Adriane Ohanesian photographed the women of Burma’s Kachin Independence Army (KIA):
In Kachin State, in northern Myanmar, the anti-government sentiment runs particularly strong. In fact, rebels have a strong enough presence that control over Kachin is effectively split between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The KIA is the last remaining major rebel group in Myanmar that has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. While the country at large has begun opening its doors, the government has simultaneously banned UN agencies, international NGOs, and even foreigners from entering into KIA territory. Effectively, this leaves the people of Kachin with little access to the outside world.
The women of Kachin have few opportunities in this isolated region, outside of serving the KIA. From the age of 16 women are eligible to join the army, and often remain there until they are discharged for marriage. While some join out of dedication to their people, others are forcibly recruited. This is a look into the lives of the young women going through their first experiences of military training with the KIA.
In an interview, Ohanesian describes how she got access to her subjects:
Through the assistance of local NGOs, I was able to make contact with women who had been soldiers and from there I was able to get into contact directly with the leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (the political branch of the Army). Once I made contact with the right people within the KIO/KIA the logistics and access were relatively straightforward. When I got on the ground, I explained to the women what I wanted to do, which was to follow their lives from morning to night. I also made sure that they knew that they could ask to me stop photographing at any time. I think that part of gaining the trust and respect from the women was the fact that I accompanied them at all times. I went on every patrol, to every boring military lecture, even if I wasn’t photographing. We were exhausted on patrols together, we were drawing together during boring lectures, and we were falling over slippery rocks in the river when it was time to wash.
In general, my most powerful organizational tool for this project was emailing—a painful amount of emailing. I emailed everyone, and I had meetings with everyone who would offer to see me, even if they seemed to have no relation to the project.
See more pictures from the series here.
(Image caption: After finishing morning training a young woman applies thanaka to her face inside the women’s room at the military base outside of Laiza, Kachin State, Myanmar, May 17, 2013. The 9 women shared an unlit room throughout the two-month training. © Adriane Ohanesian)