June 28, 2020: A Women Rights Forum in Tuol Kruos village of the Anlong Veng district was organized on June 28th, 2020 as part of our goals to reactivate and acknowledge the women’s life experiences during genocide and war, to highlight their rights and to strengthen their capacity for leadership roles in their locality. Sixteen people (9 female) attended this forum.
The Khmer Rouge revolution brought women a great deal of hardship and sacrifice. Four women interviewed by the Documentation Center of Cambodia’s (DC-Cam) team nearly ten years ago demonstrate this. The Anlong Veng Peace Center team revisited those women and other community members to ensure the continuity of DC-Cam’s longer-term devotion to women’s empowerment, even as the Covid-19 pandemic still posed a threat to individuals, communities and the entire country. We took precautionary measures recommended by Cambodia’s Ministry of Health by keeping a safe distance and wearing face masks. The participants showed up and received a bunch of DC-Cam publications such as “A History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979)”, “Searching for the Truth” magazine, “A History of Anlong Veng Community: The Final Stronghold of the Khmer Rouge Movement—Guidebook for Tour Guide,” and a Covid-19 poster, which reminds the public to wash their hands and to be careful concerning the deadly virus.
On their arrival at the gathering place, the female participants came individually or in groups of 2 or 3. As soon as they received the call about forum on women rights and a history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979), some said they eerily recalled the bitter history of the village itself. Tuol Kruos village was reserved for individuals considered “swollen and rotten flesh,” which referred to anyone who committed light or serious mistakes in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge, such as being soldiers for and trading with the enemy before the reintegration of Anlong Veng in 1998.
Among those present were Chhe Yean, 52 years old, and Uk Van, 60 years old, who joined the Khmer Rouge in Siem Reap province in 1983 and in Kampong Cham province in 1976 respectively. Despites the differences in place and time, they both ended up in Anlong Veng, one of the KR strongholds during the civil war (1979-1998). At the forum, Van briefly narrated her story. She said that she was quickly assigned to work in a mobile unit at first and then as a cleaner at Democratic Kampuchea’s (DK) Ministry of Foreign Affairs thanks largely to her good family background. In 2012, Van disclosed her long-held dream of studying for a medical degree. She added that, as history has shown, her dream never came true as the war broke out in her hometown in Kampong Cham province and then throughout Cambodia in the early 1970s.
Yean then discussed her experience, by reiterating that she left Siem Reap province for Anlong Veng in 1983, which was one of the most intense years in the KR-held areas. She was brought in by her brother-in-law who served in Division 980’s platoon. Her daily tasks were to take care of the domesticates and to plant vegetables. Furthermore, both women bore a common story of working for the revolution and losing family members because of it. Van’s mother, Tham Thot, died of starvation and illness in 1976, while Yean’s father was at a battlefield.
Having resettled in Anlong Veng, the former final stronghold of the KR movement, rights remain a concern for them. Both Van and Yean provided two different ways of live for the women who live in Anlong Veng. Some choose to endorse their own rights and wish for Anlong Veng to flourish. Others feel discouraged, for one reason or another, and hesitated to embrace life in Anlong Veng.
The participants in the forum found it difficult to give a clear insight into the above aspects as their daily lives are mired with or kept hectic with family chores. They compared their burdens with an analogy of “a sole thread of a hair being divided into ten pieces.” This implies that women are mostly encouraged to take care of children, husbands and parents on both sides to cook, launder, and many household chores.
Sanh Sokun, 63 years old, joined the discussion by saying that in addition to chores, women have to reserve food for each day. That is why Sokun emphasized the forum should help empower women and strengthen their conscience. In other words, she would recommend that domestic violence, in any forms, should not be committed by men. Each woman should know their rights and protect themselves from any type of violence.
Van echoed Sokun and thought the above analogy demonstrates that extremely hard work should not be overlooked or underestimated by anyone. The divorcee said women still become victims of domestic violence as their rights and work are not seen as equal to those of men, who are the bread-winners. She also admitted that she has played both roles as a father and a mother for her children for ten years. She never complained about this responsibility as she wished to challenge the notion that “women could not turn fernane.” That is why, she said: “I took up the position of a group chief for Tuol Kruos village. I later resigned because of my chronic illness, memory problem (forgetting things very often) and poor living conditions.” Horn Thol, 54 years old, reiterated that she has also heard this phrase. It has affected, she said, women’s rights, in one way or another, as women were not encouraged or promoted to do any substantial works.
Most of the participants believed that women need motivation, the ability to commit, nd education if they are to take on any challenging tasks in any roles for the local or national government. Their comments stemmed largely from the fact that some women argue that they are incapable of being able to do these tasks, although they very well accomplish these tasks in their respective villages and communities. However, many did strongly support the idea that education would help prepare women for their fruitful involvement in any leading roles.
TEAM: Mek Navin, Hean Pisey and Ly Sok-Kheang
REPORT: Ly Sok-Kheang
DONOR: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)