#SheWhoShines 6. Aung San Suu Kyi – The Woman Who Sacrificed Life With Her Family For The People Of Myanmar

Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese stateswoman who was, in 1991, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. She donated the $1.3M prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people. It is said that her “struggle is one of the most extraordinary examples of civil courage in Asia in recent decades. She has become an important symbol in the struggle against oppression...”

Despite cruelty and mental anguish imposed upon her by the dictatorship of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi was a petite and fragile looking woman, however she was far from fragile, holding strong her convictions of democracy. Because she had so much support internally and internationally, the rulers did whatever they could to make her life painfully difficult in the hope she would abandon the cause, and leave the country.

She was born on 19th June, 1945, Yangon, Myanmar, formally known as Burma.  Suu Kyi spent large parts of her early life being educated abroad, in India, USA and the UK, and obtaining a Masters from Oxford University in 1969. It was at Oxford University that she met Michael Aris, a scholar in Bhutanese Studies. They married in 1972 and together had two sons.

In 1988 her life took a dramatic turn when she returned to Burma to care for her ailing mother. Suu Kyi found the country in violent turmoil under a brutal dictator, U Ne Win and the military which he ruled over. Protestors against him were unashamedly slaughtered.

Unable to be a bystander, and influenced by both Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence and more specifically by Buddhist concepts, Aung San Suu Kyi entered politics in 1989 to help restore democracy in Burma, forming the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Continuing to speak at political rallies with increasing audience numbers each time, she was placed under house arrest in 1989 with no communication with the outside world, spending the next 15 years under custody. During this time she was granted permission to leave Burma under the condition that she could never return. Suu Kyi made a difficult and brave decision to stay, stating that she could not let her people down even though it meant sacrificing a life with her husband and children.

Devastatingly, a visit from her husband in Christmas 1995, was to be the last time Suu Kyi would see him. Michael was denied any further entry visas by the dictatorship and when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1997 they still refused to let him visit Suu Kyi. Despite appeals from prominent figures and organisations around the world, such as UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, and Pope John Paul II, the Burmese government refused him a visa. Sadly Michael died on his 53rd birthday in 1999.

Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on 13 November 2010. Over the next five years she lead her party to victory and had majority seats in parliament.  

Despite leading the party, Suu Kyi could not be president. In 2008 a constitution was drafted and adopted by the military, with Suu Kyi in mind it is thought, barring anyone with children who are citizens of another country from becoming president. Both of Suu Kyi's adult sons are British citizens.

This is a very current issue and it is yet to be seen who the party nominates for the presidential post. Suu Kyi is a woman who has suffered under the brutal dictatorship of her country, and rose out of it stronger than ever. She saw the suffering of the people in Burma, and made the difficult decision to stay, unaware that she wouldn’t see her husband again. This kind of sacrifice for the greater good is heartbreaking, yet also full of hope and determination to make the world a better place.

The Guardian reported this week that positive results could come out of current negotiations between the Military Chief and Suu Kyi, as they discuss removing the clause barring her from becoming President.


Stay tuned for the stories of 4 more incredible women, and at the end of this week (12.02.16) we'll be opening the votes to find out whose story you find the most inspiring.

The 3 women with the highest amount of votes will have their names beautifully etched on our Limited Edition white candles for International Women's Day. 

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