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Refugee women group TANMA

Communities whom we work with: The very heart of our work

Tanma Federation: Refugee Women Fair Trade

Formed in September 2010 by three ethnic Burmese women refugee groups in Malaysia- Mang Tha, Kaopri and Chin Women Organization.


To be a world-wide fair trade cooperative run by and for refugee women, committed to giving a chance to the most vulnerable women, to be economically independent and to participate in decision making. We empower women to build peace and harmony in our homes, and to bring change in our environment.


  • To build solidarity among women
  • To protect women artisans’ rights as workers and as weomen
  • To run a fair trade cooperative
  • To help other women’s groups join the federation

The Humble Beginnings

Tanma was formed in September 2010 by 3 refugee women groups who had organised themselves and their communities. They were running empowerment and livelihood programmes for refugee women. The three groups are : 

  • Mang Tha 
  • Kaoprise 
  • Chin Women Organisation (CWO). 

These three groups remain as core Tanma members.

The objective of organising these three different groups under one central organisation arose from the vital need to share resources in order to provide sustainability for the groups and to protect their rights as women and as workers, especially since many companies were exploiting them for cheap labour.

Realizing the critical need to combine their strengths and resources for the betterment of themselves as refugee women, and for their fellow community members, three refugee women ; Ms. Khin Mar Aye (Mang Tha), Ms. Tanda Htun (Kaoprise) and Ms. Stella (CWO) supported by Ms. Elodie (a volunteer who had worked with them) formed the idea of cooperative for and led by refugee women. Tanma was then born.

Livelihoods & Psychosocial Support for Refugee Women

Recognizing the critical need for safe and sustainable livelihood opportunities, Tenaganita currently hosts Tanma Federation, a fair-trade cooperative formed and led by Burmese refugee women in Malaysia. 

Together with these women refugees, Tenaganita collaboratively conducts the following programmes: training on skills development, financial management, livelihoods management and community management. Leadership development among the women, rights awareness and psychosocial support activities are also given priority in this project. The inter-ethnic model of this livelihood program also seeks to build bridges and increase understanding and solidarity between the various ethnic Burmese groups living in Malaysia.

Additionally, Tanma is an important space to collectively address the various forms of violence faced by refugee women in Malaysia. Through Tenaganita’s work with refugee communities, the following are descriptions of the kinds of  experiences and issues faced by refugee women and girls in Malaysia was documented.

Livelihood and Self-Empowerment

Recognizing the critical need for livelihood opportunities, Tanma works with Burmese refugee women to develop a sustainable income-generating programme, which includes:

  • Consistent training on livelihood skills
  • Continuous English language lessons
  • Business & marketing skills development
  • Financial literacy training
  • Livelihoods project management

Tanma members also support each other in networking and marketing – which  is imperative for the survival of livelihood programmes.

As the cooperative’s function is not to merely meet the financial needs of refugee women, a strong focus is placed on creating spaces for self-empowerment. Inherent is this is addressing the pervasive patriarchal structures and culture which lead to gender-based violence and discrimination against refugee women. As such, each Tanma member group has appointed “gender facilitators” who undergo intensive gender-based violence training, and carry out programmes within the community to challenge stereotypes and create safe spaces and support for women who may experience violence.

Through Tanma, refugee women are learning their rights, owning it and asserting their rights to ensure that they are protected. Tanma understands that women’s human rights cannot advance without a) education & understanding of one’s rights, b) creation of spaces to claim ones rights. These two points are therefore at the core of Tanma.

The women who make up the Tanma community also meet regularly in formal & informal ‘peer-support groups’. This has been vital in addressing the deep psychosocial needs of the women, who are also refugees who’ve gone through traumatic, difficult and challenging experiences in the past (and continue to in Malaysia). There are plans in place to develop strengthen this form of support group with the facilitation of ‘coaches’ and ‘counsellors’. Additionally, monitoring the impact of the livelihood projects will also include an evaluation of the social-impact on the lives and well-being of the women in Tanma.

Leadership development among the women is also given very high priority in Tanma. Additionally, the inter-ethnic model of the livelihood programme also seeks to build bridges between historically tense communities, and increase understanding and solidarity between the various ethnic Burmese groups living in Malaysia. 

What is Tanma?

“Tanma” means strong. Tanma runs livelihood programmes for refugee women based on Fair Trade and cooperative principles. Through Tanma, several social projects including livelihood trainings, addressing gender-based violence, language classes for refugee women and education programmes for refugee children are run. At the core of Tanma is self-empowerment of refugee women.

 Tanma federation Facebook page: