Originally from Burma, Shirley has resided in Thailand for the past forty years. She left her country during an economic crisis that shook most of the country. In Thailand, she began passionately investing her time into working with the Kachin community. The Kachin are an ethnic minority from northern Burma, near China. Like most ethnic people of Burma, they have suffered a long list of abuses at the hands of the Burmese military junta.
A decade ago, Shirley came together with other Kachin women to form the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT).
Shirley firmly believes that, “If you don’t have a women’s organization women are not there to speak out about the problems [in Burma].” She works diligently to train women from Kachin State to speak out about the abuses that they both endure and witness.
This year, Shirley played a major role in KWAT’s production of a critically important report, Burma’s Cover-up War: Atrocities Against the Kachin People. Among other types of abuse, the report documents in detail the extraordinarily high incidents of rape in Kachin state—committed by the military—and the regular use of sexual violence as a weapon.
Shirley is skeptical about the new Burmese government’s claims to be slowly moving towards democracy. Her experience is that life has not changed much for the ethnic communities of Burma. This is why her organization has focused on systematically documenting human rights abuses. This sort of information is an important counter-point to the Burmese government’s powerful propaganda machine.
Shirley and her colleagues hope that the international community will see these documents, and understand the devastating war that is still being waged on her people. It is time we stood in solidarity with Shirley and the Kachin by insisting our governments don’t turn a blind eye to the human rights abuses in Burma.
Visit the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand
Read their report: Burma’s Cover up War: Atrocities Against The Kachin People