In profile: The human rights ecosystem

Alliance magazine

The human rights movement is diverse and multi-faceted – an ecosystem of different actors working towards human rights ideals – as highlighted by this snapshot of the variety of actors in the sector 

Grassroots rights activism

Karen Women’s Organisation, Myanmar

Initially a social welfare organisation at its formation in 1949, the Karen Women’s Organisation (KWO) has become a movement to encourage an awareness of women’s rights and to promote women’s participation in community decision-making and political processes. Its current vision is of a federal Myanmar where ‘all communities have gender equality, the protection and promotion of indigenous people’s rights, human rights, and justice’. The word ‘federal’ is crucial. The Karens are one of Myanmar’s major ethnic groups, having their own distinct language and culture, though since the country’s independence in 1948, the government has been centralised and dominated by Burmans. Thus, the thrust of KWO’s work is also indigenous and political rights. In addition to welfare services, KWO provides political awareness training for Karen women and engages in direct advocacy. It also runs a Young Women’s Leadership Programme, which brings together selected young Karen women from across the state to participate in a year-long on-site mentorship and training programme, to prepare them for community leadership roles. It has a membership of over 60,000 women. Its funders are a mix of local, regional and international organisations.

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