by Kyawt Thiri Nyunt
“Don’t climb the tree because you are a girl. Don’t go out by yourself because you are a girl. Don’t hang out with guys because you are a girl. Stay at home because you are a girl. …because you are a girl. … because you are a girl.”
I can’t count how many times I have been told in my life to not do something because I am a girl.
Especially in a conservative country like Myanmar, it is difficult for women to express themselves.
Traditionally, Burmese women are supposed to stay in the house instead of exploring the world and their dreams.
Women have to remain passive at all times and follow the lead of the men.
Women are also oppressed in terms of religion.
If you go to a pagoda or a temple, you will definitely see a sign reading “No women allowed” near the entrance to the stupas.
The sign can be literally translated as “no climbing for women.”
When I was young, I asked my mom why I couldn't climb up the stupa.
She said it was because women have to go through a menstrual cycle and that our bodies are not clean enough.
This did not make sense for me; I am not allowed to do something because of my biological structure as a women.
My aunt added that if you are a woman and climb the stupa, you will die or something bad will happen.
This concept of women not being allowed on the stupas is very symbolic.
It, somehow, represents the oppression Burmese women have to go through.
Prohibiting to climb a stupa is almost like prohibiting women from seeking for opportunities.
Burmese women are not allowed to do certain jobs that require them to travel by themselves or stay out late.
"A woman who comes whom late is not a good girl," said my grandmother once.
So jobs like filmmakers, journalists or photographers, which requires a lot of time commitment, are not usually pursued by women.
In fact, there are more men than women in these industries.
Once I received a good opportunity to intern as a photographer.
The experience was very valuable for me but the work required a lot of time commitment and having to stay out late at night.
Sometimes, I would get home at 9pm, which is considered late for my parents.
At those times, my mom would say, "This is not a time for a girl to head back home."
But is there such thing as a time for a girl to come back home and a time for a boy to come back home?
"Our neighbors will view you as a bad girl if your keep coming back home this late," added my mom.
However, my parents were liberal enough to make compromises with me and allowed me to pursue my dreams.
But how many women actually had to give up their fantasies and dreams just because of gender?
Once I visited a pagoda in a different state. The head monk who was in charge of the pagoda actually allowed us women to climb up the temple.
This would be a very rare occasion. The head monk was just very different from others.
I climbed up the temple with a lot of excitement; my parents weren’t every comfortable with that but they didn’t stop me.
I didn’t die or got smitten by a lighting bolt.
Instead, I saw the most amazing view I have ever seen in my life: a series of golden pagodas in a distance, the mysterious green mountains and a fresh breeze brushing my face.
I would have never seen this beauty if I didn’t climb up the temple.
Sometimes, you just have to climb. It can be hard but what you see will be worth your climb.