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Text of Aung San Suu Kyi's KeyNote

We've just received full text of Keynote Address by Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi at NGO Forum on Women, Beijing '95.  The message reads:

B  E  I  J  I  N  G       ' 9  5

Opening Keynote Address by
Aung San Suu Kyi,
Nobel Prize Laureate
read on video to the NGO Forum on Women, Beijing '95
31 August 1995

It is a wonderful but daunting task that has fallen on me to
say a few words by way of opening this Forum, the greatest
concourse of women (joined by a few brave men !) that has
ever gathered on our planet. I want to try and voice some of
the common hopes which firmly unite us in all our splendid

But first I would like to explain why I cannot be with you
in person today. Last month I was released from almost six
years of house arrest. The regaining of my freedom has in
turn imposed a duty on me to work for the freedom of other
women and men in my country who have suffered far more - and
who continue to suffer far more - than I have. It is this
duty which prevents me from joining you today. Even sending
this message to you has not been without difficulties. But
the help of those who believe in international cooperation
and freedom of expression has enabled me to overcome the
obstacles. They made it possible for me to make a small
contribution to this great celebration of the struggle of
women to mould their own destiny and to influence the fate
of our global village.

The opening plenary of this Forum will be presenting an
overview of the global forces affecting the quality of life
of the human community and the challenges they pose for the
global community as a whole and for women in particular as
we approach the twenty-first century. However, with true
womanly understanding the Convener of this Forum suggested
that among these global forces and challenges, I might wish
to concentrate on those matters which occupy all my waking
thoughts these days : peace, security, human rights and
democracy. I would like to discuss these issues particularly
in the context of the participation of women in politics and

For millenia women have dedicated themselves almost
exclusively to the task of nurturing, protecting and caring
for the young and the old, striving for the conditions of
peace that favour life as a whole. To this can be added the
fact that, to the best of my knowledge, no war was ever
started by women. But it is women and children who have
always suffered most in situations of conflict. Now that we
are gaining control of the primary historical role imposed
on us of sustaining life in the context of the home and
family, it is time to apply in the arena of the world the
wisdom and experience thus gained in activities of peace
over so  many thousands or years. The education and
empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to
result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life
for all.

If to these universal benefits of the growing emancipation
of women can be added the "peace dividend" for human
development offered by the end of the Cold War, spending
less on the war toys of grown men and much more on the
urgent needs of humanity as a whole, then truly the next
millenia will be an age the like to which has never been
seen in human history. But there still remain many obstacles
to be overcome before we can achieve this goal. And not
least among these obstacles are intolerance and insecurity.

This year is the International Year for Tolerance. The
United Nations has recognised that "tolerance, human rights,
democracy and peace are closely related. Without tolerance,
the foundations for democracy and respect for human rights
cannot be strenghened, and the achievements of peace will
remain elusive". My own experience during the years I have
been engaged in the democracy movement in Burma has
convinced me of the need to emphasize the positive aspects
of tolerance. It is not enough simply to "live and let live":
genuine tolerance requires an active effort to try to
understand the point of view of others; it implies broad-
mindedness and vision, as well as confidence in one1s own
ability to meet new challenges without resorting to
intransigence or violence. In societies where men are truly
confident of their own worth women are not merely
"tolerated", they are valued. Their opinions are listened to
with respect, they are given their rightful place in shaping
the society in which they live.

There is an outmoded Burmese proverb still recited by men,
who wish to deny that women too can play a part in bringing
necessary change and progress to their society: "The dawn
rises only when the rooster crows". But Burmese people today
are well aware of the scientific reason behind the rising of
dawn and the falling of dusk. And the intelligent rooster
surely realizes that it is because dawn comes that it crows
and not the other way round. It crows to welcome the light
that has come to relieve the darkness of night. It is not
the prerogative of men alone to bring light  to this world:
women with their capacity for compassion and self-sacrifice,
their courage and perseverence, have done much to dissipate
the darkness of intolerance and hate, suffering and despair.

Often the other side of the coin of intolerance is
insecurity. Insecure people tend to be intolerant, and their
intolerance unleashes forces that threaten the security of
others. And where there is no security there can be no
lasting peace. In its Human Development Report for last
year, the UNDP noted that human security "is not a concern
with weapons - it is a concern with human life and dignity".
The struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma is a
struggle for life and dignity. It is a struggle that
encompasses our political, social and economic
aspirations. The people of my country want the two freedoms
that spell security: freedom from want and freedom from
war. It is want that has driven so many of our young girls
across our borders to a life of sexual slavery where they
are subject to constant humiliation and ill-treatment. It is
fear of persecution for their political beliefs that has
made so many of our people feel that even in their own homes
they cannot live in dignity and security.

Traditionally the home is the domain of the woman. But there
has never been a guarantee that she can live out her life
there safe and unmolested. There are countless women who are
subjected to severe cruelty within the heart of the family
which should be their haven. And in times of crisis when
their menfolk are unable to give them protection, women have
to face the harsh challenges of the world outside while
continuing to discharge their duties within the home.

Many of my male colleagues who have suffered imprisonment
for their part in the democracy movement have spoken of the
great debt of gratitude they owe their womenfolk,
particularly their wives, who stood by them firmly, tender
as mothers nursing their newly born, brave as lionesses
defending their young. These magnificent human beings who
have done so much to aid their men in the struggle for
justice and peace - how much more could they not achieve if
given the opportunity to work in their own right for the
good of their country and of the world?

Our endeavours have also been sustained by the activities of
strong and principled women all over the world who have
campaigned not only for my own release but, more
importantly, for our cause. I cannot let this opportunity
pass without speaking of the gratitude we feel towards our
sisters everywhere, from heads of governments to busy
housewives. Their efforts have been a triumphant
demonstration of female solidarity and of the power of an
ideal to cross all frontiers.

In my country at present, women have no participation in the
higher levels of government and none whatsoever in the
judiciary. Even within the democratic movement only 14 out
of the 485 MPs elected in 1990 were women - all from my own
party, the National League for Democracy. These 14 women
represent less than 3 percent of the total number of
successful candidates. They, like their male colleagues,
have not been permitted to take office since the outcome of
those elections has been totally ignored. Yet the very high
performance of women in our educational system and in the
managment of commercial enterprises proves their enormous
potential to contribute to the betterment of society in
general. Meanwhile our women have yet to achieve those
fundamental rights of free expression, association and
security of life denied also to their menfolk.

The adversities that we have had to face together have
taught all of us involved in the struggle to build a truly
democratic political system in Burma that there are no
gender barriers that cannot be overcome. The relationship
between men and women should, and can be, characterized not
by patronizing behavior or exploitation, but by metta  (that
is to say loving kindness), partnership and trust.  We need
mutual respect and understanding between men and women,
instead of patriarchal domination and degradation, which are
expressions of violence and engender counter-violence.  We
can learn from each other and help one another to moderate
the "gender weaknesses" imposed on us by traditional or
biological factors.

There is an age old prejudice the world over to the effect
that women talk too much.  But is this really a weakness?
Could it not in fact be a strength?  Recent scientific
research on the human brain has revealed that women are
better at verbal skills while men tend towards physical
action. Psychological research has shown on the other hand
that disinformation engendered by men has far more damaging
effect on its victims than feminine gossip.  Surely these
discoveries indicate that women have a most valuable
contribution to make in situations of conflict, by leading
the way to solutions based on dialogue rather than on
viciousness or violence?

The Buddhist  paravana  ceremony at the end of the rainy
season retreat was instituted by the Lord Buddha, who did
not want human beings to live in silence [I quote] "like
dumb animals".  This ceremony, during which monks ask mutual
forgiveness for any offence given during the retreat, can be
said to be a council of truth and reconciliation.  It might
also be considered a forerunner of that most democratic of
institutions, the parliament, a meeting of peoples gathered
together to talk over their shared problems.  All the
world1s great religions are dedicated to the generation of
happiness and harmony.  This demonstrates the fact that
together with the combative instincts of man there co-exists
a spiritual aspiration for mutual understanding and peace.

This forum of non-governmental organizations represents the
belief in the ability of intelligent human beings to resolve
conflicting interests through exchange and dialogue. It also
represents the conviction that governments alone cannot
resolve all the problems of their countries.  The
watchfulness and active cooperation of organizations outside
the spheres of officialdom are necessary to ensure the four
essential components of the human development, paradigm as
identified by the UNDP: productivity, equity, sustainability
and empowerment.  The last is particularly relevant: it
requires that "development must be by  people, not only for
them.  People must participate fully in the decisions and
processes that shape their lives."  In other words people
must be allowed to play a significant role in the governance
of the country.  And "people" include women who make up at
least half of the world1s population.

The last six years afforded me much time and food for
thought. I came to the conclusion that the human race is not
divided into two opposing camps of good and evil.  It is made
up of those who are capable of learning and those who are
incapable of doing so.  Here I am not talking of learning in
the narrow sense of acquiring an academic education, but of
learning as the process of absorbing those lessons of life
that enable us to increase peace and happiness in our world.
Women in their roles as mothers have traditionally assumed
the responsibility of teaching children values that will
guide them throughout their lives.  It is time we were given
the full opportunity to use our natural teaching skills to
contribute towards building a modern world that can withstand
the tremendous challenges of the technological revolution
which has in turn brought revolutionary changes in social

As we strive to teach others we must have the humility to
acknowledge that we too still have much to learn.  And we
must have the flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of
the world around us.  Women who have been taught that
modesty and pliancy are among the prized virtues of our
gender are marvelously equipped for the learning process.
But they must be given the opportunity to turn these often
merely passive virtues into positive assets for the society
in which they live.

These, then, are our common hopes that unite us -- that as
the shackles of prejudice and intolerance fall from our own
limbs we can together strive to identify and remove the
impediments to human development everywhere. The mechanisms
by which this great task is to be achieved provided the
proper focus of this great Forum.  I feel sure that women
throughout the world who, like me, cannot be with you join
me now in sending you all our prayers and good wishes for a
joyful and productive meeting.

I thank you.

//end keynote address//