The challenge of development is complex, but for director of the Karen Women’s Action Group (KWAG), the focus should start at a local level, with efforts to educate and empower women in the southeastern state.

“Women play an important role in development,” she said. “If a woman is educated, she can improve her family’s well-being. We believe we can promote development by empowering women, who can then better help their families, which will improve the community, and then the city, the whole region and even the country.”

“Karen people, especially in remote areas of Karen State, have fallen behind in every sector, including education, health and the economy, due to the civil wars here and longtime oppression,” she said. “That’s why we’ve decided to focus on educating women about health and training them for job opportunities, so they can actively participate in civil society.”

When Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy Delta region in 2008, Susanna led an emergency relief team to resettle displaced families, helping to rebuild their homes and devastated schools.

During those efforts, she learned about the human trafficking of local girls to other cities and countries, including China and Thailand. With help from Burmese and Chinese authorities, she started following some of the human traffickers, eventually bringing three girls back to Burma who had been taken across the Chinese border. This experience inspired her to start an anti-human trafficking project with the government. After Cyclone Nargis she tried to register as an emergency relief group, but years went by with no result. Now she is trying to register again as a local NGO for development projects, though recent changes in registration rules have complicated the process. “For us, it’s about more than registration; we want approval and acknowledgement from the government.” As the country opens up to the world after decades of military rule, she said she hopes local social workers can better help the Karen people.

“I hope we can continue working to develop our society and our country more freely, and effectively, going forward.”

2013.01.19 The Irrawaddy Karen Woman Takes a Stand