Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA is supporting KWO’s Capacity Building work to equip Karen Women leaders with knowledge and skills to serve as community leaders and development managers

The Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) has over 70,000 members across Karen State, Myanmar, and in seven refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar Border. The KWO is a democratic membership organisation with Karen women being elected to join KWO committees at all levels of the organisational structure. KWO leaders implement community programs in the areas of organising and information sharing, health, education and social welfare.

Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA and KWO are working together on the KWO Capacity Building Project, which equips KWO leaders from the village level up to the executive level to effectively implement community development work, lead in their communities and participate in local decision-making.

Karen women participating in capacity building training session.

Since the military coup on February 1 2021, there has been an ongoing escalation of violence across Myanmar. Pro-democracy supporters, activists, participants in the Civil Disobedience Movement, unionists, journalists and elected MPs have been targeted, arrested, detained, tortured and killed. Communities in Karen State have been subject to persecution, travel restrictions, looting, indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes. By December 2022, the Karen National Union estimated that there was 350,000 internally displaced people in Karen State.

Despite the conflict and the many safety and logistical challenges this creates, KWO have continued to provide essential support services to Karen women and community members, while also conducting capacity building training whenever it is safe. Training topics are always responsive to the needs of the participants, and training modules have been introduced or adapted to address landmine education, security advice, mental health and psycho-social support.

Some key achievements of the project last year include:

  • Two team building training sessions for 41 KWO Central level staff and position holders in towns focusing on self-confidence, relationship management and recognition of self-care needs.
  • Six online program management workshops for 313 KWO leaders at Central, District, Township and Camp levels to review KWO’s core programs, including planning, problem solving and discussion of capacity-building needs.
  • 21 capacity-building training sessions for 180 KWO leaders and staff in refugee camps and 240 leaders and staff in Karen State. Training topics included KWO constitution and policies, self-care, finance management, women’s rights, protection and leadership, gender based violence, child rights and Indigenous peoples’ rights, report writing and mine risk education.
  • 86 Community Awareness Raising sessions with a total 2,713 community members covering human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, indigenous peoples rights and landmine education.
  • Piloting of the “KWO – Be an Active Member” workshop over 11 sessions with 275 KWO members, which aims to increase members’ engagement and create more space for them to influence KWO programs.

By strengthening KWO’s capacity to promote and enable women’s inclusion in community decision-making and leadership positions, cultural attitudes towards women’s role in community are shifting.

Simultaneous to managing their ongoing work, KWO have been delivering urgent relief support to internally displaced peoples, providing basic need supplies such as food and shelter as well as catering to the specific needs of displaced women and children. They are also active in advocating for action to hold the Myanmar military to account and a transition to inclusive democratic government in Myanmar.

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

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