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Breaking the Silence

Vendors, Burma (

Vendors, Burma (Donna Cymek/Flickr)

Another example is the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network (KESAN), formally known as the Karen Nature Conservation Group (KNCG), in which many Karen women are actively involved. It was formed in March of 1997 in Mae Ra Mo refugee camp in Thailand. The objective of KESAN is to educate people in the refugee camps about environmental preservation and organic gardening, so that they will share these ideas with future generations. The KESAN produces and publishes a magazine about the environment, which discusses such things as ways to grow food, planting shade plants that maintain the watersheds, and rubbish management. They have set up an organic garden to encourage sustainable agricultural training for women in the camp and also teach environmental issues to primary schools. Currently KESAN is working on a report about deforestation in the Karen State.

4. Women's organizations

Before 1988, there were only three ethnic women's organizations from Burma operating around the border, namely the Karen Women's Organization, Kachin Women's Association and Karenni National Women's Organization. Among these groups, KWO was founded first in 1949. Generally, they used to be the "women's wing" of ethnic armed resistance groups and their main tasks were seen as social welfare, health and education.

Between 1988 to 1998, women in exile started organizing themselves to form small groups of their own to respond to problems of health and education and social issues such as trafficking and violence against women. and more women's organizations were founded. Among them are the Burmese Women's Union, Chin Women's Organization and Mon Women's Organization. These women's groups started to focus on women' rights and women's participation in politics. To date, there are about 25 women's organizations from Burma around the border, most with a strong focus on women's rights and gender equality and also demanding women's participation in state affairs.

These women's organizations are working hard to educate themselves in issues of human rights, women's rights, politics, languages, confidence-building and other skills that can empower them to work effectively within their own communities and also to advocate their struggle to the international community.

5. The Women's League of Burma (WLB)

The women's groups operating around Burma's borders strongly believe that the contribution of women in the struggle towards democracy in Burma to bring about equal rights for all nationalities will have a great impact, and their participation in the national reconciliation and peace-building process is essential.

The formation of the first umbrella organization for women' groups from Burma in December 1999 was a milestone in the history of Burma. This umbrella organization, named the Women's League of Burma (WLB) comprises eleven women's organizations. (46)


  • lobbies for political change in Burma through broad based social movements inside Burma and through garnering support at the international level. They call for gender sensitivity in all social processes that will lead to equality for all through a future federated Burma.
  • works for increased women's political participation at all levels of decision-making, the provision of welfare services where possible to war- and poverty-displaced communities, and the education of women at the grassroots level.
  • works to enhance cooperation, mutual understanding and trust among the women of Burma that crosses ethnic divisions to promote genuine national reconciliation.

    One of the main objectives of the WLB is to raise awareness of the importance of preserving natural resources and the environment, and to work for peace and freedom in society.

    Since its formation, the WLB has been working constantly to have the Burma issue raised at international forums and UN conferences. It regularly attends the United Nations' CSW sessions and CHR sessions every year.

    Last August, the WLB sent a delegation to the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa. The WLB representatives attended all events: the Youth Forum, NGO Forum and Government Forum.

    The WLB activities in WCAR were in the December 2001 issue of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)' s Forum News. It reads,

    "At the NGO Forum, the WLB, while having very limited space for highlighting their issue, was still able to collect hundreds of signatures for a petition against the Burmese government. In addition, by joining other discussion groups, on occupied territories, using large posters and linking with people who came to their exhibition booth, they were able to garner significant support for their issues, including substantial media attention."

    Another example of their work is the two reports produced in 2000 on women in conflict areas in Burma. The first was a Shadow report submitted to the CEDAW committee in January 2000 and the second was a similar report submitted to APDC as part of a regional report on Women in Armed Conflict in the Asia Pacific Region and used to lobby at the UN Conference - Beijing+5 in new York in June 2000.