Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar’s Pursuit of Happiness

Aung San Suu Kyi.

Of all the things I take for granted, the value I most often overlook is democracy. To reside in a thriving democratic country that gives a voice to its people and places checks and balances on its government is more than I can ever fully appreciate, and even though I have doubts about certain policies, at least I have the opportunity to voice these questions. As a young writer, I am especially grateful for my ability to articulate my opinions without fear of harm. Life in a democratic country comes with a certain expectation of rights, making civil rights movements take on greater meaning. Had Americans been told of something other than equality in their Constitution, they might not have had the same intense reaction to repeated civil rights violations. Democratization brings these violations to light.

We know from current events that democratization can be difficult, if not impossible: people throw around questions of whether democratic state governments, particularly the model used in the United States, could ever thrive in a land deemed perpetually archaic. Spectators wonder if those who live in lands once dominated by caliphates or powerful emperors will ever vote in a primary for president. However, when analyzing the idea of democratization, it is clear that if whole crowds desired rights, then they will often get them. One particularly intriguing individual leading the democratization movement in Southeast Asia is Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese woman who has been working towards civil rights for over twenty-five years.     

A military junta ruled Myanmar, also known as Burma, from 1962 through 2011. The government imposed forced labor, demanded civilian relocation, and prevented international diplomacy. Because of this, the Burmese economy remains extremely underdeveloped, foreign relations poor and leaders corrupt. Kyi has consistently spoken out against her government, pleading and organizing a movement that would foster some semblance of democracy with hopes that residents of Myanmar may someday possess the rights that they deserve. Since the election in 2011, the government has made some notable improvements, particularly in terms of foreign policy, and Kyi has been assisting this progress as long as she has been active in politics.

Kyi has spent most of her political career under house arrest. She addresses large groups of people, deals with controversy, and remains vocal about her dreams of the Rule of Law. Non-violently, she protested the policies of her unjust government, appealing to many international organizations. She is an observant Buddhist and meditates to keep her mind and values clear—an interesting tidbit in a world that so readily cringes at the convergence of religion and politics. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her political efforts but couldn’t even officially accept it for many years due to her arrest. Given her strength, it is not surprising that Suu Kyi hopes to run for higher office in the coming years, provided the military does not use its supreme power to suppress her. I hope that Kyi succeeds.

I am incredibly impressed by Aung San Suu Kyi. Like the famous civil rights leaders of United States history, she has faced penalties for having opinions that—to many of us—seem obvious, justified and necessary. We laugh when we think about how archaic countries were but fail to remember that entire nations are still held by the same ancient ideas. I love thinking about civil rights on the international level because making such large-scale comparisons can provide new perspectives of how everyone lives. Though it is simplistic and incorrect to assume that democracies are the only way to run a functioning government, it cannot be so much of an overstatement, or else countries would not be so eager to suppress figures like Suu Kyi. Such leaders must be onto something that will help their people.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

Topics: Civil Rights
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How to cite this page

Landau, Rachel. "Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar’s Pursuit of Happiness ." 20 March 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 22, 2024) <>.