Burma: Nang Charm Tong

My only wish is that peace and freedom shall prevail in our homeland, in particular among women.

— Nang Charm Tong

Charm Tong was born in 1981 in southern Shan State, Burma. When she was young, her family moved to the Thai border. After completing the ninth grade in Chiang Mai, she joined the Shan Herald Agency for News as an intern and worked with various human rights organizations. In 1999, with her colleagues in Chiang Mai, she formed the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN). As a member of the Advocacy Team of SWAN, her responsibilities include fact finding, training, campaigning and advocacy on human rights and democracy in Burma.

Born in a time of conflict when her homeland was ravaged by war waged by the Burmese government for total control of Shan State, Charm Tong has many painful memories that are hard to forget. As the conflict intensified and education opportunities for her and her siblings as well as their safety were jeopardized, her parents decided to send them away to Thailand. As a result, the family broke up. Charm Tong stayed with one of her younger siblings, the rest were spread out to survive by themselves. Charm settled in Thai territory, Wiang Haeng district, Chiang Mai, where, under the care of a Catholic sister at an orphanage, Charm Tong learned English while she pursued her normal education. On March 28, 1999, she and fellow human rights advocates formed the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN). A few months later, Charm Tong went to Geneva to present cases of rape of women and girls by the Burmese army, stories of Shan villages set on fire and villagers who were forced to provide slave labor for the Burmese Army. SWAN has grown into an influential community-based organization, providing education for Shan refugee children and health information for refugee women. It assists women who have been raped, promotes opportunities for women and provides capacity building for refugees so that they can assert their rights. Charm and her colleagues in SWAN place great importance on assisting children who have fled from wars inside Burma. Because the Thai government has failed to recognize the refugee status of Shan people who have fled Burma, they are not eligible for humanitarian assistance. It was only recently that a temporary shelter for a small group of Shan refugees was set up near Ban Piang Luang, after intense lobbying by SWAN and other organizations.

Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN)