November 26th, 2022  •  Author:   Karen Women Organization  •  3 minute read
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Challenges facing women amid escalating conflict in Kawthoolei (aka Karen State)

This briefing paper was produced by the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO)


Since the attempted coup in Burma in February 2021, the State Administration Council (SAC) junta and its military forces have tried to take control of the country, using brutal and extreme violence against the civilian population and creating a humanitarian crisis. We see their violence everywhere. Violence and conflict destroy lives, livelihoods, the
economy, and families but women are disproportionately affected.
Existing inequalities and inequities get magnified and even decades after a conflict, women continue to bear the brunt. Conflicts make women more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation as social networks break down along with institutions that prevent gender-based
violence. Thousands of people in Burma have been killed, injured,
arrested and tortured. More than one million people are now displaced from their homes, fleeing the attacks and threats of the SAC soldiers and
their militias. The economy is disintegrating and millions of people are
now facing extreme food insecurity. Women are suffering from this large-scale violence every day.

The junta has scaled up attacks in ethnic administration areas, targeting civilians, including in Kawthoolei. There is frequent indiscriminate firing against civilians, including aerial and ground strikes by the military junta, which has resulted in the forced displacement of at least 347,000 people in Kawthoolei. People have had to flee, while their villages are burned to the ground, shelled or bombed by Burma Army soldiers and their aircraft.

Approximately 55% of the IDPs are adults, and 45% are children under 18. So this means approximately 254,000 women and children are displaced, in Kawthoolei alone. They have fled their homes and are hiding in temporary shelters in forests, makeshift bunkers, or are hiding in caves, to protect themselves. Clashes between the armed wing of the Karen National Union, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and the military junta have increased,
as people all over Burma resist the junta’s attempts to take control. All
local communities are in danger daily. In Kawthoolei the Burma Army attacks have concentrated on six of the seven districts: Doo Tha Htu, Kler Lwee Htu, Bli D’weh, Mutraw, Taw Oo, and Dooplaya. As junta soldiers move into new areas and attempt to squash all opposition, women must make difficult decisions. They must decide whether it is safer to flee as the SAC soldiers approach, or to risk staying. Fleeing and being displaced is full of difficulty, but staying in your village with SAC soldiers nearby and conflict taking place, makes women and children especially vulnerable. There is a higher risk of physical and sexual violence, and infant and maternal mortality increase. The offensives by the Burma Army against the Karen people have continued for decades. Like many ethnic people, the Karen have felt the worsening impacts on daily life since the attempted coup. This short briefing paper by the Karen Women’s Organization (KWO) will look at the challenges women face in conflict and highlight their resilience and how community-based organizations are supporting displaced communities.

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