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The very fact that a Burmese girl band even exists is one sign of that. But a more striking indicator of the change is that my drivers were former political prisoners who are only freed from jail in January. The two were students jailed for 10 and 12 years in for handing out leaflets during the brutally-suppressed protests known as the Saffron Revolution, named after the robes of the monks who led the movement.

They had served more than four years of their sentences, including 12 months in Rangoon's notorious Insein jail, when they learned they were to be part of the mass release of political prisoners earlier this year. Now they are running a taxi business, carrying visitors around the country.

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We met in Rangoon, a city where a dilapidated charm pervades and imposing British colonial-era buildings are crumbling in the tropical heat alongside garish new hotel and office blocks. The signs and symbolism of change are difficult to avoid.

For a start, the down-at-heel headquarters of the National League for Democracy are now as much a feature on the tour circuit as the golden splendour of the Shwedagon Pagoda where Miss Suu Kyi cut her teeth as a political novice addressing a crowd of hundreds of thousands. Now NLD staff sell T-shirts, coffee cups, baseball caps and key fobs bearing Miss Suu Kyi's image from stands to tourists, while party members come and go unimpeded and unnoted.


Similar memorabilia is also piled high on vendors' tables outside the main central market named after her father. It is a far cry from my visit 17 years ago when stern-faced officers from military intelligence monitored the movements of rare Western visitors from behind their sunglasses and even whispering her name could seem like an act of conspiracy.

As much of a surprise was to witness the explosion of independent new titles jostling for space with loyal pro-state publications such as The New Light of Myanmar. Indeed, Coca-Cola has just announced plans to set up operations for the first time since in one of just three countries where it does not currently do business the other two are North Korea and Cuba. Mr Myint is one of most prominent exiles to return to Burma this year since the government's change of direction.

Our Girl in Burma | Jonathan Rosenbaum

The launch party at a cavernous new Singaporean-built hotel offered a graphic illustration of the changing face of Burmese society. Among the guests of honour at one table were senior figures from the Ministry of Information, long responsible for implementing one of the most draconian censorship regimes in the world. At another was Min Ko Naing, a former student leader who spent nearly 20 years in prison, enduring brutal interrogation and torture before he was released in January.

For senior former junta officials and the country's second most influential opposition figure to be guests at a reception celebrating the debut of a magazine run by a long-time exile was another landmark in the Burmese Spring. It is a historic moment. And Burma is on the verge of another once-unthinkable revolution in its media landscape.

At the end of this month, the head of the Orwellian-sounding Press Scrutiny and Registration Department will be wound up after 40 years of operation. But for all the dramatic changes, Miss Suu Kyi - who was elected an MP in a by-election in April for a parliament that is dominated by the pro-military ruling party - has cautioned against "reckless optimism". In a stark reminder of the country's fragility, last week soldiers patrolled towns in western Burma to enforce a state of emergency after several days of Buddhist-Muslim violence left scores dead, thousands displaced and nearly 2, homes burned down.

The Beautiful People of Myanmar

The worst communal violence since reformist government took office last year comes as the army also pursues a ruthless crackdown on the ethnic people of the northern Kachin state. Hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail, and the country is still governed under a constitution drawn up by the old regime that grants the military an effective veto of 25 per cent of seats in parliament. On our drive through the country, we had just left behind the beguiling temples near Moulmein, where George Orwell and Rudyard Kipling both once lived, when we saw prison labourers toiling in a quarry in suffocating mid-day heat.

Economic reform lags far behind the political.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Kipling's Burma

The country lacks property rights, an even half-way modern banking structure, and most basic tenets of the rule of law. The infrastructure is abysmal and the whirr of generators and darkness that covers even cities at night testify to chronic electricity shortages. And for all the reformist zeal of President Thein Sein, a moderate former general appointed head of state last year, much of the bureaucracy lacks the know-how or indeed enthusiasm to implement the changes he is ordering, while old guard hardliners wait in the wings.

But for the average Burmese - men in their wraparound longyis; women daubed in the yellowish bark paste make-up of thanaka - little has changed in material terms in the desperately poor economy. Even they however are a celebrating the symbolism of The Lady's lap of honour through Europe. According to the research done by Mya Sein , Burmese women "for centuries — even before recorded history " owned a "high measure of independence" and had retained their "legal and economic rights" despite the influences of Buddhism and Hinduism.

Burma once had a matriarchal system that includes the exclusive right to inherit oil wells and the right to inherit the position as village head. Burmese women were also appointed to high offices by Burmese kings , can become chieftainesses and queens. Marriages were previously allowed between Burmese women and male foreigners provided that the divisional courts in Burma were informed within 21 days of advance notice.

However, in May , the government of Burma disallowed conducting of marriage ceremonies between Burmese women and male foreigners. To some extent, arranged marriages was also a part of Burmese tradition, however, the Burmese women have the right to refuse the offer of being betrothed to the parents' chosen partner for her. At present, young Burmese women can choose to marry someone for love. In , the Asian Women's Resource Exchange AWORC published a report entitled Human Rights in Burma from the Forum News August describing that by tradition, Burmese women are maternal self-abnegators, meaning that these women "consistently forgo their own needs in order to give their children first priority.

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As a result, Burmese families were "increasingly prioritising the rights of males over females to limited resources. Burmese women became unwilling porters and unpaid labourers for the military, including becoming victims of slavery, murder, torture, rape, and attacks. Historically, urban Burmese women "enjoyed high levels of social power" but later became confronted with restrictions on speech and limitations in acquiring high level positions in both private and public offices.

In January , BBC News featured Burmese Kayan Lahwi women who became tourist attractions in Thailand because of the tradition of wearing coils of brass around their necks.


The rings of brass push the "women's shoulders and ribs down" throughout several years giving the effect as if the necks had been stretched, thus described as sporting "unnaturally long, giraffe -like necks. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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Women in Myanmar A Burmese woman in traditional garb, c. Science Technology. Arts Humanities. Popular culture. By country.

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