Gender-Based Violence and Women Human Rights Defenders

CCHR joined the Human Rights Day Celebration at the Olympic Stadium and raised awareness of women’s rights

On the final day of activism of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (“GBV”), we call for an end to GBV in Cambodia and for an end to GBV against women human right defenders (“WHRDs”). Despite significant efforts by the Royal Government of Cambodia (“RGC”), GBV against women remains an issue of serious concern, particularly the high prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault. According to a 2015 research report by the World Health Organization, 21% of female respondents had experienced sexual or physical assault at the hands of their partner.

As recognized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”), such violence is, in part, justified by social norms and legitimized by persistent discriminatory stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society. According to the Chbab Srey, the traditional rules for women and girls in Cambodia, the perfect woman is the obedient wife. The women who do not conform with such stereotypes are often stigmatized, harassed or subject to GBV. This is particularly evident in the treatment of WHRDs who speak out against injustices (most often) perpetrated by men in power.

Like their male counterparts, WHRDs often experience violence, as well as threats, harassment, or arrest at the hands of the authorities or private actors, such as the companies and their private security forces that they are fighting against. They may also face restrictions on, and monitoring of, their activities and impacts on their careers.

But, in addition, WHRDs may also face GBV and other risks, such as domestic violence, sexual violence, family breakdown, and threats against their children. All of these issues often have a severe impact on the mental health of WHRDs, resulting in stress, anxiety and mental illness.

In spite of this, women are often at the forefront of their communities’ activism, particularly in relation to land conflicts. These WHRDs are often driven by the need to provide food and shelter for their family. Yet when women move away from their traditional ‘housewife’ roles to campaign for greater land security, there is an increase in instances of domestic violence. Due to flawed and inadequate legal protections against domestic violence and a culture of impunity for such crimes, such violence often goes unpunished. For example, a study by LICADHO found that only 20% of domestic violence cases monitored between January 2014 and December actually led to criminal proceedings.

In other areas, such as predominantly female industries like garment, textiles and domestic work, women who take on leadership roles to fight for the rights of fellow workers have similarly faced discrimination, intimidation and violence.  

In order to end GBV against women and WHRDs, the root causes of this problem must be addressed. In line with CEDAW’s recommendations, the RGC must adopt a comprehensive strategy to eliminate discriminatory stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes from Cambodian society.

Of course, GBV itself must be stopped. A key step would be to review and amend the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Protection of Victims so that it comprehensively addresses all forms of GBV experienced by women in Cambodia, particularly domestic and sexual violence. Impunity for these crimes cannot continue and perpetrators must be investigated, prosecuted and adequately punished.

The impact of GBV on women must also be addressed by providing further support to victims/survivors of GBV, such as legal assistance, health-care services and psychosocial support. In order to achieve this, the RGC should provide funding and establish at least five “one-stop service centers” by 2024 for the provision of such support. Given the current lack of such support, CCHR seeks to continue our work in protecting WHRDs by providing them with legal assistance and training so that they can challenge violations of their rights as well as seek support for humanitarian and psychosocial assistance to help them avoid high risk situations and mitigate the impact of traumatic incidents. We also work to raise the visibility of female activists. By giving a platform to their leadership and activism we want women to be seen as key players in social change and decision making, rather than as victims.

Ultimately, the work of WHRDs should not be criticized but encouraged. As community leaders and civil society activists, these women are promoting and protecting the rights of their families, colleagues and communities. The violence against them, along with all GBV against women, must stop. CCHR calls on the RGC to implement the recommendations of CEDAW to eliminate discriminatory attitudes and end GBV against women in Cambodia, and joins Klahaan’s campaign highlighting these recommendations.

Furthermore, to mark these 16 days of activism, CCHR along with other CSO’s and Trade Unions further renewed its call on the government to provide resolutions on “11 key issues and take actions to respond to our women’s needs” as prescribed in a petition submitted to them on the occasion of International Women’s Days in March and on International Labour Day in May 2019.

Setting Examples: Women in Leadership

GVeX

Participants from the Global Voices Exchange (#GVeX) in Marseilles, France

By Chak Sopheap

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to go on missions to Washington DC and Marseille and I was able to engage in valuable and constructive discussions with senior government officials and fellow civil society leaders. Besides this, I had the pleasure of meeting with some exceptionally impressive individual leaders who are unwaveringly committed to the promotion of human rights in their communities and I learned a huge amount from my interactions with these individuals. In particular, it was fantastic to meet with some extraordinary women leaders who are providing a shining example for women in leadership in civil society and more generally around the world.

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As part of my mission to Washington DC between 09 and 12 February, it was a privilege to be invited to the White House to meet with US National Security Advisor Susan Rice and nine civil society leaders from South East Asia as part of the ‘Stand with Civil Society: ASEAN Consultations’ in advance of the US-ASEAN Summit. The meeting was an excellent opportunity to discuss problems facing civil society and share experiences and strategies with fellow civil society leaders. Other than the senior level of the meeting, I was most struck by the exceptionally respectful, thoughtful and perceptive style of leadership and personality of Susan Rice during the meeting, which was at times fairly frantic. For example, Susan Rice repeatedly encouraged an activist from a country in which activists are often repressed to contribute her thoughts and experiences. She was reluctant to speak because some of the other participants in the meeting continuously tried to speak over her and also partly because of her country’s political culture. It was impressive to see how Susan Rice ensured all the participants at the meeting were given the space and opportunity to freely express themselves and her considerate approach to encouraging the discussion of diverse perspectives and experiences was remarkable. The perceptive leadership style of Susan Rice and the conscientious manner in which she conducts herself are truly inspiring and make her a wonderful example for women leaders around the world.

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Following the meeting, the US National Security advisor issued a statement reiterating the “United States’ steadfast commitment to sustaining and supporting civil society in Southeast Asia and around the world”.[1] In addition, I also had the opportunity to meet with other senior government officials, including Deputy Secretary Anthony Blinken, Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby, and prominent human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. These meetings were very useful as we were able to discuss human rights abuses in Cambodia as well as the domestic and international strategies that can be used to challenge such violations. Alongside these meetings, I was invited to deliver a speech at an event organized by the association of Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy. With roughly 300 members of the Cambodian diaspora attending the Valentine’s Day celebration, it was the perfect opportunity for me to stress the importance of the active participation of every Cambodian citizen regardless of who and where we are, to give back to society and this could be the perfect expression of our solidarity and love. I was also interviewed by Voice of America Cambodia.

I then visited Marseille in France in order to attend an event focused on digital rights and advocacy. as part of Global Voices Exchange, ‪#‎GVeX, aimed at developing training and mentoring frameworks for the practice of advocacy, both online and offline, in the global south.

Throughout the five day training and mentoring program for advocacy strategies, I was lucky enough to meet with remarkable individuals who all shared the same passion and common values to support better governance, enable a healthy environment for civil society and empowering individuals to advocate for basic freedoms in their communities. Their determination and enthusiasm to make a difference and help to build a prosperous and liberal society in their communities was truly remarkable and I personally learned a huge amount from hearing about their experiences.

During both of these missions it was an honor to meet with a wide variety of inspirational leaders, from the White House to the activists gathered in Marseille. The determination of so many people with different backgrounds to contribute to the promotion of a liberal democracy and human rights in their own communities was very encouraging. It was especially impressive to meet with some extraordinary women leaders who conduct themselves in an extremely resolute and perceptive manner in order to ensure a wide variety of views and perspectives are properly heard.

Chak Sopheap is the Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights

[1] Office of the US National Security Advisor, ‘Statement by National Security Council Spokesperson Ned Price on National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice’s Meeting with Southeast Asian Civil Society Leaders’, The White House, 11 February 2016 < https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/11/statement-national-security-council-spokesperson-ned-price-national >

Cambodian women are speaking up for their rights; it’s time we listen

The women of Boeung Kak Lake protest the destruction of their homes in 2012 (pictured centre: famous land activist Tep Vanny)

The women of Boeung Kak Lake protest the destruction of their homes in 2012 (pictured centre: famous land activist Tep Vanny)

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, CCHR looks at the Cambodian women who are challenging gender norms by fighting for their rights

In every facet of society, women across the world continue to possess fewer advantages while enduring greater threats to their safety and well-being. The abuse of women’s rights is considered by some as the concern of women, and women alone. This is not a ‘women’s issue’, it is a human rights issue.[1] In Cambodia, the simple act of a woman speaking out can be seen as defiant and abhorrent. Nevertheless, brave female activists are raising their voices amidst ongoing attempts from the authorities to silence them. As people held flash-mobs to raise awareness of women’s rights ahead of International Women’s Day, events planned by civil society groups to encourage and empower women in prison had to be cancelled due to new restrictions.

“Women continue to face discrimination based on negative social expectations and stereotypes”

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Women in Politics in Southeast Asia: Same same but different?

This post is written by Eng Sokha, Project Assistant at CCHR, and Juliette Rousselot, Consultant at CCHR.

Earlier this week, we had the honor of representing CCHR at a conference – “Women in Political Leadership in Southeast Asia 2014: Experiences, Challenges and Strategies” – held in Indonesia by CCHR’s partner organization, Kemitraan, where we discussed the state of women’s political leadership in Southeast Asia in 2014. The focus was on the experiences of women in politics, the challenges to increase that representation and the strategies we can use to increase that representation. We were accompanied by Ms. Sonket Sereyleak, Education and Gender Coordinator at COMFREL, and Ms. Keth Mardy, the Director of Legal Protection Department of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of Cambodia, who both spoke on panels during the conference on the issue of increasing women’s political representation in Cambodia.

Participants from Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Timor Leste

Participants from Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Timor Leste

For the past 2 years, CCHR has been working as a part of a regional program – which includes other organizations from Indonesia, Malaysia, Timor Leste, and the Philippines – to increase women’s representation in politics throughout Southeast Asia. With just women constituting just 20% of Cambodia’s National Assembly, we are still far away from achieving true gender equity in politics.

However, the problem is not unique to Cambodia but present throughout all of Southeast Asia, where women seeking to participate in the political life of the nation – a right guaranteed under Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 7 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – are denied this right because of discriminatory laws and policies, cultural and traditional barriers, and socio-economic factors. In fact, Asia has one of the lowest average percentages of women’s representation in national parliaments of all the world’s regions, at just 18.4%.

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