Yin Min Aye is a women’s rights lawyer from Myanmar. She has agreed to share her work and experience with Hear My Voice- Women’s Network to guide other women that are interested in this line of work.
Q: Please describe the work you do with regards to promoting rights for women in Myanmar?
Currently, I work as a lawyer for a community-based organisation, called Aye Myanmar Association, that provides services and support to sex workers in Mandalay, Myanmar. My role is to provide free legal service to women, for both the defence and the prosecution side. The types of cases I deal with include; women being exploited by their pimps, women being assaulted by client's or women being arrested for solicitation. In addition, I provide women with legal information about their rights to try to empower them and prevent them from facing issues with the police. I also try to educate lawyers, judges, and other actors in the justice system about the rights of women and sex workers specifically. Often sex workers are
looked down on in Myanmar society and therefore denied their legal rights. Consequently, it's not easy achieve to justice for them in this biased system.
Q: What motivates you to do this kind of work?
Sex workers are women and therefore, despite what people think of them, they are entitled to the same rights as all women. Sex workers live on the margins of society and face discrimination and exploitation. In Myanmar, according to our culture and religion, we should help everyone that is in need, this is why this work is my duty. People think sex workers are immoral and look down on them because of their work. However, we must be more empathetic towards these women and understand what circumstances lead them to be in this line of work. Many of the women I meet do this work out of necessity and have no opportunity to change their lives. They feel hopeless as there is no way out for them. For me, I want these women to know that they have rights, they can protect their rights and they have value. I want to change other attitudes toward sex workers so that they can be accepted in society and have a better quality of life.
Q: What are some of the personal challenges you face when doing your work?
Doing this work has a number of challenges. Firstly, other lawyers and members of the justice system look down on me because I work for the rights of sex workers. They speak to me in a degrading way and gossip behind my back. They judge me and think I am not a skilful lawyer and that this is the only job I can get. Secondly, sometimes the women I represent are afraid to stand up for their own rights and don’t want to take their case to court. So, I have to counsel them and encourage them to stand up for their rights. Lastly, the maximum punishment for solicitation in Myanmar is 12 months. The court system is very slow in Myanmar and it can take up to 8 months for a case to reach court. During this time, a woman might already be in jail and often the police push the her to admit to the crime and
not take the case to court. Since if she pleads guilty, she will only have to stay in jail a few more months. Therefore, many women feel that they don’t want to fight their cases and just plead guilty. This kind of situation is difficult for me because justice is not achieved, and women are unnecessarily branded criminals.
Q: What advice would you give to other women that want to advocate for women's rights?
You must dare to speak out when you think something is not right or fair.
Believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to speak out! We must also have an empathetic mindset, that enables us to put ourselves into the shoes of others. This will help you when working with marginalised people, like sex workers, so that you are not afraid to work for these women and not afraid to stand up for their rights even when others might judge. It is important that you learn the laws and legal procedures of your country so that
you can confidently represent others. Over the past years, I have attended many trainings that helped me increase my knowledge and skills and connect with likeminded people in my community also working for marginalised women. For me, I first try to share my knowledge with the people around me, such as family, friends, colleagues, to advocate for women's rights close home. There is nothing wrong with starting small.
In Myanmar, there is systematic discrimination towards women. Often women accept this discrimination because they don’t know any other way. We need to make women aware of this discrimination and educate them about their rights. Women need to be empowered to change their own lives. This is why I am very excited about the Hear My Voice Women’s Empowerment Program, participants will develop skills and confidence to advocate for their own rights and empower them to stand up for the rights other women in their community.
If you would like to be our Woman of the Week or would like to nominate someone, please get in touch. We hope to be able to showcase women from all over the world who are working to promote social justice and women's rights.