International Women's Day celebrated with advocacy efforts to raise awareness on domestic violence and rape issues, as well as prison work

Published on March 22, 2005

Since 1975, March 8th is celebrated as International Women's Day around the world to commemorate the struggle to improve women's lives at the national and international levels. It is also an occasion for individuals and groups to call for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against women. In celebration of International Women's Day, LICADHO Women's Rights office conducted activities focusing on Women's Rights as Human Rights highlighting legal and social challenges in Phnom Penh and the provinces.

The Women's Rights office at LICADHO organized radio interviews of rape victims who recounted their personal stories to empower other victims. The personal stories were broadcast on CCHR, FM 102, Free Asia and VOA channels on March 8th. Victims of rape suffer from wide-spread misperceptions about the crimes of rape and sexual assault. The radio interviews addressed this issue in a Cambodian context and the victims were selected because their stories included positive results.

The 2004 briefing paper titled "Rape & Indecent Assault Cases & the Cambodian Justice System" was released by LICADHO for International Women's Day as well. Cambodia is facing a crisis of sex crimes against its women and children. Reported rape and indecent assault cases have increased in recent years, and many victims are children some as young as 4 or 5 year-old. "Urgent actions have to be taken to stop the continuous increase in rape and indecent assault cases. Women and girls live in fear, without access to resources such as shelters, legal and social support, or medical care," said Kek Galabru, President of LICADHO.

The number of rape cases reported to LICADHO has been increasing annually. LICADHO investigated 205 cases of rape and indecent assault (involving 218 victims) in 2004, and 177 cases (involving 185 victims) in 2003, compared to only 146 cases in 2001. These do not represent the total number of women raped in Cambodia, as many women are reluctant to report the crime. Victims are reluctant to report rape cases for a number of reasons, including shame, fear of retribution, family pressure and a sense that reporting will only prolong the abuse. Not enough social services exist to support victims of rape and assault.

The LICADHO Women's Rights office also took part in the activities of The Cambodian Committee of Women (CAMBOW). CAMBOW advocacy activities highlighted the need for reforms to the Law on Domestic Violence, which has yet to be approved by the National Assembly, as well as highlighting the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. A march to raise public awareness about women's rights and a drama on domestic violence were organized by CAMBOW on March 3 in Kompong Chhnang province.

LICADHO organized activities in Phnom Penh and the four the provinces where the most numerous cases of domestic violence were reported. Marches took place in Kompot, Kompong Cham, Banteay Meanchey, and Kompong Thom. Over 1,100 people participated in the activities.

In Phnom Penh, LICADHO's president and staff, along with the Charge D'Affaires from the Embassy of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and volunteers from Canada and Ireland distributed a total of 480 packages, including dried food, mosquito nets, T-shirts, and soap were distributed to 240 female prisoners, female guards, and their children in CC2, PJ and Takmao prisons, an extension of LICADHO's prison work. The visit was also the occasion for LICADHO's staff to talk with inmates and to start investigations on contentious cases. They were pleasantly surprised by a play about the situation of women written and produced by women prisoners in CC2.