The Power to 'Shake the Ground': Examining the Empowerment of Woman Activists in the Women's Movement at the Burma-Thailand Border

Anderson, Meaghan
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University of Guelph

This thesis explores the capacity of woman activists at the Burma-Thailand border to influence the sources of their gendered marginalization. These woman activists are part of an expanding women’s movement comprised of political exiles, documented refugees, undocumented refugees and migrant workers from Burma, living in exile communities along the Burma-Thailand border. Feminist researchers have pointed to the gendered marginalization women experience in regions of conflict and displacement, arguing that conflict affects women differently than men. Further, researchers in peace-building and refugee studies have highlighted the important role exile communities play in addressing the roots of their displacement, fostering stability in their communities, and promoting positive social change in their exile communities and country of origin. I conducted individual interviews, focus groups, and participation observation with woman activists working for women’s organizations in Mae Sot and Chiang Mai, Thailand, to explore the constraints and opportunities for activism that they experience in their daily lives. My research indicates that the experience of ‘social flux’ that characterizes exile communities facilitates expanded opportunities for women to be involved in activism. These opportunities have facilitated the women’s movement’s use of a grassroots capacity building strategy that has led to the expansion of their informal power in their exile communities, and in turn, the expansion of their opportunities to influence the sources of their marginalization.

women's activism, exile communities, displacement, gender and conflict, grassroots capacity building