Women's International Center Blog

Aung San Suu Kyi – A Life of Devotion

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Aung San Suu Kyi – A Life of Devotion 

“The only real prison is fear,” a mantra that summarizes the state of mind of one remarkable woman who spent 15 years under house arrest in her Rangoon house because she was fighting for Burmese people’s freedom and human rights. This admirable woman who has been struggling for her country without fear is the pro-democracy leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Peace laureate arrived on Monday, September 17, 2012 in Washington D.C. for an 18-day trip in the United States to improve the relationship between the US and Burma, as well as to lift economic sanctions. While here, she met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and visited some of Burma’s communities in the US. She also received an honor from President Obama for her achievements.

General Aung San was a man who devoted his life to the fight for the independence of his country and became the national leader. As the daughter of a hero, Aung San Suu Kyi followed in her father’s footsteps and led the democratic movement to free Burma’s people from a crushing dictatorship. After her father was assassinated, her mother also became a prominent public figure. She was the head of social planning and policy programs and became Burma’s ambassador to India, among other roles. What her parents dedicated their life to probably inspired Aung San Suu Kyi to continue.

She was born in Rangoon in 1945 but, at the age of 15, moved to India, following her mother, and studied politics at Delhi University. Later, she moved to England where she earned a BA in philosophy, economics, and politics at Oxford University. She had everything in Oxford, including her husband, children and studies, but as her mother got increasingly ill, she had no choice but to return to Burma. At the sight of the disarray of her country, her life was soon to radically change and she vowed to serve Burma’s people, as her parents had done in the past.

In 1988, Suu Kyi decided to devote her life to Burma’s freedom. By devoting herself to her country, she sacrificed a lot, including the chance to see her husband one last time before he died, in 1999, of a cancer, in London, as well as the opportunity to see her children grow. The separation from her husband and children was one of the many sacrifices she made to honor her promise to liberate her people.

The first step in her non-violent struggle for freedom was founding the pro-democracy political party called the National League for Democracy. This party was formed in order to be included in the 1990 elections. Despite the fact that she was under house arrest, the NLD won the elections with 82% of the seats in the Parliament. These elections were a first victory in the fight and showed the faith Burma’s people had in her, in spite of the government’s refusal to hand over power. Again, in 2010, she was still under house arrest, released a few days later, and the NLD was banned when the elections took place. She was finally elected to Parliament in 2012.

Between the different periods of detention she was sentenced to, she was also restricted from leaving the country or even traveling into her own country. While under house arrest, she was internationally awarded for her struggle with the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize “for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights,” as well as the United States’ highest civilian honor given to her by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Recently, she received the US Congressional Medal.

Today, Aung San Suu Kyi has become a model for many women since she represents the perfect example of an empowered woman. She uses her power to lead a movement to obtain freedom and human rights for her people. Moreover, she has proven many times that whatever threats are against her, she still stands for her country.

Despite the threat on her life and the distance from her family, she has always worked hard to make a better World for women and girls as well as for men. The threats she has lived with never affected her commitment and tenacity, never prevented her from making decisions and taking action, but just proved that any woman in the World can make positive change for her country, her people, and herself.

Despite all the challenges she has faced, Aung San Suu Kyi has kept fighting for what is right. For this reason, she has become an international symbol of resistance against oppression and such a powerful woman worldwide. She has used this power, and still does, to rally men and women to make our world a better place, as she did rallying different ethnic groups in Burma, despite differences that kept them divided historically. The key to her success is the fearlessness that she expresses when she says: “It is not power that corrupts, but fear”. The Women’s International Center salutes our cherished Living Legacy and celebrates her many victories — acknowledged worldwide — won in the name of justice and human rights.

Sacha Vignault, University of La Rochelle, Research Associate for the Women’s International Center, exploring successful fair trade models for women-owned businesses

Read more about Aung San Suu Kyi on the Women’s International Center website: http://www.wic.org/

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