A Dream of a Life without War
Naw Zipporah Sein, Thailand/Burma
June 11, 2003
I grew up in Burma, so-called Myanmar, a country ruled by one of the world's cruelest and longest–lasting dictatorships. I am Karen, the second largest ethnic nationality in Burma with a population of about 8 to 10 million. Like other ethnic nationalities in Burma, the Karen have been fighting for their rights, freedom, self-determination, and democracy for more than fifty years.
The Karen live mostly in the mountainous eastern border region of Burma and the central delta areas. We are simple people, with strong families, who place a high value on hospitality and desire to live peacefully. But we have suffered systematic persecution, torture, exploitation, displacement, and death, including the death of our culture, the most vital part of our daily lives. Our Karen schools have been taken from us, controlled by force and destroyed, and we are not allowed to learn our own language in Burmese schools, because of the national policy of "Burmanisation."
The Burmese army is present throughout our land and controls our people though forced labor, forced relocation, rape, torture, killing, looting, and destruction of property. Our fields, crops, and rice barns are burned down and our villages as well. Our villagers are deliberately starved and regularly beaten, and the women raped and killed with impunity. Rape by the Burmese army, or SPDC (State Peace and Development council) officers and troops is such a popular weapon in these violent encounters that, as women, we have become the target of the war
We Karen women have lost all our rights—the right to an education, the right to health and food, even the right to live. Our children are born under attack; small babies do not have the right to cry, because they might reveal the whereabouts of their family
I grew up in a rural area, a war zone, and I have never felt secure. All my life I have been an internally displaced person; even now, living in a refugee camp, I still don’t feel safe. My family had to move from place to place all the time; we could not settle anywhere for more than two years .We had to keep moving until finally we got to the refugee camp on the Thai–Burma border in February 1995.
My mother was responsible for the survival of her eight children, while my father traveled in the struggle for freedom. My mother is a strong woman. She kept us alive through her knowledge of traditional herbal medicines, because we had no clinic or hospital, health workers, doctors or nurses, even medicines. We were lucky that my mother knew so much, for her skill prevented us from dying; many other children did die.
My mother always explained why we had to live a life of terror and fear. She said the day would come when" Peace and Justice" would be achieved and we would live peacefully and happily ever after. We children strongly believed this; we waited for the day when "Peace and Justice" would come to our country. And we are still longing and waiting for it.
I was born in the area of the widest and most serious armed conflicts, an area where thousands of women still suffer everyday. I was a schoolteacher in this war zone for twenty years. As a schoolteacher, what I found most difficult to talk about with my students was peace and security. It sounded unrealistic to them as well as to me, when war was all we knew. In the middle of almost every academic term, we had to close down the school when the Burmese government sent its troops to attack our areas. My schoolboys had to go to the front lines to defend the women, children, and elderly in the villages. Not only have I witnessed war against civilians, but, as a teacher, I lost many students to it.
All these years I have dreamed about a life without war, a life that would be secure and safe. I think this must be very pleasant. I have already tried to bury many wounds inside me and I now look forward only to what may happen next. It is my sincere and heartfelt wish that my people and I will be able to live a life without war, a life of peace and security. I feel we have a long way to go; peace is still a very distant dream for us.
Women’s definition of peace goes beyond the mere end of war and fighting. We want a genuine peace, a peace with justice, a peace where there is no violence or domestic violence. Even if there is no war, if there is still domestic violence, women cannot be happy with this kind of peace.
I believe that unless we can increase the participation of our women in the current political movement at the decision making level, we will not be able to contribute our best capabilities toward our peace building process. Because during all these long years of civil war, we have been vulnerable, we have suffered, and we have never been the cause of war. We women have the skills to work with men for peace and to make plans to bring it about.
I personally believe that all parties involved are responsible to bring the terror in to an end through forgiveness. I strongly support the words of Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1984, who said there can be "No future without forgiveness." Power, pride, and hatred will never create a world or a country that lives in peace and justice. We need solidarity from all our sisters in the world; we need support for our women’s efforts at co-operation, reconciliation, and peace building.
Naw Zipporah Sein has lived in a Thai refugee camp since 1995, where she now works for the Karen Women's Organization as General Secretary.