Pan Sandar Myint is a Sydney-based human rights advocate and founder of Empower Success Media. She’s also the very first Rohingyan Burmese woman to compete in an Australian beauty pageant, going on to become a national finalist for Ms World 2020. Mavens spoke to Pan to learn more about her mission to support Rohingyan people both in Australia and overseas, and how she is working to help shape a better world for women in particular.
Pan, thank you so much for speaking with Mavens. Firstly, can we ask about your background as Australian Rohingyan woman?
I was born and raised by Burmese Rohingya Parents in Yangon, Myanmar. My Paternal Grandfather is Professor Habib Ullah, a Yangon professor with a double PHD in political science and history. In 1958, he helped prevent the first Rohingya genocide along with his childhood friend Zakir Hussain, the East Pakistan Governor.
I am a fortunate Rohingyan woman as I hold a full Myanmar passport and I graduated my highschool (St Augustine) with 5 distinctions in 2007.
In 2009, I migrated to Australia and fell in love with the culture where people are treated equally. I was very surprised when I learned that professors and tutors prefer to be called by their names rather than ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ in universities and colleges! And I became an Australian Rohingya in 2012.
We are saddened by the plight of Rohingyas in Myanmar, who are currently under attack by their own military government. Can you explain the situation right now for Rohingyan people around the world?
Right now, Rohingyan people are extremely vulnerable and the situation is unpredictable. Based on recent news, we know that the Indian government is not accepting them as refugees – it is either planning to deport them to Myanmar or putting them in detention centres. There have already been 86 fires in the Bangladesh Rohingya refugee camp which have killed 15 people or more.
The Myanmar military is now trying to bring all Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar. Being an Australian Burmese Rohingya, I am sad that my people are being treated like footballs – being kicked left, right, up and down simply because they are denied citizenship rights. We have been genocided three times in history.
My questions to the world are ‘Is it a crime to be a Rohingyan? Has God ever let someone choose their own identity, birth place, religion and physical structures?’
I don’t think so.
Do you think the situation is worse for Rohingyan women in particular?
The situation for Rohingyan women is getting worse in the camps. They aren’t able to get an education and there are little to no medical facilities. The majority of them have lost their family members escaping from genocide. They cannot marry legally for lack of dowry, citizenship and family support.
At the Free Rohingya Coalition, I am responsible for handing women’s affairs and youth empowerment projects. As a UN Global Peace Chain Ambassador, I am responsible for raising awareness of Rohingya equal human rights.
In an SBS radio interview, you said ‘there are only obstacles when you have no self-confidence and no self belief.’ How have you developed your confidence to empower yourself?
I used to be a very shy, reserved girl. After losing my father at the age of 24, I empowered myself to become much more independent, standing on my feet without the need for a man’s shelter. I am now a confident, career-oriented Australian Burmese Rohingya.
How does your Muslim faith shape your world view?
Before being a Muslim, I am human! Myanmar (where I was born) is a Buddhist country but Rohingyan people are mostly Muslim. I believe humanitarianism should be above all religion.
Being a Muslim, I have always been taught to forgive and be humble. And we shouldn’t take this human life for granted.
Your company ‘Empower Success’ has three branches: Empower Success Media, Empower Success Press and Empower Success Sports. What is your role within the business and what does a typical day look like for you?
I am the founder of Empower Success Pty Ltd. The parent company is Empower Success Media comprising two subsidiaries: Empower Success Press (a world news blog) and Empower Success Sports (a global sports news blog). Empower Success Media is a Youtube channel presenting human rights issues, female empowerment and ethical issues by collaborating with international humanitarian activists. The first series is endorsed by SBS Burmese and SBS Rohingya.
You were a Ms World Australia National Finalist in 2020, and the very first Rohingyan woman to compete in an Australian beauty pageant. What made you decide to enter the pageant?
In Myanmar, we Rohingyans are not considered to be a good looking ethnic group. We have even been called ‘kalar’ or ‘kalar ma’ which is a racial pejorative term used by Buddhist Burmese people when speaking of non-Buddhist Burmese ethnics.
In Hindi, Urdu, Bangali and Arabic, 'kalar' or 'halar' means black. Even though it means 'diaspora' in the Burmese dialect, it means 'black' or 'dark' in other languages. That’s why it's used to discriminate against Muslim and Hindu Burmese ethnics (due to their Indian, Pakistani and Arab heritage).
I entered into the Ms World beauty pageant to celebrate Rohingyan beauty, discourage racial discrimination and advocate for the equal human rights of all Rohingyans.
You commissioned your beauty pageant outfits from Gina Berjeel, an Australian ethical fashion designer employing female refugees from Iraqi, Syrian and Afghanistan backgrounds. What inspired your ethical fashion statement and what should Australians consider when buying clothes?
As a human rights advocate, I decided to wear ethical fashion outfits over fast fashion for the duration of the competition.
The fast fashion industry is worth three trillion dollars, accounting for 2 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. To generate high profits, most fashion firms operate their factories in Asian countries for cheap labour. USA, Europe, Australia, UK and Japan import most garments from China and Bangladesh. This creates serious human rights issues, including forced labour of underage children, unfair wages (and wage theft) and environmental degradation. Therefore, I strongly encourage Australians to purchase ethical fashion outfits whenever possible.
Learn more about how you can make ethical fashion choices here. Or, if you would like to help Rohingyan people through an Australian registered not-for-profit organisation, make a donation to ARDA (Arakan Rohingya Development Association) here.