Thinzar Shun Lei Yi is the winner of the Women of the Future Southeast Asia Award 2019. She hosts the Under 30 Dialogue, which is a TV show in Myanmar. Her show discusses various topics concerning politics, youth participation, and democratic development in Myanmar. Shun Lei is passionate about promoting equal rights and opportunities for each individual in Myanmar, especially political rights and opportunities for marginalized groups such as women and youth.
[below are some highlights from the interview that are edited for clarity.]
Raising Voices of Young People
It was not easy for young people in Myanmar [to raise their voices in the development process]. Even though youth make up about 60% of the population, we would never get a chance to have a say or to express ourselves in the mainstream media. We are not even in the political position as well. As a young person, I feel like my voice is missing. I want to say something, but people don’t take me seriously because I am youth; I am young, and I am a woman. I asked myself why we don’t create our own [plat form]; why we need to wait for other people to come and see us. We have to find our platform, so I decided to create this platform. Then, I find senior people to help us. We built this platform in 2017. When we had a Rohingya crisis in September , we organized a very first TV show to address this critical problem. Young people are not silent. We created our platform. This is how I started my program in 2017. I want to encourage young people to talk about critical issues and serious topics.
The motivation for me to carry my work is to look at problems such as poverty, oppression, and human rights violation happening across the whole country. People do not have a place [to express their experience]. Even though they want to express their violation [experience], they will be punished for what they express. We, as young people, living in the 21st century and using devices such as mobile phones and technology, see other worlds and other different countries enjoying their freedom and human rights. They are ahead of us in the western world. Even [I] look at our region, people enjoy their human rights by having different platforms [to express their concern]. It is possible to create another free world that has equality and justice.
Women’s Rights and Women’s Leadership
We have about 13% of female parliamentarian in the parliament. It is very low, but higher than the previous term. So, it is getting better. Women [in general] are not held senior positions. Women are mostly volunteers, teachers, and housewives. They are not leaders, decisionmakers, and policymakers. This is problematic. More than 50% of the population are women. But we have not taken women seriously at the decision-making or policymaking level. We need more female ministers, female members of parliament, female decisionmakers, and women politicians. The current state of women in leadership is unsatisfying.
We are in the transition period toward a democratic country. We must empower women. Empowering women is not just about training them; women should be given space to express their opinion and practice their leadership. I think we should push forward the quota system in the political party and any political scenarios. We need a quota system in the political party, parliament, and government cabinet.
Dealing with challenges
In this society, when a young woman has a bold voice, you will find yourself alone most of the time because it is really rare. It is really hard to find a woman with critical views. You, sometimes, feel lonely because you are among men. It is hard to find women being activists. I experience much resistance from men, especially from older men. They shut you up; they silence you.
I experienced discrimination. Sometimes, I feel like I am good enough. I know how to deal with it [this feeling] better now. When I feel like I am not good enough, I ask myself what about other men out there. They are not good enough neither. So what? What is different? I am not perfect; we are human; we have flaws. We have to accept that, but not to have lower self-esteem. We have to keep moving forward. Sometimes, you just let yourself cry. It is ok to cry. It is ok to mentally breakdown, but don’t take it so long. You need to look out through the window; you will find yourself motivated again.