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WOMEN HELPING WOMEN 10th Anniversary

14 October, 2010


Palaung Women’s Organization


Mission PWO is an organization to empower and advance the social status of Palaung women towards equality, peace and a just society.

Objectives ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

To develop the status of Palaung women and encourage more female participation at all decision making levels. To maintain the literacy and culture of Palaung people. To participate in the democratic, peaceful and human rights movement for Burma. To advance and promote gender equality and women’s rights by co-operating with other women’s organizations.

“PWO believes that recognizing women rights and women participation in different level of political and social tasks is one of the processes of building a just society”

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Acknowledgement Dear Friends, On behalf of the Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO), I would like to give our sincere thanks to all the people who have contributed to and worked with us at the Palaung Women’s Organization over the last ten years. The achievements of this organization would not have been possible without the support of our donors, and the hard work and endless efforts of a large number of Palaung women. An honorable mention also goes to our families and friends in the Palaung community for their understanding and support of us in carrying out our work. As the Palaung Women’s Organization enters its 10th year, we have been able to build a strong and united network of Palaung women who have been actively involved in the work to improving the life of Palaung women. Together we have made important contributions to the struggle for democracy, human rights and justice in Burma and built bridges from the Palaung area to the international community, enabling world leaders to know about the suffering of the Palaung people. In every field, our work is done by women themselves promote and progress women’s development. In spite of progress made, Palaung women still face challenges in every corner of their lives, and sadly, what is happening to Palaung women is also happening to women of Burma as whole, especially ethnic women. Crimes against women, committed by the Burma Army soldiers, such as rape, sexual violence, and sexualized torture are continuously happening inside Burma today, despite the international community’s attention to these crimes. Disempowerment of women remains a big issue in Burma, as does women’s lack of participation in politics. Therefore, we will continue to create opportunities that actively cultivate leadership potential in women, nurturing the idea that they can become anything they want to be and fostering active women citizens to continue to make important contribution to the struggle for democracy and justice in Burma. 4


Again, we thank each and every one of you for your past and continue support, and we look forward to working with you in the future.

In Solidarity, Lway Aye Nang, Executive Committee Member and a Founding Member

Message Today marks 10th year that we have worked together to meet the needs of our community through trust, creativity, sacrifice and reciprocal understanding. We live in a country where the military regime entirely oppresses the people, where ethnic groups are denied equality, human rights and democracy, and where women suffer daily from all forms of discrimination and violence. Coupled with this, our own culture and traditional values further suppress women and lead to a greater loss of educational, health and social opportunities. To fill these gaps, we formed Palaung Women's Organization. From the outset, we have earnestly worked to implement women’s empowerment and development, to eliminate of all forms of violence against women, and to promote human rights, democracy and national equality through our activities. Meanwhile, we have actively cooperated with other groups to enable women to participate in decision-making processes of political and social movements. During our 10 5


year-journey, we have strived to implement projects for the betterment of Palaung women, the Palaung community and the people of Burma as a whole. Although some gaps are wholly filled up and some have improved, there is still so much to be done. Needless to say, we have had to make some sacrifices and met many challenges and barriers along the way. We will continue to fight until we achieve democracy, human rights, gender equality, and particularly self-determination for all nationalities. Daily challenges like the regime's brutal oppression on the people of Burma, and undeveloped Palaung communities have inspired us to stand together with people in the struggle. On this auspicious anniversary of Palaung Women's Organization, we vow to continue in the struggle until we achieve democracy, human rights, national equality and gender equality in Burma, together with the prodemocracy movement and people in Burma.

Lway Moe Kham, General Secretary

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Introduction The last ten years has been an exciting and challenging period of fruition for us at the PWO. Due to a strong patriarchal society and poverty brought on by successive government policies, many Palaung women never have the chance to attend school. In the complete absence of training opportunities for Palaung women, four young women living in exile in Mae Sot decided to do something about it. From that seed, and the will power to follow it through, sprang a network of women working together to empower other women for the advancement of Palaung society, and the wider political movement in Burma. Many challenges along the way presented themselves and through determination, cooperation, and supportive networks we have built a thriving organization. Early on, PWO recognized the benefits of an exile based office in Mae Sot to coordinate activities with other organizations, as well as a Palaung border based office to carry out further grassroots activities. From this dual approach, strong networks of local, regional and international connections abound.

Programs and Department ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Women Political Development Program Women Against Violence Program Health Program Information Documentation and Research Department Income Generation Project 7


2000-2003 Capacity Building and Pilot Projects The need to build capacity of our members underscored the initial era of the PWO. This involved numerous trainings and study before ‘work’ could take place. As new members came along, we embarked on conducting small trainings, passing on the skills we had recently learnt. During this time, there were no project managers, nor set rolls such as office administration - it was all hands-on-deck and involved us pooling resources and utilizing whatever knowledge each person could offer. One of the first projects we undertook was to produce our Shwe Pee Oo Journal for circulation in the Palaung area. Such was the success of this journal that it still in publication today, covering topics such as articles, poems, recipes and information about Palaung culture and history. In 2001, we began collecting and recording human right abuses and documenting drug incidents in our area. The major challenge during this period was the lack of capacity. We had good ideas and strong hearts but little avenue to build up our skills or recourses.

2004-2006 Trust Building and Growth This phase was a huge period of growth for us. Although our funding and organizational structure was still weak, our membership, training opportunities and networks grew. People believed in our work and recognized the great need in our community for the support we offered. During this time, we forged ahead beginning many of our programs and trainings in both Mae Sot and the Palaung area, and starting in earnest our collection of documentation for a our first report.

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2007-2010 Structure and Bearing-Fruit Our first PWO Congress meeting held at the end of 2006 now provided a firm constitution, structure and set roles to implement our growing number of activities. This structure proved to be a great help in building our activities and being accountable to funders. One of the big changes during this time was to secure funding to pay staff members. Up until this stage, many women had to have a paid job outside the office that meant they had minimal and fragmented time for PWO work. By 2007, having built strong networks, trust and a positive reputation in the Palaung area, we set up our Violence Against Women Program along the Palaung border. Though this program we starting training both men and women about different aspects of gender-based violence. PWO began by giving short daylong trainings as well as workshops and monthly discussions, and as we progressed and received feedback from participants, we started to offer much longer one-month trainings. It was through this process PWO realized the need for a Crisis Centre, and in 2008, with few resources, we opened our centre for women in need of urgent help. Since this time, we have helped many women who have been trafficked, or experience violence at work or in the home. We work with local authorities and community leaders to find women who have been trafficked, provide shelter and emotional support for them when they escape, and assist in reuniting families with funds for travel. Adjoining the centre is our library, providing the Palaung community with much needed access to information.

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One of the first things we did during this period was to initiate our Income Generation Project, which provides and avenue for women to sell their traditional wares with the dual benefit of enhancing culture and generating an income.

In 2005, through our Women Political Development Program, we began 6month Internship trainings in Mae Sot. This brought the scope of our curriculum to a new level. Since starting, we have brought over 30 women from inside Burma to study and live at our organization. Through this project, we promote political awareness, human rights mechanisms and standards, and strongly focus on building the capacity, confidence and critical analysis of the young women. The Internship Program and its’ students are a great source of pride for the PWO. All graduates have continued to contribute to the PWO, Palaung people and the wider Burma movement in valuable ways. We are proud to say that seven of our graduates advanced to complete the intense yearlong Foreign Affairs Training, and one is currently studying in Switzerland Also under our Political Empowerment Program, in 2006 we developed our Young Women’s Capacity Building Training offering three-months training twice a year along the Palaung border. Over 150 women have completed this training, many of whom now working with our organization. Three-month Internship Training

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Reflection from PWO Training Participant My experience in the Political Development Program has given me the skills and confidence to work in the field of human rights and politics. I intent to use my training to conduct workshops in the Palaung area, organize political defiance events and document human rights abuses. I think PWO is our life, and is also a light for our life because the PWO trains us to understand about political issues, our rights as women and to know about the unfair activities of the military government. If Palaung women didn’t have PWO, we also will not understand any rights and just stay buried in the black hole. I would like to wish PWO every success, and I have now doubt it will be an instrument of a young Palaung women’s life forever.

Joining the PWO has been a rewarding experience for me. Not only have they trained me through their programs but I have also been able to attend the Foreign Affairs Training course in Chiang Mai, and I am currently doing a six-month internship in New Zealand. My passion is promoting the status of Palaung women and I will continue to work for the PWO, hopefully in building women’s capacity through our Internship Program. So far my positions at PWO have included office manager, internship coordinator and community workshop facilitator. I am so grateful for all the opportunities PWO has given me.

Lway Poe Pheing

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Case Study from the Violence Against Women Program “I would like to thank all of Palaung sisters here who help me to run from that unsafe place. I was trafficked by a woman and they forced me to marry a Chinese man. Fortunately, I escaped from this tragedy. Even though I have escaped, my heart is still with trafficked women in that place. I really thank all of my sisters who are helping; I will never forget all of you in my life� A woman who been trafficked in 2009

Documentation PWO began documentation training both men and women in 2005. With great difficulty and risk to personal safety, our documentation department collects information from inside Burma. In 2006, the PWO released our first major report, Poisoned Flowers, and followed it in 2010 with Poisoned Hills. Our efforts drew significant international attention to the drug issue in the Palaung area, the plight of the Palaung people, and further brought international awareness to concerns facing Burma.

Documentation Training

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Our Shwe Pee Oo Journal is a huge success. With eight publications completed, information is disseminated to the local population and is a great source of experiential learning for our documentation team.

Together with the Palaung Working Group we campaigned against 2008 referendum and published a report based on locals’ experiences of the referendum process. Recently, we also published a report about the virus of tea.

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Health Services By jointly creating the Taang Health Care Group with the Taang Student Youth Organization, our mobile clinic got underway in 20004 offering free vaccines and medicine. Initially servicing five remote villages in the Palaung area, we now reach a total of thirteen. With invaluable support from the Burma Medical Association and Back Pack Health Workers Team, we have been able to give medical treatment to people where clinics don’t exists. Always keen to extend ourselves, we offer Medical training via collaboration with the Mae Tao Clinic and a camp medical centre to train new young people as medical profesHealth Training sionals.

Interns Experience Having completed the 6-month Internship Program, I am excited to now work for the PWO. Due to the trainings, my knowledge and political view is greatly expanded and I look forward to passing that knowledge onto others and contributing to democracy and peace in Burma. My journey is just beginning and I look forward to learning more. I am very proud that we, the PWO, are celebrating our 10th anniversary and wish that the organization continues to grow in success and achieve our goals. Six-month Internship Training 14


Alliances In the beginning, many local groups gave us invaluable support, for which we remain deeply grateful. Overtime, as we built membership and resources, we have been able to give back. In 2003, the PWO joined the Women’s League of Burma (WLB). This alliance is significant to PWO in numerous ways. WLB provides a platform in which PWO has an international voice; it contributes considerably to PWO through funding which enables PWO to train more Palaung women and gain a larger membership base; and it provides opportunity for Palaung women to engage in forums and meetings, which means that PWO women not only gain a space to use their voice but are also given opportunity to learn through such engagements. In return, we sit on the Presidium Board and contribute significant to the WLB office, including the secretariat. PWO is very grateful for this alliance. In 2006, we were asked to join ND- Burma, which is a collation of groups who combine human rights abuse data and produce reports. Since this collaboration begun, PWO makes monthly contributions to this large project, contributing to recent landmark publication The Hidden Impact of Burma’s Arbitrary and Corrupt Taxation. We are also on the Management Board of ND-Burma. PWO is a member of the Adolescent Reproductive Health Network and through collaboration provides reproductive health and HIV/AIDAS training to young people inside the Palaung area. We are also members of the Palaung Working Group.

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Challenges One of the greatest challenges during this time was gaining the trust of the Palaung people. The concept of PWO was hard for many people to understand and many others looked down on us as women, believing it was not right for us to be involved in political work. Coupled with this, people were also very wary due to the high incidents of trafficking in the area and many believed that to travel and attend trainings might well be a lure. Overcoming this misconception was, and remains, a huge challenge for us.

Conclusion and the Future From small beginnings with only four staff members, PWO now boast around 30 full time and 15 part time staff members. Thank you to all who have contributed to the life of this organization over the years. A big thank you to all our members who courageously work on the inside, and also to those who live and work in unsecure conditions on the border areas. Together we have achieved much and have created an organization to be proud of. Together we will continue to use our strength to committed to the struggle for true democracy and justices in Burma and to make a different to draw many year of political milestones that will led the way for generations to come.

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The Status of Palaung Women I come from the Palaung area where women are traditionally oppressed. Women have no role to play in the community, except for cooking at festivals or organizing fund-raising for charities, and all community leaders are men. A son will always get the privilege of owning the family property but “A daughter is like a bag hanging on the wall; she can be removed from the house at any time�. This is the status of the Palaung women. We also have customary law that dictates a woman cannot get divorced without her husband’s permission, so it implicitly gives the right for a husband to beat his wife and women become like a slaves. Thus, the domestic violence rate is very high in the Palaung community. Therefore, it is very important to help bring these Palaung women out of the kitchen and help them understand about their basic human rights and then help reduce the domestic violence among the Palaung community. It is very important to for every woman to realize the root cause of the problem and try as best we can to contribute to the fight against violence in the community. We have no time to wait; Palaung women deserve nothing less. Thus, I would like to strongly encourage all Palaung women to become involved within their communities and to create a space where women can come together to discuss the issues of their concerns. Every issue is political and every aspect of politics is affecting women. So let us work together to overcome these problem. Lway Dat Plang Executive Committee Member 17


The Importance of Women’s Participation Many countries around the world have made progress toward achieving increased participation of women in decision-making and at all level of politics, but that is a distant reality for Palaung women and Burma as a whole. Inequality is a terrible reality in the lives of many women. While there are many factors that play to prevent women from participating in the community and politics, education is also one of the main barriers to prevent young women from political participation. So we believe that it is very important to come up with a strategy, policies and special programs to help women get an extensive education and build their capacity so they have the confident to engage in politics. The PWO, along with myself, is committed to the work of improving the capacity of young Palaung women and creating a chance for them to get access to information and understand about their rights. Moreover, we aim to increase women participation in decision-making level, foster an ability to discuss their concerns and encourage them to engage in politics. I truly believed that women can really make a difference and build true democracies. Lway Cherry, Executive Committee Member

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Opinion on 2010 election 2010 Election Does Not Grant Rights for Women in Burma The military government declares that the upcoming November 7 election will be “free and fair”, and also that “the women in Burma have political, economic, and social rights, which are equal to men from birth”. Both statements are false. Through the election, the military seeks to formalize its domination through a sham democratic process and the 2008 constitution, which aims to further strengthen military power and grants the military immunity for all past human rights violations. The constitution falls drastically below international standards of gender equality. Women are disqualified from holding many position of power that require prior military service, including the Presidency, Vice-Presidency, and key ministries; the most powerful position, the Commander in chief, is solely reserved for those in active military service. Even at international women meetings, it is a man who attends on behalf of the women of Burma. Under the "new government" there can be no advancement of the lives of women and girls and there is no protection and promotion of their rights. Therefore, the election will not be a solution to solve the problem that women of Burma are facing today and for several decades, instead it will put the lives of women of Burma in more danger and the voices of the women of Burma will continue to be ignored. The election will have terrible effects on women in Burma as it is not a true election but a military selection. We would like to recommend all women in Burma to decisively against the 2010 election until we can pass the shadow of under boot of military ruled in Burma. Lway Nway Hnoung, Executive Committee Member

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Palaung Women’s Organization

P.O Box 98, Tak, Mae Sot, 63110, Tiahland. Email : pwotanng@gmail.com http://www.palaungwomen.com


PWO 10th Anniversary