Marking International Women's Day

In April 2011 Chab Dai & The Asia Foundation co-hosted the International Women's Day Event called "A New Life, A New Hope". Member's artwork about "freedom" was displayed.

In April 2011 Chab Dai & The Asia Foundation co-hosted the International Women's Day Event called "A New Life, A New Hope". Member's artwork about "freedom" was displayed.

As our 10-year anniversary approaches here at Chab Dai, we've been looking back at human rights issues and asking ourselves what has changed, what has been challenged and what has improved in this time.

To coincide with International Women's Day on Sunday March 8th, as well as campaigns like the UN's #HeForShe movement, we decided to take a closer look at gender equality in Cambodia.

At Chab Dai, we're constantly working towards best practice with our members and stakeholders on this issue, addressing gender-based exploitation and discrimination within a human rights framework.

But how has gender equality moved forward since we opened our first office in 2005?

Women's rights and Cambodian culture

Since ratifying CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) back in 1992 and the Optional Protocol in 2011, Cambodia has adopted an official commitment to women’s rights. However, we still have a long way to go to see these rights in practice.

Women in this country still face centuries-old cultural norms stemming from the Chrab Srey moral code, one that dictates they should always respect the decisions of men, whether right or wrong.

A UN Women report stated that 'Women, who make up more than half the population, constitute the majority of the poor', while the Global Gender Gap report for 2014 ranked Cambodia at number 108 in the world – the lowest of the South-East Asian nations – on criteria such as education, economic participation and work opportunities.

With domestic violence against women also on the rise in recent years, we still face challenges in gender equality here, in the younger generations as well as the older.

The next generation and gender equality

With around 50% of the country's population under the age of 25, it's important that the next generation is well-informed about gender equality. However, studies like Tong Soprach's 5-year longitudinal research on young people and Valentine's Day have shown that many have an unhealthy, and even dangerous approach to relationships between men and women.

Soprach's research showed that a large percentage of young men intended to have sex – consensual or not – on Valentine's Day, year on year. Though this decreased over time, it is an alarming dichotomy that instances of rape should occur on this day in February, mere weeks before we celebrate the empowerment of women on International Women's Day.

Once again, it's knowledge which could be part of the answer to changing these kind of attitudes towards gender.

Empowering women in Cambodia

Knowledge-sharing is one of our key prevention tools in the fight to stop human trafficking, and much of Chab Dai's training with communities addresses related issues like exploitation of women, and educating people on the value of women and children. We are also currently working on a dedicated gender inclusion policy, and many of our project managers and senior staff are women, including Finance & Operations Director, Orng Muylen.

On a more national level, women are becoming more prominent in politics, with the election of the first female Deputy Prime Minister, and an increase of nearly 10% in the number of women elected to parliament between 2003 and 2008. And in 2014, LICADHO made a report wherein women were not only classified as victims, but as protagonists: 'Women Land Campaigners and the Impact of Human Rights Activism' following women dealing with land conflicts.

The report also emphasised how this issue has been changing the attitudes of the women themselves: 'Our tradition says we should listen to our husbands. I decided to choose the community and continue with my activism'.

So as we reach our landmark anniversary and look forward to the next 10 years at Chab Dai, it's great to hear such stories of hope. As Muylen affirms:

We are women, we do not work or follow what men are asking us...we need to stand up for what we have to do. We stand up for ourselves, we have a value, we are people just the same – if men can do something, we can do the same.
— Orng Muylen, Chab Dai Finance Director

Article by Kristina Novak & Laura Gavin