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Empowering Advocacy for Myanmar in the diaspora

Guest contributor

James Shwe

The importance of enabling the Myanmar diaspora themselves to take a proactive role in advocacy cannot be emphasized enough but it is rarely done by the people from Myanmar. The term Myanmar diaspora here is meant to include all ethnicities from the country of Myanmar and not limited to the Bamar only. It will be shortened to Myanmar for convenience here on. Several factors underscore this need:

Authentic Representation: Allowing Myanmar individuals to lead their own advocacy efforts ensures that their voices, experiences, and perspectives are authentically represented. This genuine representation can have a more profound impact on raising awareness and creating empathy among audiences in the U.S.

Cultural Nuances: Myanmar individuals possess an intimate understanding of the cultural nuances and historical context that shape the country’s challenges and aspirations. Their insights can provide a more comprehensive and nuanced picture, helping bridge the gap in understanding between different cultures.

Effective Storytelling: Myanmar advocates are better equipped to craft compelling narratives that resonate with both Myanmar and non-Myanmar audiences. Their personal stories can evoke empathy and highlight the human dimension of the issues at hand.

Sustainable Change: Empowering Myanmar individuals to drive advocacy creates a foundation for sustainable change. When the people directly affected by a situation lead the effort, there is a higher likelihood of long-term commitment and impact.

Building Capacity: Enabling Myanmar advocates to take charge of their advocacy builds their capacity, leadership skills, and networks. This not only benefits immediate advocacy goals but also contributes to their personal and professional growth.

Empowerment and Ownership: Allowing Myanmar individuals to conduct their own advocacy empowers them to have ownership over their narratives and initiatives. This sense of ownership can instill a deeper sense of pride and motivation to make a positive impact.

Support for Civil Society: Nurturing and supporting civil society within Myanmar is crucial for sustaining democratic progress. Advocates in the U.S. often work to provide assistance, funding, and resources to empower Myanmar civil society organizations.

Incorporating these aspects into advocacy efforts acknowledges that the most effective change often comes from within the community itself. 

However, engaging in advocacy activities for Myanmar in the U.S. can be both challenging and complex for Myanmar individuals. Several factors contribute to this difficulty:

Language and Cultural Barriers: Language and cultural differences can pose challenges when Myanmar individuals attempt to communicate their concerns and perspectives effectively to a non-Myanmar audience. Effective advocacy often requires clear communication and the ability to convey complex issues in a relatable manner. This especially true for the first generation immigrants from Myanmar.

Limited Resources: Advocacy efforts require resources such as funding, time, and organizational support. Many Myanmar individuals or grassroots organizations may lack the necessary resources to effectively engage in advocacy activities on a large scale.

Government Relations: Advocating for a foreign country’s issues involves navigating complex diplomatic and political landscapes. Building relationships with government officials and policymakers in the US to support Myanmar-related causes can be challenging, especially for individuals with limited political connections, especially for the first generation Myanmar in the U.S.

Lack of Awareness: Raising awareness about Myanmar’s issues among the general public in the U.S. can be an uphill task. Many Americans may have limited knowledge about Myanmar’s history, culture, and current affairs, making it challenging to capture their attention and garner support. 

Public Perception: Shaping public perception around democracy in Myanmar requires effective communication and education about the country’s history, political structures, and the aspirations of its people. 

Competing Priorities: Advocacy efforts often compete with numerous other causes and concerns on a global scale. Gaining the attention and support of policymakers, media, and the public requires effective strategies and messages that resonate. The Rohingya crisis, which involves human rights abuses and displacement of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, has garnered significant international attention. Advocacy for Myanmar faces the challenge of addressing this complex and urgent crisis alongside other issues related to the country. 

Security Concerns: Some individuals engaging in Myanmar-related advocacy may have personal connections to the country and could face potential risks due to political sensitivities or concerns about repercussions for their families and loved ones still in Myanmar. 

Military regime lobbyists and agents: Their concerted efforts to obstruct advocacy and divide the resistance amplify existing barriers. Lobbyists aim to sway U.S. policies in favor of the regime’s interests, often countering democracy-focused advocacy initiatives. The regime strategically exploits existing fault lines to weaken the collective efforts against their rule. Ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, intergenerational differences and even competition between resistance groups have been used to divide. A significant challenge lies in countering these divisive tactics while fostering unity within the resistance. Balancing cohesion and diversity of voices becomes crucial for an effective response.

Not recognizing the importance of advocacy: A lot of Myanmar people are not even aware that advocacy exists and is a good thing to do for Myanmar. Addressing this challenge requires not only educating Myanmar activists about the significance of advocacy but also showcasing its tangible results. Demonstrating how well-crafted advocacy efforts have contributed to change, policy shifts, and international awareness can help activists recognize its potential. Workshops, training, and success stories can serve as catalysts to kindle a deeper appreciation for advocacy’s role in shaping Myanmar’s future.

Despite these challenges, dedicated individuals and organizations continue to work tirelessly to raise awareness about Myanmar’s issues in the U.S. and advocate for positive change. By collaborating with like-minded groups, building effective strategies, and leveraging available resources, Myanmar advocates can make meaningful contributions to the ongoing dialogue and efforts to support the people.

By providing support, resources, and platforms for Myanmar advocates, we not only address the challenges they face but also empower them to play an active and meaningful role in shaping the narrative and advocating for positive change.

James Shwe is a Burmese-American living in the U.S. He has actively championed Burma’s democracy movement following the 2021 military coup. He advocates on behalf of both the U.S. government and Burma’s National Unity Government (NUG). 

DVB publishes a diversity of opinions that does not reflect DVB editorial policy. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our stories: [email protected]

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