“Myanmar’s Lady cosies up to the general”: There was something about this BBC headline this week that made me uncomfortable – and it wasn’t just unease about what behind-the-scenes deals may have taken place to provoke Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s apparent repositioning of himself as a born-again champion of religious freedom and military accountability.

What was unsettling was the innuendo, which added just one more unnecessary piece of gender prejudice into the great cauldron of ridiculous ways some people attempt to undermine women’s achievements or efforts.

Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing’s recent criticism of those promoting religious extremism, and his announcement that military personnel were to face court martial over the deaths of civilians in army custody in Shan State, may have been unexpected but, at face value at least, are to be welcomed.

However, it certainly behooves observers of the negotiations between icon of democracy Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the military representative to question what concessions have been made on both sides for such apparent advancements to occur.

The commander-in-chief’s first-time attendance at the Martyrs’ Day commemoration last week, and at a reception Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hosted later at the house where he had overseen some of her time under house arrest, was likewise naturally going to provoke some comment.

But the pivotal events taking place in the country just now – and the efforts of the woman tasked with overseeing them – deserved better than the sly dig in the headline.

Opinions as to just how much State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be willing to overlook corruption and past and ongoing military abuses in order to secure broader stability for the country vary wildly.

Some see her dealings with the country’s extremely powerful military leaders as necessary diplomacy. They say that progress toward peace and modernisation is more important than justice being seen to be done for the victims of decades of brutal crimes against humanity. It is a view that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appears to have taken herself, or at least has decided is the most pragmatic approach to take publicly under the circumstances.

Others, myself included, have deep concerns that any peace deal done in a climate where there is little or no accountability or responsibility taken for past misdeeds will merely act as a temporary dressing and allow old wounds to carry on festering beneath, only to open up again before very long.

Both views have their merits, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be aware of those and no doubt of many other pros and cons few others could possibly have the inside knowledge to fully recognise.

But whether one agrees with her political decisions and collaborations, she should be free to carry them out without diplomacy being framed in terms that could be construed as sexual innuendo.

She is, as she has made very clear, her father’s daughter – and that has brought her a status denied any other woman in this country. But she is not, and never will be, a soldier.

Despite her unique position, which many say places her above traditional gender stereotypes, she is still a woman in a man’s world. And while there is a strong argument that, in elected parliamentary terms at least, it is a situation of her own making, this is not true when it comes to dealing with the unelected military.

When US head deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes was in town last week – on a mission that undoubtedly included building American links with the Myanmar military – there wasn’t a single headline that implied he’d been snuggling up on the sofa with a man in uniform. He was simply here to do a diplomatic job.

Certainly Hillary Clinton or Theresa May could attest that women aiming for top roles in politics across the world can face far worse sexist commentary than the sly allusion in the BBC headline about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the commander-in-chief. But they come from countries where women’s rights are far better established and face different pressures. While Donald Trump may be a disaster waiting to happen, he, mercifully, doesn’t yet have an army at his personal command.

The state counsellor has faced some strong criticism for her apparent unwillingness to tackle key rights abuses head on. And rightly so. As the leader of the country’s first democratically elected government in decades, her political decisions must be held up for scrutiny in the same way as any other powerful national leader.

With the 21st-century Panglong meeting set to take place next month, it is natural that indications that a person with ties to the Bamar majority and historic military elite is strengthening links with the current Myanmar military will sound alarms among sections of the oppressed ethnic minorities.

But she has an incredibly tough job to do if she is to facilitate peace in this country, and even her fiercest critics must recognise there is no one else who can equal her position to do so.

Her title as “The Lady” may carry a certain glamour and dignity, but it unfortunately also leaves her open to sexist jibes. Few are party to what is going on behind the scenes between the state counsellor and the senior general, but however much one questions the merits of such an alliance, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s unique position as one of the most influential women in the world should not be denigrated by cheap jokes inspired by her gender.

Link: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/opinion/21648-the-lady-and-the-trashy-headline.html