Attitudes towards violence against women in Cambodia slowly changing

Published on July 31, 2007
LICADHO talking to the community about domestic violence

"Before, a husband would beat his wife and children, now he just insults them..." chilling yet sobering words from a woman surveyed by LICADHO's Women's Rights Office (WRO) following the end of its pilot project in Kandal Province, which aimed to educate the community on violence against women issues.

On July 30, 2007 LICADHO's WRO celebrated the conclusion of the first of three education pilot projects with a community forum in Angsnoul district, Kandal province. The pilot project was funded by the University of Quebec in Montreal and the Canadian International Development Agency and the community forum brought to a close, planning and organising which had commenced as far back as December 2005.

The pilot project was designed to promote ownership of women's rights by equipping women in the community with practical knowledge, strategies and resources to prevent and seek redress for domestic violence, rape and trafficking violations. As part of the program 39 women, selected from eight villages, were chosen as 'focal points'. It was intended that these women would disseminate what they learnt from workshops through out the community. Similarly, 23 local authorities, comprising police, village chiefs, commune chiefs and members of the legal sector, also participated in learning about violence against women issues. Training and follow up workshops were held from August 2006 to March 2007, with a final evaluation of the project's impact in the community being conducted during the first half of 2007.

One major focus of the pilot project was learning to understand domestic violence, the impact it can have on a family and the community, the concept that it is not just an internal family issue and how to deal with and prevent it. In Cambodia, domestic violence has long been a product of cultural values and the status of women in society's eyes. Even with the passing of the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of Victims in 2005, attitudes towards the acceptance of domestic violence as an issue concerning the community and not something to be kept private have been hard to change. The perceptions of both the public and the authorities still hold true to their long held beliefs of silence and ignorance.

Cases reported to LICADHO demonstrate the brutal extent of domestic violence in Cambodia, where husband and boyfriends subject their wives, girlfriends and children to beatings, rape, threats, burnings, acid attacks and murder. In one recent case a victim of prolonged and repeated domestic violence over 13 years was beaten and stabbed, by her husband. Her husband, in an apparent drunken rage attacked her and cut off one of her fingers. After being treated for her injuries in hospital the victim said she didn't want to divorce her husband nor file a complaint against her husband.

In the first six months of 2007, LICADHO's WRO has received reports of 102 cases of domestic violence and 44 cases of rape. According to LICADHO's monitoring of Khmer newspapers, 98 cases of domestic violence and 150 cases of rape were also reported in the same period. As LICADHO continues to investigate cases of domestic violence and rape, the WRO pilot project in Angsnoul district is one of the first important steps towards prevention of violence against women at the community level. In the coming months the WRO will move the pilot project activities to Kompong Thom and Kampot province, refining the workshops which hope to change and evolve the attitudes of the community and the authorities towards violence against women issues.