WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN CAMBODIA
There is a proverb in Cambodia that asserts that men are like gold and women are like a fresh white piece of linen. Even if gold is put in the fire, it remains ever the same. A white piece of linen, as soon as it has one blemish, it is no longer of any use to anyone. The idea that girls and women are disposable commodities still prevails in Cambodian society, aggravated by the disproportionate value placed on virginity. Even if a girl is drugged and raped, her value as a desirable wife becomes practically nil. The victim is held responsible; her sense of shame for having caused the dishonour to the family is great.
According to the UNDP Human Development Index 2014, Cambodia, ranking at 105th of 151 states, has one of the lowest ratings of gender empowerment in Asia. Conservative cultural norms place a lower value on women and create gender imbalances, such as greater female illiteracy, poverty and multi-level discrimination, which exacerbates the prevalence of violence against women. Often, women are less likely to report domestic violence, in particular sexual violence, because of gender bias.
This gender discrimination combined with a level of education that remains inadequate, poverty, and family problems means that many girls and young women face the continual danger of violence and exploitation. Often women are trafficked and fall victim to debt-bondage, when a girl is sold and all of her earnings are kept from her, ostensibly to pay back her family debt as well as earning money for her employers.
THE MULTIPLE BARRIERS AND CHALLENGES IN THE PROTECTION OF RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND GIRLS
Despite the enactment of the Domestic Violence Law in 2005, a lack of knowledge, restrictive gender roles, and ineffective enforcement of the law interfere with women accessing justice. A Partners for Prevention study in 2014 found that 90% of people in Cambodia are aware of the law, however only 8% recognize that women have a right to live free from violence. Among police and legal authorities, there is an overall indifference towards domestic violence because they consider it a private or domestic matter.
Women Migrants are increasing largely from year to year due to the demand in the domestic work and manufacturing sectors. Although the Cambodian government has developed policies to protect the rights of migrants overseas, more policies are required to promote strategic overseas migration including informing potential overseas migrants of their rights and encouraging and connecting return migrants to the domestic labour market in a gender-responsive manner.
Existing laws in Cambodia have been protecting some children and women, but there are still many obstacles and their rights continue to be abused:
- Young girls frequently forced into premature marriage. It is not uncommon for parents to force young victims of rape into marrying their abuser.
- The complicating factor of poverty can push girls and women to bring financial support to the family. For example, some find themselves prone to deceit and tricks by traffickers when migrating in search of work away from home.
- Public opinion deems that 'good girls' would never engage in this kind of activity, so these girls are usually subject to discrimination, humiliation, denigration and abandonment, and thus become more vulnerable to being lured away into trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, most frequently with false promises of more respectable work in another location.
- Similarly, cultural views often deter women from disclosing intimate partner abuse or rape. There remain high levels of acceptability of domestic violence within Cambodian society. Women are often expected to tolerate violence in order to keep the family together. Women speaking out about domestic violence may be blamed for provoking the violence or criticized for discussing “private family matters” out of the home. Divorce is also widely frowned upon and discouraged, making it difficult for a woman to extricate herself from an unhappy or abusive marriage.
- Some fathers and husbands treat their children and wives badly. Children and women who do not know their rights and/or are unable to exercise them believe it is natural and proper for men to lead the family and do as they wish. Incest is all too common in many families, with the father believing he is entitled to rape his daughter because he has invested in her.
- Financial dependence on the man within a family is sometimes used by authorities to encourage victims to stay with abusive partners. Gaps in legislation and a lack of clear guidance in relation to national laws further hinders the authorities when providing support.
- Lack of education renders women and girls vulnerable as they might not be aware of the law or their rights; they may not know who to contact for help; or they may not access the justice system because they assume going to courts I only an option available to the wealthy and they are unaware of legal aid services.
PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN CAMBODIA
A particular difficulty in Cambodia involves the enforcement of the rule of law in relation to how it applies to children and women. Much help is needed to develop effective planning and implementation mechanisms, especially in the realms of domestic violence, human trafficking, rape and abuse.
Children and women, the most vulnerable sector of society, should be entitled to some kind of special protection by the government and the community. This protection should work against all forms of discrimination, violence, oppression, sexual abuse, exploitation, and abandonment. Ideally, children and women should have access to all of the rights and protections written into international law. Cambodia has signed the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
For survivors who overcome these informational and cultural problems, they may face a myriad of practical difficulties. It may be difficult for them to travel (whether to see a lawyer or to attend court) because of financial, childcare or cultural issues. An unmarried daughter may lack the funds and may be denied permission from her parents to go outside the home. A domestic violence victim might find it difficult to secure the funds and the time to travel without her partner/husband noticing.
Due to feelings of shame (for the reasons outlined above) and absence of trust in the justice system, women are often reluctant to go through the intimidating process of a court trial. For cultural reasons, they may feel uncomfortable speaking to a male about their experiences. This is a particular challenge, given the low proportions of females in the police and judiciary. They may fear insensitive questioning. They may fear that they will not be believed. They may be experiencing psychological symptoms as a result of the acts committed against them. They are likely to be dealing with a number of other personal problems in addition to playing their part in a legal case – for example, how they will get by without family/community support; where they will live; how they will survive financially; issues related to children; medical problems.
For those who manage to overcome the hurdles already mentioned and initiate legal proceedings, their battle for justice is not yet over. Poverty is a strong factor leading to temptation to accept monetary settlements out-of-court, allowing perpetrators to escape criminal sanction. Even worse, in some rape cases, it is agreed by the victim’s family that the perpetrator will marry the girl to avoid their concern of her being unable to find a husband, thus condemning her to a lifetime maritally bound to her attacker.
LSCW hopes to provide protection to children and women victims of the above-mentioned abuses, and of others, through legal support ad through awareness-raising. LSCW aims to do this through collaboration and cooperation with NGOs, governments and civil society actors on a national and international level.
Because LSCW understands the problems faced by women and girls (“gender sensitivity”), the team tries to lessen these barriers (through “gender responsive” practices) and create a supportive environment to empower women and girls to seek justice through the legal mechanisms available to them. LSCW advocates a gender-sensitive approach by all actors involved in the legal system. To learn more about this issue, please read our report…
Gender Sensitivity and the Legal Process in Cambodia (2012)
16 DAYS OF ACTIVITY AGAINST VAW
In November 2011 LSCW participated in the 16 days of Activity against Violence against Women campaign coordinating with UN Women, Action Aid and other partners to hold an event motivating communities to get involved in supporting the fight to end violence against women.
Over 8,000 people in 10 provinces across the country gathered to form human white ribbon shapes, an international symbol for ending violence against women. LSCW focused on Kampot, where over 200 locals gathered to help raise awareness. The joint action sent a clear message that ending violence against women is everybody’s responsibility and only together we can achieve a greater impact.