On the Thai-Myanmar border, women are training to become leaders to end oppression

“Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA’s support has built the confidence of thousands of women to become strong leaders in our communities, peace builders in Burma and advocates for women’s rights round the world.”

– Naw K’Nyaw Paw, General Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organisation


On the Thai-Myanmar border, women are building their collective power to build peace in their country and well-being in their communities in the face of growing militarisation and a precarious peace. In a region where access to social services is poor and educational opportunities are limited, and in communities where women have traditionally faced barriers to participation, the power of skills training and knowledge development can be transformative for women.

The Karen Women’s Organisation: a movement for peace, democracy, and equality in Myanmar

The Karen Women’s Organisation is a leader in the struggle for peace, democracy and equality in the Karen State of Myanmar, where it works to defend the rights of Karen refugee women by promoting their participation in community decision-making and political processes.

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA supports the Karen Women’s Organisation in delivering training which provides Karen Women the opportunity to gain professional skills to participate in civic leadership roles. Karen women participate in training sessions that provide opportunities for women to develop their knowledge of human rights, build self-confidence, and strengthen their organisational and political skills.

The project also has a broader impact, building the Karen Women’s Organisation’s capacity to promote women’s participation in all aspects of political life as well as their understanding of freedom, democracy, equality and sustainable peace.

Peace on a knife’s edge in Myanmar

The Karen Women’s Organisation’s is facing an increasingly challenging situation on the ground, as peace in Myanmar rests on a knife’s edge. The peace process between the Burmese army and the ethnic armed organisations has stalled, and the Burmese army maintains total control over all decision-making within the peace talks.

Simultaneously, the Burmese army is increasing its military presence in all indigenous areas along the border and strengthening their military camps. Local ethnic minorities worry that these moves foreshadow preparations for war. A return of conflict to the region would be disastrous for local communities, who have already felt the tragic impact of war for decades.

Training future Karen women leaders

Despite the challenges facing the Karen Women’s Organisation, the movement has continued to provide women in communities and camps with the opportunity to gain skills that will enable them to fully participate in community leadership roles.

Over the past year, the Capacity Building for Karen Women Project has trained forty staff and office-holders to gain understanding and awareness of gender, feminism, indigenous rights and project management. Its forty-five Standing Committee members also received training on women’s peace and security issues.

Over 240 refugee camp leaders and 280 village leaders have gained an increased understanding and awareness of KWO constitution, women’s peace and security, refugee rights and indigenous rights. Another 420 Karen community members in the Karen State of Myanmar underwent training in human rights and indigenous rights.

Stronger women’s power into the future

These training workshops are valued by the participants because most women elected into community leadership positions have not previously been able to enjoy the educational and workplace opportunities that would allow them to develop confidence in their work and potential. In the community, parents say:

“If you want strong daughters, send them to the Karen Women’s Organisation”

With an uncertain future for Myanmar and for refugee communities along the Thai-Myanmar border, it is essential that new Karen women leaders continue developing the confidence to work for their own people and the skills and knowledge to solve their own problems.

And given recent withdrawal of international aid from the region, continued Australian solidarity and support to the Karen Women’s Organisation is vital to ensure they are able to confront the challenges of the future. Should peace prosper, Karen women will be able to take on community leadership roles in their home villages when safe and dignified refugee repatriation is guaranteed.

Union Aid Abroad supports the Capacity Building for Karen Women Project in partnership with the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).


Stand with Karen women

By becoming a member of Union Aid Abroad, you can show Karen women that the international community stands with them in their fight for peace, justice, and equality.

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