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Women’s Lives at Gunpoint: The Situation of Women and Children living in IDP Camps in Myanmar’s Kachin State

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This article was written by a woman human rights defender (WHRD) from Kachin State. She was among recipients of the 2023 Fellowship for Social Justice Leaders in Southeast Asia. Her name is not disclosed due to security reasons. All interviewees’ names have also been anonymized for the same reason.


Since the resumption of armed conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) in 2011, over 100,000 people in Kachin State have been internally displaced.

The ongoing conflict has ravaged Kachin State as well as  the northern regions of the country, perpetuating a cycle of violence and instability.

Political instability, armed clashes, and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic have brought tremendous suffering to Kachin’s internally displaced persons (IDPs), with women and children bearing the brunt.

The Myanmar military has consistently committed human rights violations across Kachin State. Even prior to the attempted coup in 2021, more than 1.2 million people have been internally displaced in Myanmar, including those from Kachin State. Since then, the number of IDPs has dramatically increased, with women and girls constituting the majority.

Within IDP camps, women are exposed to gender-based violence. Their specific needs are not being met.

Every day, IDPs are struggling to survive. Most of them have lost their homes and are now living in temporary shelters. They rely on humanitarian aid for day-to-day assistance with food and shelter. Such assistance, however, has been severely inadequate.

Compounding the crisis, the military junta has been blocking roads with military checkpoints, preventing UN agencies and humanitarian organisations from delivering supplies without prior authorisation.



Since the attempted coup in 2021, the military junta has been wreaking havoc throughout Myanmar, including Kachin State.

Since then, the number of IDPs has increased to more than 2.7 million, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As of January 2024, there are 113,500 IDPs in Kachin State alone. The exact number, however, might be higher. ‘There have been many people who flee, who could not reach the IDP camps, so they may not [be] included in the list,’ a person from the Myitkyina IDP camp expressed.

In the past two years, the junta has been deploying more troops and consistently launching airstrikes against KIA and the Three Brotherhood Alliance.

People in IDP camps are living in constant danger, with the junta’s troops indiscriminately shelling villages and forcibly removing the Kachin people from these regions.

The junta has been perpetrating various forms of human rights violations against the whole of Myanmar. Women and girls, in particular, have witnessed the extent of the military’s brutality.

Indiscriminate killings

The junta’s troops have committed at least 30 incidents of shelling in civilian areas, resulting in 61 casualties and 441 arbitrary detentions, according to the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT).

On the eve of 9 October 2023, the junta’s troops launched an airstrike on Muang Lai Hkyet village, where an IDP camp is located. The assault occurred in the dead of the night, in the absence of any armed resistance in the area and without any warning.

The deadly airstrike killed 29 people, including at least ten women and ten girls, according to data collected by the Women’s League of Burma.

The conflict is disproportionately affecting women ‘because women [often] need to take responsibility for their family [as well],’ KWAT stressed.

Food insecurity

The shortage of humanitarian aid is among the main challenges faced by the people of Myanmar, according to KWAT.

The Joint Strategy Team has led the closure of IDP camps in 2021 following the attempted military coup. With this, humanitarian assistance was significantly cut despite the increasing number of IDPs.

At present, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Food Programme (WFP) are the only ones providing basic necessities such as rice, salt, and cooking oil to IDPs among Myanmar military-controlled areas.

Since the attempted coup in 2021, only a few organisations and religious groups in Kachin State are left to look after IDPs. Civil society organisations (CSOs) that have previously supported the different needs of IDPs–such as maternal health, hygiene kits, food, and livelihood support–have mostly left or were forced to leave.

‘Before 2021, there was a lot of casual work for income such as masonry, wages, and cleaning. And we received humanitarian support from many organisations such as the WFP. After 2021, we have solely WFP and it is difficult to find casual work,’ shared an IDP woman from Kachin State.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights

The conflict is impacting women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), KWAT observed.

While general health services remain available in Kachin State, maternal health care services have become increasingly inaccessible.

At present, three clinics–all of which are managed by KWAT–are running in the remote east division of the KIO-controlled area near the Chinese border.

Since 2021, the clinics have struggled with overcrowding, with each clinic handling as much as 20 childbirths per month.

Moreover, gender-based violence–including child sexual abuse–has significantly increased following the attempted coup. Survivors have no access to support systems, such as counselling and SRHR services.

‘Overcrowding among IDP camps have also brought a slew of other health problems among women and children. At midnight, we cannot sleep because if a kid cries, all children awaken and start crying,’ an IDP woman from the Northern Shan State shared, ‘It is difficult to go to the toilet. And with no proper heating system, it can be cold at night.’

‘[It has been] quite difficult because we have no toilet, clean water, electricity, food, or stuff for daily use. Because of unclean water, children and adults got health issues such as diarrhoea and skin problems,’ the woman continued.

The woman also shared how she witnessed an older woman die because ‘she was shocked [by the] bombing and got extremely scared of the conflict.’

She also shared the story of another woman who had a miscarriage six months into her pregnancy. ‘The woman did not talk about her miscarriage. When I saw [that] her longyi was dirty, with blood on it, I asked her. She had no other longyi to change to because she had been bleeding a lot. And she started sharing about her miscarriage and crying. Then I shared my clothes with her.’




Women and children endure various challenges while living in IDP camps, affecting not only their physical health but also their mental well-being.

In times of crises, women and girls are vulnerable to gender-based violence paired with a lack of privacy and a heightened sense of responsibility within the family.

The shortage of humanitarian assistance has resulted in food insecurity among many families. In addition, such shortages have disrupted the delivery of maternal health services, thereby putting the lives of pregnant women and infants at risk.

According to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women–to which Myanmar is a signatory of–women’s rights include the right to access health care services and other necessary social services at all times. The ASEAN Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) also underscores the need to address the unique challenges faced by women during conflicts and emphasises the importance of including them in decision-making processes related to peace and security.



  • The international community should impose sanctions against the Myanmar military. There should also be complete ban on arms sales to the junta.
  • The international community must halt the supply of aviation fuel to the Myanmar military.
  • ASEAN countries need to take the conflict in Myanmar more seriously and utilise their mandate to ensure the safety of Myanmar nationals as fellow ASEAN citizens, with a strong emphasis on utilising the ASEAN Regional Action Plan on WPS.
  • The international community must collaborate with community-based local organisations and seek alternative ways to effectively provide humanitarian aid to IDP communities and in remote and border areas, with an emphasis on alleviating the unique challenges faced by women and children, such as capacitating and building more clinics that can provide SRHR


The ongoing conflict in Myanmar is like a pandemic in the sense that it is rapidly spreading from one state to another, from one group to another, claiming thousands of lives along the way. However, as humans have started this conflict, humans also have the power to change its course.

Solidarity can foster such change. It is the first step towards peace and safety.

For nearly sixty years, Kachin and other ethnic groups have been enduring various challenges the military has violently thrown at them. Against the backdrop of an increasing number of IDPs, the ongoing conflict has had a disproportionate impact on women and children living in IDP camps and remote areas. The international community should pay closer attention.

In solidarity for Myanmar.