Spotlight on: Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN)

5 June 2020



Shan State in the east of Burma has been the scene of fighting and ethnic violence for decades. Since 1995, campaigns have been waged against the Shan people which have brought violence to the area and displaced hundreds of thousands. Since 1995, there have been widespread reports of human rights violations against the Shan people including torture, rape, arbitrary arrest and extensive discrimination. Many Shan villages have been, and continue to be, destroyed, with land confiscated and many prevented from returning home.

A mostly rural state, Shan has been depleted of its natural resources and its people stripped of their livelihoods through displacement and the destruction of farms. This has exacerbated problems with acceptable standards of healthcare, medical provision and education which come hand in hand with extended periods of violence and political turmoil. As a result, the health of the Shan people has suffered. For example, infant mortality rates are currently 16x higher in Shan State than in the UK.

Moreover, there has been an escalation in conflict and human rights violations since 2011 in northern Shan State. Burmese military offensives against ethnic minorities have resulted in the displacement of approximately 401,000 civilians and the destruction of over 400 villages. Violence and armed attacks increased again, in August 2019, with heavy artillery and landmines bringing destruction and death to Shan State townships and along the Pyi Htaung Su main road.



The Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is a community-based organisation dedicated to gender equality and justice. It was founded in 1999 and has been a HART partner since 2004. SWAN coordinates a large number of programmes relating to health, education and women’s empowerment, as well as conducting advocacy and research.

HART is the main donor to SWAN’s Health Programmes, which aim to reduce maternal, infant and child mortality rates in rural areas of Shan State and amongst displaced populations in Thailand.

SWAN trains health workers and volunteers from inside Shan State, teaching them about reproductive health and family planning. They equip them with the knowledge and materials needed for preventative health education and provision of reproductive and maternal health care. After training, health workers return to their villages in Burma where they can deliver training sessions of their own, provide care in their own communities and help to administer vital immediate and preventative care.

SWAN also provide emergency assistance for migrant women and children in crisis situations, particularly those affected by serious illness or domestic violence. Many of these women are cut off from their support networks, as their families remain inside Burma or in refugee camps. SWAN run safe houses, help with treatment costs, provide counselling, conduct vocational training sessions and work with other local organisations to provide legal and other support in emergencies.

Advocacy is also an important part of SWAN’s work. SWAN is a founding member of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB), an umbrella women’s organisation comprising of 13 groups from Burma. They work together to publish reports and work towards gender equality across Burma and fight the against the horrors of sexual abuse and sexual violence.


You can learn more about SWAN’s tireless and vital work by following them on Twitter and Facebook, visiting the SWAN website and visiting the Women’s League of Burma.


To learn more about HART’s work in Burma and partnership with SWAN click here, 


And if you wish to make a contribution to SWAN follow this link


by Max Elgot

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