Wai Wai Nu

Wai Wai Nu is a young peace and human rights activist from the Rakhine State in western Myanmar. Nu and her family are part of the Rohingya population, a stateless and predominantly Muslim Indo-Aryan speaking people who have no path to citizenship and have long suffered intense persecution by the state. In conditions that closely mirror apartheid policies, the Rohingya population is restricted from freedom of movement, state education, and civil service jobs. The United Nations and several human rights organizations have identified the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world today. Wai Wai Nu’s path to activism began when she and her entire family were jailed in the notorious Insein Prison in Rangoon by the ruling military government. In her own words:

“I was arrested when I was 18 years old because my father was a Member of Parliament for the political opposition in Burma. Eventually, my entire family was arrested. I spent 7 years in prison until I was released in 2012. Since I was a kid I have seen and lived a lot of injustice—I understand how it feels, the challenges faced by women and the poor people in my country. I realized the political system in Burma doesn’t benefit all of us, and since then I have tried to change the system to better the situation of women. We must see that all human beings are the same.  We have to take care of each other to build a beautiful world.”

Fortunately, under a new government led by reformist President Thein Sein, Wai Wai and her family from prison along with hundreds of other political prisoners.  Nu’s mission was crystallized as she set out to work working for women’s equality and to improve the lives of her fellow Rohingya people. Nu founded and serves as the director of the Women’s Peace Network Arakan –  a NGO that conducts training to promote better understanding between the Rohingya and Rakhine peoples in western Myanmar.  Wai Wai is also the co-founder of Justice for Women, a network of women lawyers providing legal aid to women across Myanmar. Nu’s work remains vital in brokering peace and understanding between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya people, as the current situation continues to escalate throughout the region.

In October 2016, the government of Myanmar began new violent crackdowns on the Rohingya population in what they claim is a response to attacks against the police and military in Rakhine. The military crackdown has resulted in over 150,000 displaced people along with sweeping arrests and widespread reports of state-sanctioned murder, gang rapes, torture, looting, and infanticide. The atrocities have mounted to the point of what many would deemed genocide or ethnic cleansing. During recent flooding in the region, it has also been reported that the government prevented international aid including food and medicine from reaching the Rohingya peoples for whom it was designated.

The continuing ethnic violence and human rights abuses present a significant challenge to Wu’s work, yet she continues to fight in hopes that she will eventually see Myanmar embrace democracy and offer equal rights to all. Nu has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine and participated in the inaugural class of a training program for young leaders held at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in 2015. In 2017, Nu was named one of the Next Generation Leaders by Time Magazine and in 2018, she received the Hillary Clinton Award from Georgetown University.

Illustration by Stephen Lim

Myanmar

Wai Wai Nu is a peace and women’s right activist, who is both Muslim and from Myanmar. Muslims in Myanmar, making up only about 4% of the population, have been heavily persecuted in the past and still struggle today. This portrait incorporates the traditional art form of Myanmar parasol mixed with patterns inspired by Islamic art and architecture.

Total Area
676,578 km2 (40th)

Demonym
Burmese/Myanma

Government
Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic

Population
56,890,418

Capital
Naypyidaw & Yangon

GDP (PPP)
$6,360