“At the end of the day, we belong to the same country, the same people.”
(BANGKOK, March 8, 2021) – Myanmar is rich in cultural diversity, with more than 100 distinct ethnic groups nationwide. For decades, many have faced discrimination in their everyday lives, particularly the Rohingya in Rakhine State. However, since the military coup d’état on February 1, millions of people in Myanmar have come together across ethnic and religious lines to demonstrate unity and solidarity in opposition to military rule.
Pan Sandar Myint is a 2020 Miss World Australia Finalist and Global Peace Chain Ambassador. She is also a Rohingya woman from Myanmar who has faced discrimination because of her ethnicity and religion, Islam.
Last year, Pan Sandar Myint, along with her childhood friends, co-founded Empower Success Media to tackle myths about ethnic nationalities in Myanmar.
“Even though we come from the same country, we don’t know why we face so much division by the military government,” Pan Sandar Myint told Fortify Rights. “I started Empower Success Media to . . . raise awareness about vulnerable minorities, like the Rohingya, in media.”
“I want to raise awareness to educate people,” she added. “At the end of the day, we are all human beings. We are humans first. Of course, we are also Muslims; we are Buddhists; we are Christians.”
Born in Yangon, Pan Sandar Myint remembers being mistreated in school and called “Kala Mar”–a pejorative term in the Burmese language used to describe Muslims, Indians, or those of South Asian descent.
“If [the teachers] found out I was a Muslim, they would use the word Kala Mar . . . I remember one of my teachers found out that I was Muslim and my friends were Christians. The teacher always made us clean the classroom whereas the rest, who were Buddhists, would pray.”
It was out of these experiences that Pan Sandar Myint developed her drive to tackle discrimination. This led her to join the Miss World Australia contest.
“To be honest, I just joined because I really wanted to advocate for my people,” she told Fortify Rights.
When the Myanmar military seized power in the coup d’etat last month, Pan Sandar Myint said she was “extremely sad.” However, the coup has also brought different groups together in a shared struggle for democracy.
“The majority never used to speak up for ethnic minorities – Rohingya, Chin, Kachin, Kayin,” she told Fortify Rights. “Now, they have realized that they were wrong. So now, I think we will be together. We will start fighting for each other. We all will start loving each other.”
When asked about her thoughts on the future of Myanmar, Pan Sandar Myint expressed her hope that people will continue to stand in solidarity, saying:
“I think it only depends on the next generation. They can do something for our country. Maybe, they can educate some extremists to do the right thing. Because at the end of the day, we belong to the same country, the same people.”