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Cambodia, Women at the Forefront of Resistance

John Vink

Cambodia has seen an accelerated erosion of democratic values and human rights over the last 15 years. The hope within the population of living in a peaceful country where one could freely express his aspirations through a normal multiparty system has recently been smothered by Prime Minister Hun Sen: political analysts and environment activists were murdered, human rights workers imprisoned, radio stations and newspapers shuttered, opposition MP’s silenced through an arsenal of legal twists resulting in their exile or their imprisonment, and, finally, the main opposition party has effectively been ripped off its seats in parliament just recently.

But, triggered by land rights issues and evictions, a number of women, directly impacted by the injustice they were inflicted with, have for more than 10 years stood up against the authorities. Relentlessly speaking up, demonstrating in the street dozens of times and confronting police forces, never ever giving up in their quest for justice, these ordinary women have developed an acute sense of right and wrong, have perfectly grasped the concept of human rights. That women would be at the forefront of these root protests is not surprising in a country where gender roles are still largely based on ancient traditions. Even if things are changing rapidly, women are still confined to the household. Women therefore perceive the blow of an eviction more strongly. And that they would broaden their scope of interest from their own households to more general preoccupations of human rights has to do with the fact that women likely think more about the future.

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