The Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) is a women’s mass organisation with tens of thousands of members in Myanmar and refugee camps in Thailand. They run programs for women and children in the areas of health, education, social welfare and organising and information sharing. KWO is committed to building leadership in its ranks with leadership training that begins when women are in their teens. 

However, amidst their noble endeavours, Myanmar’s military presence has increased in some parts of Karen areas, as have the number of clashes with Karen armed groups and attacks on civilian areas by mortar and airstrike since July 2023. This poses an immediate danger to communities and makes it difficult to move around and access basic services. People are constantly in a state of vigilance, ready to flee from airstrikes at any time and the numbers of internally displaced people continue to grow. Despite the ongoing violence in Karen State, Myanmar, the KWO is standing strong to work for and with its community. 

Through the Capacity Building project of the KWO supported by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, leaders within the organisation receive essential training to effectively fulfil their roles. With a democratic structure where women hold elected committee positions, ongoing training is vital to ensure capable leadership at all levels. 

KWO commemoration of the International Women’s Day 2024

Leadership training  

KWO leaders during a training session

KWO leaders during a training session

Training for KWO leaders covered internal and program management topics which reached 80 women leaders in refugee camps and 166 women leaders in Karen State. The project also facilitated workshops to review plans and management of KWO’s core programs involving key leaders from the Central Executive Committee, as well as Karen State and Refugee camp committees: 

  • Organising and Information Sharing Program workshop – 55 leaders 
  • Education Program workshop – 42 leaders 
  • Social Welfare Program workshop – 47 leaders. 

In addition to the KWO-specific training topics, the program provides training for both KWO leaders and the broader community on a range of human rights issues. Regular topics include gender, women’s leadership, human rights, women’s rights, child rights and indigenous people’s rights. These sessions equip participants with an understanding of their rights and increase their capacity to apply these rights in their daily lives. A strong human rights-based approach underpins all KWO’s operations and informs their work in local and international advocacy. 



Naw K’Nyaw Paw, Chair of KWO

The Karen Women’s Organisation is vocal in advocating for women and ethnic communities of Myanmar. They regularly release their statements, as well as join with other civil society groups in joint calls for action. This includes their role in the coalition organisation, the Women’s League of Burma. 

In recent months, key advocacy calls from the KWO include: 

  • Regular statements condemning the violence and brutality of the Myanmar military and their attacks on civilians, calling for an end to indiscriminate violence. 
  • Denouncing the military for unlawfully detaining over 700 women political prisoners since the 2021 coup.  
  • Building community awareness and support for a community free of violence against women through activities for the 16 Day Campaign to End Gender Based Violence.  
  • Calling for the international community to sanction state-owned enterprises and crony businesses. As noted in an article by KWO’s Chair Naw K’Knaw Paw in October: “Failure to impose these sanctions increases revenue, which pays for the bombs being dropped on civilian villages.” 
  • Calling on the UN and others to support local organisations to provide relief to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Humanitarian aid funds, including those delivered through UN agencies, are being delivered under agreements with the military. The military has blocked access to areas where this relief is desperately needed, and these arrangements prompt KWO to question how international actors can “work in good faith with war criminals while simultaneously condemning them for their atrocities?”  
  • Condemning the conscription law announced by the Myanmar military in February 2024, mandating 2 years of military service for all women aged 18-27 and men aged 18-35 and drawing attention to the gendered impact of forced conscription. In a joint statement from women’s organisations, the Women’s League of Burma highlighted that women forced into the military will be exposed to conflict-related sexual violence which has long been perpetrated by the military, while at the same time forced recruitment of men will reinforce gender roles and stereotypes.  
  • KWO marked International Women’s Day 2024 with theme “Inspire inclusion”. They released a message recognising that “since the attempted coup in Burma in 2021, women have not only suffered disproportionately at the hands of the brutal regime but have also contributed enormously to the revolution to bring down this dictatorship and bring peace to the country.” The message called for a more gender equal future; “The new interim government that will come must have women leaders, and the Constitution itself should be a tool to guarantee women’s inclusion and gender equality.” 

In the face of adversity, the Karen Women’s Organisation remains a beacon of hope, tirelessly advocating for justice, equality, and empowerment.  

Karen women are profiled in an exhibition

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA is currently supporting Karen Women’s Organisation’s Capacity Building Training Project which also receives support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and the Australian Education Union. 

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