KWO is pleased to provide our 2011/12-update report including programs currently running in the community, challenges and successes, financial reports, KWO special activities and a Call to Action. One thing that remains true throughout KWO’s 28 years of service is our commitment to the Empowerment, Equality, and Freedom of all Karen women. Thank you to KWO staff, leaders, members, volunteers, community members, partner organizations and funders who help make KWO successful!
Goal: to encourage women of different backgrounds to share their concerns and exchange information and ideas.
About the Project:
The Women s Exchange with MAP started in 2001 and many women took part in a number of sites along the border area. Now, KWO runs regular Women’s Exchange meetings in Mae La Oo and Mae Ra Moe camps.
The meetings involve women from different ethnic and religious groups, to encourage open dialogue and cooperation. Participants have included Burmese women from the Burmese Women s Union (from Mae La Oo camp) and Karen women from KWO and KYO. They also included individuals representing NGOs and other CBOs.
The KWO Women s Exchange program is run in conjunction with the BWU. The monthly meetings were hosted by each organisation on an alternating basis and took place one month in Ma Ra Mo and the next month in Mae La Oon. At the meetings, the women exchanged information about their communities, raised concerns about issues in their sections in camp and shared information about their respective organisations.
The women also discussed specific topics identified at previous meetings like:
- young people and development
- young people and health education
- women s health
- women s vocational skills for income generation
- personal care & hygiene
- exploitation and human trafficking
KWO’s advocacy team raises awareness of the human rights violations of women and children in Karen State, and promotes action to bring about peaceful and democratic reform in Burma. KWO takes every opportunity to advocate for women’s rights in Burma by working with Burma’s democracy groups, attending workshops and consulting with regional and international actors. This involves numerous international and regional advocacy trips, meetings and media appearances. Our preferred method of advocacy is to join with other organisations in order to more effectively represent the situation in context, and as a whole. Therefore, our presentations are usually made in conjunction with other organisations and necessarily merged their perspective with ours. We feel that by operating in conjunction with these other groups we are gathering strength through unity, and have a higher chance of bringing change to Burma.
International and Regional Advocacy Trips: At an international level, we have met with various sectors of the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council and the Commission on the Status of Women. We also travelled to New York on a trip organized by the Burma Fund- UN office, which is under the National Coalition of the Union of Burma. On this occasion we spoke at the UN General Assembly, and met with 15 States’ representatives to the UN, for the purpose of persuading the UN to adopt the Commission of Inquiry (COI) as a UNGA resolution. As well as making presentations to the UN, we did further advocacy work at an international level. We have travelled to Canada to meet with the Canadian government representative for Cross Border Humanitarian Assistance in eastern Burma. We also travelled to Australia to engage in advocacy work and participate in a Diplomacy Training Program workshop with representatives from the Australian government, NGOs and resettled Karen groups.
In conjunction with the Burma Civil Society Group in Exile, KWO travelled to Phuket for an ASEAN Human Rights Body consultation, and spoke at a parallel panel while the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting was held Later in that same year, together with members of the Democracy Movement in Exile, KWO also travelled to Jakarta for the launch of A Proposal for National Reconciliation. Together with other allies, KWO attended a meeting with the Bangkok-based embassies, to whom we presented the situation in ethnic areas.
After the 2010 elections and the resulting influx of refugees, KWO took part in meetings with the Thai National Human Rights Council regarding the forced repatriation of refugees, to present alternative forms of action, and to advocate on behalf of the people. As a result of this, a representative of the TNHRC visited the border and other affected areas to further investigate the human consequences that such forced repatriation would have.
Networking with Women’s Groups: As part of our networking with women’s groups, both regional and international, we met in 2009 with the US Ambassador-at- large for Gender Issues, Melanne Verveer. In 2010 we travelled to New York for the International Women’s Tribunal on Crimes Against Women of Burma, where KWO’s advocate presented testimony on behalf of a KWO member who could not get a visa in time. This was organized by the Women’s League of Burma (WLB) together with the Nobel Women Initiative (NWI). We met with the UN Special Reporter on Violence Against Women for the purpose of discussing violence against women in Burma and within the refugee camps.
Although clinics are available in all the refugee camps, many women prefer the comfort of a home birth. Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) assist with these births to ensure that the mother and child are safe. KWO encourages and advocates for TBAs in all 7 Karen camps and throughout Karen State. In Mae La Oon and Mae Ra Moe camps, KWO also provides direct material assistance and training to practising TBAs. Newly arrived TBAs from Karen State were given training as necessary to familiarise them with the use of all hygiene items.
TBA Committees: KWO helped to establish and organise regular meetings of TBA Committees in the two camps. The committees consisted of a TBA representative from each section. They met regularly to organise training, share information, solve problems and advocate for their role in the community.
Health awareness sessions: The project staff, collaborating with KWO, TBAs, TBA trainers and other health agency staff, ran health awareness sessions for women in the community. In 2009 – 2010, these were run once every two months throughout all sections in both camps (total 66 sessions) so as to reach the maximum number of women.
Record Keeping: In 2009 – 2010, KWO encouraged and assisted TBAs to increase record keeping of TBA assisted births in the camps.
Do the Kits help?
Naw Noe Noe, mother of three daughters and 2 two sons said:
“After I delivered my baby, I got a Baby Kit and it was invaluable for me and my child. The Baby Kit fulfilled my needs and really helped my family. In the past I never saw this kind of Kit. It contained many items and even included candles. I was so delighted and I even cried when I saw the Kits because I was so happy. I would like to thank everyone for providing us with a Baby Kit and hope that this process will continue in the future.”
Naw Hsa Wah, mother of three daughters and three sons said:
“I was given a Baby Kit after delivering my child. I was very pleased because the kit was very valuable to me. In the past I never cleaned my babies with soap after they were born. I cleaned them with leaves that I found in the forest that had foam which I used as soap. This is my first time I have been able to clean my baby with soap. I can see my baby is healthy. I really appreciate receiving the Kit and I would like to thank everyone for their kind support and I hope the project will continue in the future to help other mothers and babies too.”
Goal: To improve the health and wellbeing of mothers and newborn babies in Karen State KWO has supplied new mothers and babies with baby kits that comprise basic material needs for the mother and child within the first few months after birth. KWO also provides them with information on family and reproductive health issues.
In IDP areas: The Baby Kit project started being implemented in Karen State in June 2009. It is now in 6 districts: Mu Traw, Kler Lwee Htu, Du Ther Tu, Pa’an, Du Pla Ya and Tavoy. In IDP areas, the Baby Kits contain: 3 cotton nappies, 2 long bars of laundry soap,1 sarong, 2 bars of body soap, a health message pamphlet. For IDP areas, the district KWO staff source the materials and organise the kits themselves from local suppliers.
In Ei Tu Hta camp: The Baby Kit Project restarted in November 2010 after a period of suspension. The Baby Kits contain: 6 nappies, 5 kilos of laundry powder, 2 sets of baby clothes,1 sarong,4 bars of baby body soap, 5 bars of body soap for mothers, nail clippers, 12 packs of candles, a health message pamphlet.
Displaced women in conflict areas in Karen State are fleeing from violence around their homes, and cannot return. Cut off from the towns, they have little to no access to healthcare. With such poor access to health care, it is estimated that 721 mothers and 7,300 babies die for every 100,000 births in Eastern Burma (Back Pack Health Worker Team, (2010) Diagnosis: Critical: Health and Human Rights In Eastern Burma). This ranks amongst the highest maternal and neo-natal mortality rates worldwide. Within Karen State, KWO provides some health care and material assistance to pregnant women and new mothers, supplying basic hygiene kits for new mothers and their babies.
KWO supports traditional birth attendants (TBAs) who assist women who choose to give birth at home and we advocate on issues surrounding women’s, maternal and child health. We work with health agencies both in IDP areas and in the camps, raising health issues and concerns shared by women in the communities. KWO also communicates health messages to members of the community, especially on issues concerning reproductive and sexual health.
Although Health service provision is not KWO’s area of expertise, our position in the community means that we can aid health-care professionals and be effective advocates for positive change. This is true whether in refugee camps, in Karen State or at Central level. We organize and participate in community health education events such as World HIV Awareness Day, and at a more basic level set a good example for the community by maintaining public health standards through activities such as cleaning up rubbish in the streets and from the rivers. At Central level, KWO has run health, developmental and sexual education workshops with adolescent women; while in Camp, KWO members have conducted many health awareness workshops for community members.
Outside of these structured trainings, KWO seeks to spread general awareness of fundamental health education principles. This is done through more formal channels, such as school and dormitory visits, and also through informal home visits. Our integral and diverse roles in the community allow for continual monitoring of health standards. Such visits often combine health education with more general social care, and can be initiated due to previous concerns raised by a community member or colleague, or due to a chance discovery e.g. a child always having lice, or consistently seeing children playing in rubbish outside their home. Examples of our role in cases such as these would be to educate parents about basic hygiene, the use of soap, the importance of cleaning teeth, boiling water etc. and to provide these items if parents were financially unable to do so. We also routinely monitor women during pregnancy and beyond, make sure that they are informed about their own and their children’s nutritional and developmental needs, and provide items to aid them in this if necessary.
KWO seeks to provide a safe shelter and support services within the Karen refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border for needy and vulnerable women and children, especially survivors of sexual or gender based violence (SGBV). In 2009 – 2010, KWO operated 11 safe houses in 7 camps. KWO safe houses provide a temporary place of shelter for women or girls who have suffered violence, and for any of their children who need it. The safe houses main target are women and children who have been victims of SGBV however, we also provide temporary shelter to any woman and child in trouble, and who might be as such, more vulnerable to abuse. In 2009 and 2010 safe houses provided protection in non-SGBV cases of women and girls who were unaccompanied, mentally ill, disabled or elderly.
KWO provides direct assistance to community members and works towards solving social problems in the community. As refugees and IDPs, the population continues to face difficult social problems that exist in many communities such as sexual and gender based violence, unemployment, extreme poverty, caring for the elderly, the disabled, separated children, families in trouble, support to widows, dealing with increases in youth violence etc. KWO does not work alone but has a large share of the community responsibility to respond to and try to reduce many of these challenges in our society. We work with a range of other CBOs, and some NGOs, to coordinate our efforts to provide a response as effective as possible with very limited resources.
Within the community, KWO essentially fulfills the many and varied roles that, in other circumstances, would be provided for the people by the State Social Services. Whether at Camp, in Karen State, or at Central level, the KWO representative is essentially the go-to person that individuals and social organizations ask for advice or guidance on social welfare issues. They are intimately involved in the community and the welfare of the people who make it up, and are recipients of a high level of trust and respect. Because of this, people feel able to bring problems to their attention, knowing that their concerns will be listened to, considered and hopefully alleviated.
This trust and respect has been, and continues to be, built through continual informal monitoring of social situations in the community. KWO attends, participates in and/or organizes all the social welfare related events in their communities, and organizes and implements the fundraising for these if necessary. They visit and provide encouragement not only to the donor-funded projects in their area but also all the mainstream and unfunded projects, and many individuals. Because of this, they are able to identify specific community needs or problems that need attention, and through their network of contacts with the wider community, are able to advocate for change, and facilitate introductions with potential donors. Also, they are sometimes able to identify a need that KWO can itself turn into a funded project. Unofficially, they continue to direct small amounts of aid, financial or otherwise (clothing, food, household supplies), towards those most in need of social support e.g. widows, new Camp arrivals, emergency Elder Support etc.
KWO members continue to offer their voluntary assistance in many ways which, though important, often go unremarked. (Sadly, this has traditionally been a feature of much ‘women’s work’ all over the world.) In essence, the work that KWO does underpins and facilitates the smooth running of the community as a whole. If there is a community event or meeting- whether a wedding, election or other ceremony- KWO will set the meeting space up, cook and serve food for the participants, and provide that food if necessary. If there are community or Camp visitors, then KWO will see to it that they are hosted and accommodated. If there are vulnerable people in the community needing help, then KWO will organize and/ or provide that help. This help comes in many diverse forms. They visit orphans or children with disabilities at their dormitories or homes and not only provide support and encouragement, but also help to provide the children with food by working in the kitchen gardens. They visit hospital patients with no care-takers and provide the practical care- the food, clothing and emotional support- that they require, and talk to health-care professionals on their behalf. When a death in the community occurs, they provide 24 hour practical and emotional care for the bereaved for as long as that is necessary, and help with the ceremonial arrangements for the funeral. This includes providing the customary food if the family is financially unable to do this. If a woman is accused of a crime and remanded in detention, then KWO workers will ensure that she has adequate food and clothing, and will take turns to ensure her safety in the detention centre by sleeping there also (this is necessary as there are no female security guards). If her case reaches a judicial level, then KWO will advocate on the accused’s behalf to make sure that she is properly and fairly represented.
At all times they continue to advocate for, and raise awareness of the condition of women and children and of SGBV, both in formal and informal situations. They create and oversee ceremonies to honour elders, and ceremonies in which women who have worked tirelessly for their communities can have their work recognized. They provide support and information to ‘at-risk’ individuals, advise them on their options for further action, and facilitate this if necessary. Some examples of this are women reporting adultery and sexual harassment, and those seeking a divorce. They encourage women to build their capacity and wherever possible facilitate this. For example, KWO workers have taught adult literacy classes, and through networking enabled women to learn other skills such as traditional crafts. Through their own example as skilled and confident community leaders, they provide a model to inspire the women that they meet to empower themselves, challenge outdated stereotypes of women’s roles, and increase the voice that women have in their communities.