Myanmar nun among BBC’s 100 Women of 2021
By Robin Gomes
Among the BBC’s “list of 100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2021”, is a Catholic nun from Myanmar. Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng of Myitkyina, the capital of Chin state, showed incredible courage in the face of great danger on February 28, when she went down on her knees and spread out her arms before the security forces, pleading with them not to attack the unarmed protesters sheltering in the clinic where she serves the sick.
The 45-year-old nun belonging to the local Sisters of St. Francis Xavier was ordered to leave immediately, but she stood her ground, saying, “Just shoot me if you want to. The protesters have no weapons and they are just showing their desire peacefully.” The video of her daring act went viral on social media, with various media networks, including the BBC, giving her coverage.
“The Catholic nun became a symbol of Myanmar’s protests following the military takeover” of Myanmar in the coup of 1 February, the BBC said. “The photo of her with her arms spread wide facing heavily armed police officers went viral on social media in March 2021, and won her widespread praise,” the broadcaster wrote, including her among 31 women in the category of politics and activism.
“Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng has openly spoken of protecting civilians, especially children. She has trained as a midwife and has led a life of service for the past 20 years, recently looking after Covid patients in Myanmar’s Kachin state,” the BBC added.
Small act with big love
Global Sisters Report that has been in touch with Sister Tawng since the viral video, came to learn from the nun that it was an unknown Buddhist protester who had filmed her faceoff from a hiding place and later posted it online. She said, “I could do such a thing because God blessed me and used me as His tool and the Holy Spirit also blessed me with courage. ... I was using my own life to delay the time so that the young (people) could have time to run away. That was a small act, but by doing this with big love, this act appealed to the international community and got publicity. I deeply feel that this was also God who wanted the world to know the situations in Myanmar.”
The gesture of Sister Tawng has moved the hearts of millions of people across the world, including Pope Francis. “I too kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say: stop the violence,” the Holy Father said on 17 March, in what was a reference to the nun. “I too extend my arms and say: let dialogue prevail!”
“We are comforted and encouraged by the fact that the Pope supports us to end all violence through dialogue,” Sister Tawng later commented to Vatican’s Fides news agency, after coming to learn of the Pope’s remarks. “I am surprised that, as has been reported to me, his words may have been inspired by my gesture of kneeling down and raising my hands to the sky. I did it with my heart. These are the actions of every Christian who has humanity at heart," she added.
The Holy See and Pope Francis, as also several Catholic Church leaders and bishops’ conferences from around the world, have appealed for dialogue and peace while expressing their solidarity with the people’s legitimate demand to free their elected leaders and reinstate the process of democracy in the impoverished southeast Asian nation.
Myanmar’s prominent Catholic Church leader, Cardinal Charles Bo Yangon was also touched by Sister Tawng’s witness. "The world watched with awe at the great sacrificial witness in front of the tsunami of evil,” he wrote in a message on the occasion of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 11. “I commend the witness to the redemptive love of the sister, which inspired many to appreciate the Catholic Church and the religious life. Out of the darkness, simple acts of generosity shine with great power,” said the cardinal, who president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Myanmar (CBCM) as well as of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
BBC's Afghan women
“This year 100 Women is highlighting those who are hitting ‘reset’ - women playing their part to reinvent our society, our culture and our world,” the BBC wrote. It has classified the 100 women into 5 categories: Afghanistan, culture and education, entertainment and sports, politics and activism, and science and health.
“Women from Afghanistan make up half of this year's list, some of whom appear under pseudonyms and without photos for their own safety,” the BBC said. “The resurgence of the Taliban in August 2021 has changed the lives of millions of Afghans - with girls banned from receiving secondary education, the ministry for women's affairs being disbanded, and women in many cases told not to return to work. This year's list recognizes the scope of their bravery and their achievements as they are forced to reset their lives.”
Among them are doctors, entrepreneurs, policewomen, a wheelchair basketball player, an actress, teachers, an astronomer, librarians, rights activists, media women and a barrister.
Among others in the list are Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Samoa's first female prime minister Fiamē Naomi Mata'afa, US Professor Heidi J Larson, who heads The Vaccine Confidence Project, and acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
There is also Ethiopian nurse Mulu Mefsin, who cares for women and girls who are victims of sexual violence in Mekelle, capital of the war-torn region of Tigray, Mia Krisna Pratiwi of Indonesia, who is trying to solve the plastic waste problem in Bali, Cameroonian Sevidzem Ernestine Leikeki, who is using beekeeping as a strategy to control forest fires and deforestation.
“100 Women” is a BBC multi-format annual series that examines the role of women in the 21st century. It was established in 2013 following the outrageous gang rape and murder of a woman in the Indian capital, Delhi, in 2012. BBC officials and journalists who felt that many of the issues women faced were not getting in-depth coverage were inspired to create a series to focus on them.