2012 - 16 Days of Activism

Meet Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Burma

Susanna is an activist working to improve the lives of ethnic Karen women in Burma. Susanna grew up in  a rural community that suffered profoundly from the ethnic conflicts that have defined so much of Burmese history. The values she learned at home in her Baptist household fueled her desire to work for her community.  For 12 years, she worked for the international organization. During that time, she had the opportunity to do a Masters degree in NGO leadership in the United States, as well as leadership training programs.

Meet Susanna Hla Hla Soe, Burma

Susanna could have stayed on at World Vision, with a guaranteed salary and an impressive record.  However, in 2010 she decided to set up her own organization, wanting to take the experience and skills she had learned to develop programs that could nurture women leaders and address women’s rights.  The Karen Women’s Action Group (KWAG) was started with barely any outside assistance, and has grown to give Susanna a platform from which to engage in policy discussions at the highest levels.

KWAG works to empower Karen women in Karen State, in Yangon and in the Delta area. Working there during the aftermath of cyclone Nargis in 2008, Susanna found that many girls were being trafficked out of the area.  She followed three of the girls to China, and worked with the local authorities on both sides of the Chinese and Burmese borders to bring them home.  This was the start of an anti-trafficking project. She is also facilitating the peace negotiation process between the Karen National Union and the Burmese government to finally bring to an end 60 years of fighting between the two groups. 

Susanna was named "Woman of the Year" in 2011 by Hotnews Media Group and honored by the Karen Baptist Church as "Outstanding Social Worker" in April 2011. In 2012 she received the InterAction Humanitarian Award in Washington DC.

The women of Burma are an extraordinary force for change—and we are honored to work with women like Susanna!


Walking amongst sharp knives: The unsung courage of Karen women village chiefs in conflict areas of Eastern Burma (report), Karen Women Organization, Feb 2010.

Karen community-based organizations release position paper on refugees' return, Women's League of Burma, 11 Sept 2012.

Burma reform is a work in progress, the Guardian, 19 Nov 2012.

KNU leaders meet Karen civil society to discuss peace talks, the Irrawaddy, 21 Nov 2012.