The 100 Most Influential People of 2021
The New York Times/Redux
By MiMi Aye
September 15, 2021 7:19 AM EDT

Three fingers aloft, faces aglow, clad in their bright-red shirts—a nod to the Karen ethnic minority—Esther Ze Naw Bamvo (who is Kachin) and Ei Thinzar Maung (who is Shan-ni) were a vision of strength, honor and justified anger as they led people on the very first anti-military protest in Yangon just five days after the Feb. 1 coup that violently robbed Myanmar of its freedom.

The fierceness of Myanmar’s women has long been suppressed by its military, so this brave new generation sent a surge of pride through us all.

Through their work, both activists have broken new ground. Esther is a leader of the Kachin Peace Network and was one of the few people in the past who were courageous enough to speak up for the Rohingya; Ei Thinzar, also a longtime activist on ethnic minority rights, has been named as Myanmar’s youngest-ever deputy minister in the National Unity Government, an exiled group formed by members of parliament ousted in the coup.

It’s thanks to these women and others like them, that we finally have hope for the future of Myanmar.

Aye is the author of MANDALAY: Recipes and Tales From a Burmese Kitchen, and host of the food and culture podcast The MSG Pod

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