Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles: Women’s testimonies from southeast Myanmar


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Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles: Women’s testimonies from southeast Myanmar

Published date:
Wednesday, August 3, 2016

This report presents women’s testimonies in respect of various issues during the reporting period of January 2012 to March 2016. These issues include the dangers posed to women by the presence of armed actors in communities; the effects of land confiscation and development projects on women’s livelihoods; women’s access to healthcare and education; the continued occurrence of gender-based violence; and the harms caused by landmines; forced labour; arbitrary taxation and extortion. Importantly, women’s actions and agency in the face of abuse and injustice are also documented in this report. These agency strategies are documented to highlight women’s actions as women are not passive recipients of abuse.



“In my opinion, I can’t entirely trust what the government said. … They both [the government and the KNU] held their guns, here and there. They were enemies before. Now, they made peace. I can’t believe it yet, but if they stop holding their guns, I can believe.”

Naw T--- (female, 50), S--- village, K’Dee Poo village tract, Thaton Township, Thaton District/northern Mon State (interviewed in May 2012)

The time period covered in Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles, January 2012 to March 2016, was characterised by dramatic and substantial changes in Myanmar, including the political reform process; the 2012 preliminary ceasefire agreement between the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Government of Myanmar; the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA); and the November 2015 general election, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide victory, marking a change of course from the previous reign of consecutive military-backed governments.

This report comes ten years after KHRG published Dignity in the Shadow of Oppression, an extensive report highlighting the abuse and agency of Karen women in southeast Myanmar, in a highly militarised context during the conflict period. Hidden Strengths, Hidden Struggles revisits perspectives and abuses explored in that report, as well as new ones identified by KHRG community members, and sheds light on the situation for women in the present context. KHRG launches this report at a time when women’s issues, both in Myanmar and globally, are gaining momentum, and women are increasingly asserting their right to be considered as equal stakeholders in Myanmar’s future.

The detailed portrayal of women’s voices in this report is based on an analysis of 1,048 documents, including 98 interviews with women, collected by KHRG between January 2012 and March 2016. This report aims to present a comprehensive picture of the changing roles and experiences of women in southeast Myanmar. 


KHRG presents the perspectives of local women  on issues identified by them, including livelihoods, militarisation,health, education, and others. The report outlines human rights abuses that are of particular concern for women, including gender-based violence (GBV), and how continued human rights abuses in southeast Myanmar affect women and men differently, an aspect that is often overlooked. In addition, it highlights the agency strategies that women employ for self-protection, and the challenges they face when attempting  to access justice for abuses. Finally, the report suggests ways to address the issues raised and improve the situation for women in southeast Myanmar, by giving concrete recommendations to the Government of Myanmar, ethnic armed organisations, local and international civil society organisations, and the international community supporting the peace process and in Myanmar. KHRG is confident that this report will provide a valuable resource for practitioners and stakeholders working on issues related to southeast Myanmar, and that it can be used as a tool in developing an awareness of local women’s concerns and agency. KHRG also believes that the report will be equally interesting for members of the general public who would like to learn more about women’s perspectives of the situation on the ground in rural southeast Myanmar.