MILWAUKEE — The Hmong American Women's Association (HAWA) has served as a vital resource for the Hmong community in Milwaukee since 1993. Several years later, the organization took on an advocacy role for survivors of domestic violence and abuse.
"We are one corner of our community where survivors can really come in and share their experiences and we actually really believe their experiences," said HAWA Executive Director Tammie Xiong.
A Minnesota Asian Women's Health Survey found that 15% of Asian women have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime.
HAWA is just one of a few organizations across the nation that dedicates its resources to ending gender-based violence in the Hmong community.
The work HAWA does is especially important in the Milwaukee area because Wisconsin has the third-largest Hmong population in the United States. California has the largest Hmong population in the country, followed by Minnesota.
The Milwaukee-based organization now has two youth programs aimed at empowering the next generation and envisioning a world without violence.
"I think the biggest challenge right now is just a lot of oppression on our young people. Especially our women, our girls, and our [queer and trans] folks," said HAWA Child and Family Director Ger Yang.
HAWA aims to provide a safe space for young women, girls and the LGBTQ community through a mentoring program calling 'Our Sister's Stories.' The organization is also empowering young people to become advocates for themselves and others in the community through 'Say MKE.'
"To be able to one day be our leaders, our facilitators, be those to have the knowledge once we're all gone," Yang said.
The programming includes addressing gender-based violence. Yang said the 'Say MKE' group recently completed a consent workshop and are now sharing that information with others.
"We give them the tools and we give them the knowledge, and we have them go to their own peers and have them teach and educate their own peers," Yang said.
Staff at HAWA also said the rise in anti-Asian violence has been a concern, and is something they're having conversations about with their youth groups and clients.
"Our young people feel it, and our young people are also trying to figure out what safety actually means for them too," Xiong said.
Ultimately, Xiong hopes women, girls, and queer and trans folks in the community know HAWA is there to help them navigate any challenges in the pursuit of a future without violence.
For more information on HAWA's youth programs, click here. Xiong said the organization is also hosting a camp for young people this July.