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Karen Women's Organization

KWO is an indigenous women’s organisation serving women and girls in our community in Burma and in refugee camps in Thailand.

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Women's Health
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Women Led
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Indigenous Peoples
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Indigenous Led

The Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) currently has a membership of more than 70,000 women living in Karen State, Burma and in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. KWO is a leading indigenous women’s organisation working in protection and our programs directly serve women, girls, children, and the most vulnerable people in our community. We promote women’s leadership, gender equality and community ownership in all aspects of our work. KWO is active in four main sectors: Organising and Information Sharing Program, Education Program, Health Program and Social Welfare Program. KWO is led and staffed entirely by women in our community. KWO participates in the struggle to stop all kinds of oppression of women and of children. We believe in a federal Burma, where all communities have gender equality, the protection and promotion of indigenous people’s rights, human rights, and justice.


Within our 4 program areas we provide: service delivery, advocacy, awareness raising, and capacity building threaded throughout our daily work and our funded projects. Our work varies from the delivery of hygiene kits for mothers with new-borns, conducting community health and nutrition education, to ensuring safe accommodation for women suffering violence, developing Women’s Protection Laws, to training young women from our Communities to become leaders.

KWO believes that empowering women will help reduce human rights abuses and encourage an end to discrimination against women. We believe that women have a right to be properly represented in politics and society at large. And we believe that the whole community is better off when women play an equal role with men in decision-making. The 17 individually funded Projects which KWO currently implements in refugee camps and Karen State, run under our 4 programs, and have over 100,500 beneficiaries.

KWO lives and works in the 7 districts of Karen State, Burma which is in Southeastern Burma and in 7 refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.

ORGANISING AND INFORMATION SHARING PROGRAM - KWO’s Organising and Information Sharing Program provides services, advocacy and capacity building to support women’s empowerment, mobilize the community, and sustain the organisation. KWO believes that broad community and organisational education contributes to building a fair and tolerant civil society. We conduct training, events and activities around: women’s rights, indigenous rights, democracy, political awareness, a Federal system for Burma, child protection, human rights, project management, leadership skills, public speaking, financial policy and procedures, KWO policy, landmine awareness, etc.

The Organising and Information Sharing Program Co-ordinators are all Karen women who live in their communities. Work under this Program includes: to conduct community consultations to identify needs, share information in the community about the current situation, including through KWO publications, update KWO’s membership list, co-ordinate with the KWO Social Welfare Program to organize the distribution of humanitarian aid (food and materials) in emergency situations, oversee and monitor all funded KWO projects implemented in the area, arrange and attend meetings for KWO and our network, coordinate with other agencies on issues that affect the community, assist researchers and field trips for visiting individuals, advocate on behalf of vulnerable groups in the community, conduct individual and joint advocacy efforts on the local, national, regional, and international stage. We currently implement 4 funded projects under this program.

KWO’s Education Program provides services, advocacy and capacity building to promote education in our community. We provide schooling where there are gaps in existing education mainstream services in the refugee camps, and in areas in Karen State. We particularly target girls in the community to ensure they have equal access to education, protection, development and care. We also place a significant emphasis on education that promotes and preserves Karen indigenous culture.

Our Education Program Co-ordinators are all Karen women and are part of the community. Every day they work to promote education, to identify children struggling at schools or at home and provide support to the family, and assist with school fees when possible. They monitor and support KWO’s funded education projects in their areas, visit all community schools and give encouragement to students and teachers. They conduct home visits and encourage parents to send children to school, and assist the poorest of the poor children to get into schools. They attend events organized by schools to share positive messages about the benefits of education for all. They meet with education leaders at all levels and advocate for inclusive education, improved child protection mechanisms, and the importance of girls education. We currently implement 7 funded education projects under this program.

KWO Social Welfare Program provides services, advocacy and capacity building in all sectors of Karen society. We provide direct care and assistance to community members and we work to solve social problems in our community, particularly those that affect women. Due to the failure of Burma’s successive governments to provide care and security for the people, many ethnic groups, like the Karen, have established well-organised and high-functioning social systems. The KWO Social Welfare Program does a lot of the work that a free and democratic national government would normally be offering to the people.

Our Social Welfare Program Co-ordinators are all Karen women and live in their community. Their duties include: identifying and providing care to the most vulnerable members of the community including the elderly, people with disability or chronic illness, and families in trouble; providing assistance in emergencies; help to organize community events and ceremonies; home visits; build capacity and opportunity for women to earn income especially through traditional crafts; be advocates for the best interests of women in justice cases; fight for improvements in laws relating to women and child protection, justice system reform and better enforcement mechanisms both in the refugee camps and within Southeast Burma.

Overall our Program’s main area of focus is to prevent, and respond to Violence Against Women. Under the Social Welfare Program, and its funded project, we provide an enormous amount of training for women, for KWO leaders and staff, for local community leaders, and for the broader community. We currently implement 4 funded projects under this program.

KWO’s Health Program provides services, advocacy and capacity building to promote better health in our community. Our Health Program activities address common community health issues, like nutrition and hygiene, and we focus on the health needs of women and of children. KWO collaborates with existing community health organisations to support local health workers, to care for patients and the community. We do not offer medical or clinic-based services ourselves.

Our Health Program Co-ordinators are Karen women who live in their communities. Their work includes: to advocate for better access to health services, accompany patients to hospitals or clinics, organise village and stream clean ups, identify health needs of the most vulnerable people and provide support in the home, conduct health education campaigns in the community, share information with families about good health practices, encourage communities to set up kitchen gardens, organise access to clean drinking water, improve village sanitation and the use of built toilets, promote KWO’s key health messages for women’s reproductive health, improve access to safe sanitary materials for all women and girls, monitor any funded KWO Health projects being implemented in their area, educate parents about good nutrition and childcare, advocate for recognition of skilled Traditional Birth Attendants, and for birth registration and birth certificates for all children. We currently implement 2 funded projects under this program.