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.