UVic women drop their panties
Rights and Democracy asks students to join the fight against female oppression in Burma
<!– Living Reporter
Underwear — what is it good for? A group of women in Burma are saying it’s worth a lot more than just covering up your naughty bits.
Panties For Peace, a campaign originally launched in 2007 by the women’s organization Lanna Action for Burma (LAB), is an attempt to bring an end to the military abuse of Burma’s population — especially its women. Now UVic has joined the fight and is asking students to drop their panties.
In the next few weeks, students will see bins popping up around campus in which to deposit their underwear — a push from the UVic Rights and Democracy Network to jump on board the world-wide campaign, which plays on the Burma regime leaders’ superstitious fears that contact with a woman’s underpants will rob them of their power.
But you don’t have to wait for fellow students to take the lead. Women around the world are asked to post their panties to local Burmese embassies in a effort to bring an end to the military’s gross violations of human rights.
While the campaign has taken off in countries around the world, like Australia, the Philippines, Germany and others, in Canada Panties for Peace has been led by a coalition of feminist and civil society organizations co-ordinated by the Montreal-based Fédération des Femmes du Québec (Quebec Women’s Federation) and the Rights and Democracy Student Network.
Mika Lévesque, Rights and Democracy’s Asia Regional Officer who gave a lecture at UVic on Jan. 21 about the military oppression in Burma, said that while the gesture is small, the meaning is huge.
“[Panties for Peace] is really an act of solidarity with the women in Burma,” said Lévesque, who originally hails from Quebec. “When I go there and tell them that you care, it’s unbelievable to them. It’s the littlest thing, but it encourages them to carry on.”
Kent Lane, a member of the UVic Rights and Democracy Network and an organizer for the upcoming panty drive, says that getting people aware of an issue they don’t normally engage with is an important step to making a change. Lane wanted to help spearhead the drive in an attempt to do just that.
“In the Burma situation, this type of protesting is effective because the people who started it believe that what they’re doing can make a difference, and every time they see support it helps to keep them going,” Lane said. “We can help that too.”
Lévesque said, during her lecture, that Canadians often confuse human rights with democracy. But that view, she said, is skewed.
“When we say human rights, it’s qualified,” Lévesque said. “What we mean by democracy and human rights largely comes down to the same thing but, in reality, it’s how much a state respects human rights that determines whether or not it is democratic.”
Lévesque, who spent years working and living in Burma, was recently blacklisted as a “threat” to the country and has been unable to obtain a visa to re-enter. Lévesque is honoured by the trouble, though, and laughs when she says she knows the military fears her. However, she holds the graveness of the issue close to her heart.
“Burma is one of the most brutal regions you can find in the world today,” Lévesque said. “There are so many infractions being carried out on human rights, that it’s easier to [list] the rights that haven’t been violated than to name the ones that have.”
In her lecture, Lévesque discussed not only the military regime’s war crimes against women (including using rape as a punishment), but also their tendencies to burn down villages to corral citizens, to force military labour duties on civilians and to murder or arrest those who speak out on the actions.
She said that despite all the failed actions, the women of LAB were able to develop a subversive but hope-filled retribution — sending taboo panties to their oppressors.
“If you keep silent, it just gives more power to those who are doing you wrong,” Lévesque said. “Instead of being victims of that [crime], use it to take back control of the issue. We trust the women of Burma to know what’s best in fighting this fight, and that’s just what they’ve done.”
What happens when the underwear reaches the regime? Lévesque believes the men won’t touch it, but that just having it in their presence is traumatic enough. Combine that with the strong roots of military superstitions in Burma, and their knowledge of the attention this is receiving worldwide, and Lévesque says it’s as though every county is sending them bad omens — they’ll get the message.
Yet Lévesque says the campaign is not only successful in its non-violent power because it highlights the blatant sexualized crimes against these women, but that it also works wonders for keeping up moral.
“This is a very therapeutic action,” Lévesque said about mailing the underwear. “It makes the women laugh, it’s funny, and many of them write messages on the panties, which is also a great release to them.”
In terms of the importance UVic women have in making a difference, Lévesque believes every effort is essential.
“To fight for someone else’s right is to fight for my own,” Lévesque said. “I can’t fully enjoy my home when I know others are homeless, and I can’t fully appreciate the gifts my freedom gives me when I know others don’t have [those gifts] at all. Standing up for someone who can’t stand up for themself is the most important thing you can ever do.”
For more information, please visit the pantiesforpeace.ca website, or contact Kent Lane at kjlane[at]uvic.ca. (Remove [at] — inserted to prevent spam.
Mika Lévesque encourages every woman to take mailing peace panties into her own hands. But, she says, instead of including your own return address, write in one from a newspaper or another country’s embassy — that way, the regime is less likely to return-to-sender, as it will only generate more awareness.
After you’ve chosen your panties, write a message of solidarity, then mail to one of the following addresses.
Embassy of the Union Myanmar, 85 Range Road, 903 Ottawa, Ontario K1N 8J6
Directly to Burma:
Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman, State Peace and Development Council c/o Ministry of Defence, Naypyitaw, Union of Myanmar