Panties with Power

Florence Machio

The new Panty Power campaign targeting Burma's military dictatorship is just one example of the creative methods women use to demand change.

Throughout history and in Africa, people have resorted to various methods to bring down regimes and also to effect change. Women in particular have had to use all manner of methods to force change in policies to their favor. And this is especially so when conventional methods have failed.

Currently, activists exasperated at the failure of diplomacy to apply pressure on Burma's military regime are resorting to a new means of protest against the regime's recent crackdown: sending female underwear to Burmese embassies.

Embassies in the UK, Thailand, Australia and Singapore have all been targeted by the "Panties for Peace" campaign, co-ordinated by an activist group based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The maneuver is a calculated insult to the junta and its leader, General Than Shwe. Superstitious junta members believe that any contact with female undergarments – clean or dirty – will sap them of their power, said Jackie Pollack, a member of the Lanna Action for Burma Committee.

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At the moment the issue of "panty power" that is targeted at all Burmese embassies is gaining strength and reminds me of what we in Africa have had to do to bring change. Some things that women have done make me support what is going on around the issue of bringing change in Myanmar.

In Africa, it is believed that if you see your mother naked, you may be cursed. When Kenya was going through a lot of turmoil, many women went on a hunger strike and stayed naked through out for days of the protest in attempt to make the then-government to release political prisoners. This alone in Kenya's case was enough to stop police from arresting the women who stripped naked to force the government to listen. There is a theory that this action is the reason that Kenya went through a stagnated economic growth and donor funding was withdrawn for ten years. So did the stripping work? Well, yes. The incident drew attention to the issue of political prisoners and most of them were released. Kenyans were able to know that the government had a torture chamber built especially for people who opposed the then government.

When Kenyan women were demanding for the enactment of sexual offenses bill and to drum up support for the process, there was talk of resorting to a "no sex" campaign until the bill is enacted. Luckily for the men in Kenya, we didn't have to resort to that.

The strategy worked and that's why when the need arises, as in Burma's case, I support the panty power campaign.

Will the panty power work? I think so. It has generated an interest and focus on what is going on in Burma. Soon, the panties will have an effect. Good luck Burma!

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