested within the community and over 80 people attended.
The films that were screened included works that have been selected and awarded at multiple international film festivals and focus on issues including minority rights and war, children’s rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights as well as interfaith films. Ma Su of EngageMedia stated that the diverse selection of films is meant to cater to a wide range of issues and audiences. All screenings were followed by discussions with the filmmakers.
The first film was Thet Oo Maung’s ‘Sound of Silence’ awarded at the Gerona Film Festival in Spain. The film focuses on an old retired soldiers experiences in the civil war and includes very dramatic and exciting footage. Maung shared his experiences in making the film with the audience and discussed sympathy for the victims of war.
Lei Lei Aye, the director of ‘My Mother is Single’ led a riveting discussion on her ideas of women’s roles in Myanmar society. ‘My Mother is Single’ was produced by Turning Tables Myanmar and received recognition at Wathnn Film Festival.
The third film shown was ‘A Letter from Civil War’ directed by Lin Thet Naung, it depicts a child’s life in an IDP camp in Kachin. This film was also selected for the Wathnn Film Festival in 2013.
Ko Aung Win Htut from Phandeeyar said that the screening "is an affirmation of the hard work put in by the younger generation in the film industry here. It's a film series Myanmar should be proud of".