Burma opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has marked her 57th birthday with a call for greater empowerment of women in the military-ruled country.
The 1991 Nobel Laureate says the women of Burma are underprivileged and denied rights to security and control over their lives.
In an audiotape smuggled out of Rangoon and played at a birthday celebration in Washington, Aung San Suu Kyi called for Burmese women to play an important role in working towards democracy. "The women of Burma must shape not only their destiny, but also the destiny of the nation," she said. "For Burma to progress and take its rightful place in today's world, the women must be empowered. They must play a vigorous and leading role paving the way to social, political and economic changes in this country."
She said Burmese women have been handicapped by outmoded prejudices.
The leader of Burma's opposition National League for Democracy also noted that discrimination against women exists in most parts of the world. "In Burma, as in many other parts of the world, women are the underprivileged gender," continued Aung San Suu Kyi. "In areas of conflict and crisis, it is our women and children who suffer most. On the other hand, our women are rarely allowed to achieve decision-making positions even though they are able and well qualified. This means they are neither assured of their right to security nor their right to shape their own destiny. "
The celebration marked the sixth annual Women of Burma Day as well as Aung San Suu Kyi's birthday.
Speaking at the Washington event, Congressman Benjamin Gilman, Chairman Emeritus of the House International Relations Committee, noted his concerns about the lack of progress toward democracy in Burma. "With Aung San Suu Kyi just released last month on May 6, some people are expecting there could be some changes there," he said. "I think what we have to bear in mind is that there has been no significant changes."
Six weeks ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was freed from 19 months of house arrest by Burma's military government. Since her release she has not met with any senior generals, a sign that some observers say indicates national reconciliation talks have stalled.
The National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in a 1990 general election, but Burma's military government did not recognize the results and continues to rule the country.