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Interviewed August 2010

Charm Tong co-founded the Shan Women’s Action Network, when she was only 17. The organization is dedicated to stopping the exploitation of and violence against women and children in 1999.

Three years later, recognizing that their lack of education leaves the Shan young people more vulnerable to being trafficked or lured into other forms of exploitation, Tong founded the School for Shan State Nationalities Youth. The school works to empower and build the capacity of students to become leaders in their communities. It is regarded as a model for human rights education and training of young people from Burma and elsewhere.

Tong has also been instrumental in launching a campaign to bring attention to the systematic use of rape of Shan women by the Burmese military. The campaign, based on a report called “License to Rape,” has received considerable international attention.

Tong has received several international awards, including the Marie Claire Women of the Year Award and the Reebok Human Rights Award. In October 2005, she met at the White House with President George W. Bush. 

I have a message that I would like to share with all the brothers and sisters in different parts of the world right now who are also going through the same struggle like us, who are struggling for freedom, for democracy, against any kind of authoritarian and dictatorships. We are doing the right thing. We are doing for the truth and justice. Our struggle, no matter how long it takes, and no matter how hard and how difficult, we will win. We will prevail. We will overcome. We just need to keep up with our commitment, with this spirit. We just have to continue.

But I think we have to be smarter nowadays. Because the way that I look at what’s happening in the world right now is somewhat – I may be so wrong with my personal observation – but I feel like the authoritarian military regimes seem to be somewhat upper hand when it comes with a democracy regime.

Somehow some of the democracy governments in the world now tend to be kind of reluctant and kind of pulling back of their push for democracy. It could be for the national interest of the economic growth. Whatever, you know, economic growth, business deals.

But the reality to me is we have to stand together for democracy and human rights. Because, like Daw Aung Saw Suu Kyi said, ”Democracy may not be the best, but so far in the world right now, it happens to be the best.” Before we are able to find another “best,” I think we have to be able to stand together for this current “best” that we have. Whether the governments or the people who are already in the democracy countries, and people who are still struggling for democracy.

But particularly the governments of democracies don’t seem to be strong enough [at] resisting those evil authoritarian military regimes right now. And I think that needs to be changed. And I think we have to change, whether the governments change or not. The people, as the people who are continuing with this struggle, we are the ones who have to change. And I just want to tell those brothers and sisters out there everywhere in the world, we have to continue with our struggle and we will prevail. 

More on this theme from Charm Tong

Other videos from Charm Tong

Charm Tong: Crimes Against Women “Women are raped in front of their families.” Charm Tong: Military Crimes Against Women How the Burmese military tried to intimidate Shan women who documented the military’s use of mass rape as an instrument of conflict. Charm Tong: Necessity of Defending Women Empowering women is necessary to advance the cause of human rights in Burma. More + Charm Tong: Finding a Purpose Why she became a human rights defender. More +