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Anthropology alumnus founds NGO for unrecognized refugee women from Burma


By Ursula Cats When I started my fieldwork as a Master’s student last year, I had many ideals and I mainly wanted to represent the women I was researching as “agents of change”. What I actually experienced was different. As I wrote in an e-mail to my supervisor Ellen Bal towards the end of my fieldwork: “I can clearly see the restrictions these young women have. I can see that they are active agents, but their impossibilities are also becoming painfully obvious.”

I have always had the motivation to support people who have fewer opportunities than I do. To gain more knowledge on developmental work, I decided to enroll in the Master’s program in anthropology in September 2009. It was not complicated to find a focus for my fieldwork: the women who had fled from Burma to Thailand. The anthropological theories I used, however, did not correspond directly with what I actually saw and experienced. Eventually I was able to gain a perspective based on the stories of the women themselves, which I used in my thesis to shed light on the situation of unrecognized refugee women from Burma. 

The future aspirations these women had, as became apparent in my research, inspired me to keep taking part in the lives of my informants and their communities. I wanted to turn research into action and decided to start a new foundation: We Women. This foundation offers unrecognized refugee women from Burma the opportunity to get an education. The reason why We Women’s focus is on education, is that the women we work with told me during my fieldwork, that studying was an aspiration that helped them getting through the difficulties of their daily life existence. 

It is incredibly rewarding to work with these unrecognized refugee women from Burma. The women are highly motivated: they know that there are few chances for them to study and put their souls into their work. They never complain about the long days and you can see their passion shine through their expressions and body language. They are proud women that want to work hard to attain equal rights for their people. 

The Master’s in anthropology has taught me to take on the perspective of the people I work with. Researching the background and needs of the target group is thus a very important aspect of the We Women foundation. It’s about the women themselves; they are getting the opportunity to realize their dreams and ideals: they make the difference, not me! 

Ursula Cats finished her Master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology at VU University Amsterdam in June 2010. She now works in Chiang Mai, Thailand. More information on We Women can be found on its website [url:].


  1. Richard Richard

    Dank Ursula ik vond het erg fijn om dit te lezen.
    Ik kom ze in Bangkok best vaak tegen, westerse man, vinden ze interessant. Ik ben het niet eens met het feminisme omdat het een niet humanitaire filosofie is maar dit is beter als niets. Sommige van de vrouwen werken ny gewoon en hebben een huis, ze hebben vroeger als meisje moeten werken en schamen zich om terug te gaan. Andere hangen met een hangmat in het centrum. Er is opvang voor daklozen daar maar ik weet niet hoe goed dat is.
    Ik weet ook niet hoe ik dat op moet lossen, maar je idee van een opleiding spreekt mij enorm aan. Als je me het adress in Chaing Mai van Wewomen stuurt dan kan ik ze dat, wellicht naast een busticket, aan ze geven.


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