Domestic Violence in Cambodia – Part One: The Rural Challenge
By Mikaela Day
This is the first article in a special four part series on domestic violence in Cambodia. Read the other articles in the series here.
In a typical rural Cambodian village, women are usually expected to report cases of domestic violence to their village chief, a male leader of the community.
But in Wat village, a small remote community located on the Mekong river island of Koh Chraeng, the situation is different: villagers have access to a women’s advocate.
Eighty per cent of Cambodia’s population lives in rural areas and survivors of gender-based violence often struggle to gain access to adequate support services.
The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence reported that 28 per cent of Cambodians regularly witnessed their fathers’ hit their mothers as children.
A 2015 report conducted by WHO and the UN Women Cambodia showed that services are widely unavailable in rural areas which increases the vulnerability of women and girls.
But Wat village is attempting to curb domestic violence and change the way they deal with the issue.
The village has taken many steps forward to support the women in their community, something women’s advocate and deputy of commune Phon Chea knows all about.
Ms Phon has been responsible for the children and women in her community since her election in 2002 and says gender inequality is not a problem in their community.
“Before, the local people they are not well educate and they think that strength mean win so they fight,” Mrs Phon said.
“But now they seem to understand more about how to low temper, how to eliminate stress and also they know clearly when they commit crime.
“They commit domestic violence, they will face law enforcement.”
Ms Phon’s main goal in her community is to educate how to live happy and healthy lives but with no formal training in mental health she uses her knowledge gained from working in the community health centre to identify symptoms.
“I attend some training related to empower women and participation in community development and I also won an award which amount to US$300 for good leader in community,” she said.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has also assisted Mrs Phon in reducing the domestic violence rates in her community by providing her with training relating to domestic violence and conflict resolution.
“They seek out agent from community to attend a workshop to know how the law work and to solve the domestic violence,” she said.
“Then after finish training and workshop… (I conducted) a local workshop to train and to spread out the knowledge of the women right and domestic violence.”
She said that the implementation of the 2005 domestic violence law had reduced violence against women in rural areas but during times of financial issues and stress families could have problems.
Ms Phon’s education and experience plays an important role in supporting women of Wat village but commune chief Roeurng Kao still deals with cases of domestic violence in the community.
“When they [the villagers] have some problem [with domestic violence) they file a case to me and then I try to seek out a win-win strategy,” Mr Roeurng said.
He said that the main cause of gender-based violence in his community was alcohol abuse.
“The rate of domestic violence is dropped significantly and there is only one or two per year domestic violence case,” Mr Roeurng said.
“I have some preventative action by providing telephone (number) to the husband and I want the neighbour to inform me in case there is an argument between family member.”
Mr Roeurng has implemented strict rules around violence especially for young boys in his village of less than 800 people.
“Whether to educate or to seek out for the cause and to show some option to be solve.
“I always give them my phone number and the number of the police.”
ABC International’s Ty Samphors Vicheka said that the commune chief plays an important role in rural communities however some cases are beyond their role.
“The most important thing is for the village chief to be educated on violence against women causes, risk factors, and appropriate responses, and to be aware of never victim blaming,” Ms Ty said.
Communications and advocacy consultant for the UN Women Cambodia country office Mariken Harbitz said turning to the village chief for support can lead to reconciliation but could come at a cost.
“Victims of violence in rural areas turn to the village chief for support, and this can result in mediation being the form of peacemaking… at the expense of access to justice for the women,” she said.
“This can hinder women from taking legal actions against perpetrators even when it is warranted.”
According to Ms Ty, the perception of a woman’s role in rural areas could lead to gender-based violence.
“I think the biggest concern regarding women’s rights and gender equality are misconceptions and myths that are seen as truths,” she said.
“For example, some women believe that it’s okay for their husbands to beat them if they aren’t fulfilling their husband’s needs.”
—–[Phon Chea and Roeurng Kao interviews conducted via a Khmer/English translator. Feature photo by Nick Parkin].