The Pa-O

Pa-O women in the marketplace in MyanmarThe Pa-O are an ethnic minority group from Burma who live mostly in southern Shan State of Myanmar (Burma). About 600 thousand strong, the Pa-O are second largest ethic group in Shan state. They believed to be of Tibeto-Burman origin. Their language is related that that of the Karen people who live in the same area. A written form of their language was developed by Christian missionaries, although the Pa-O people are primarily Buddhists.

Since General Ne Win took power in Burma in 1962, members of the Pa-O community have endured severe hardships, including ongoing civil war between the regime and ethnic armed resistance groups, and human rights abuses against the Pa-O population. Women are the hardest hit by this situation. They are in constant danger of rape or other violence at the hands of the Burmese army, and also risk threats of human trafficking. Most Pa-O women have very limited access to education, as their families cannot afford to send them to school. Their lack of educational and employment opportunities often leads them to get married and become mothers while they are still teenagers.

As a result of the ongoing conflict and limited opportunities in Burma, many Pa-O people have moved to border towns in Thailand as refugees and migrant workers. The PWU serves the women in five Pa-O villages in Mae Hong Son province by providing access to political and human rights training programs, teaching basic health care, offering income generation training, and helping to procure funds when emergency care is required. We also work with women in Pa-O communities inside Burma in three ways: we bring young women from Burma to participate in our Internship Program and eventually become staff at PWU; we bring women from Burma to study at Pa-O Women’s School before returning home to educate their communities; and we provide training and advocacy programs in Pa-O villages in Burma.

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