Communities in the remote northwestern region of Cambodia are supporting victims of domestic violence by promoting respect for women’s rights.
Chenna and Socheata (not their real names) have endured a lifetime of abuse at the hands of their husbands. These women have much in common. Both are in their 40s and come from poor families in the remote province of Oddar Meanchey in northwestern Cambodia. They were married off at a tender age to men chosen by their parents. Now, at last they have found respite under a program that helps victims of domestic violence.
Thanks to an intervention by an ADB-assisted project, the beatings have stopped.
In Oddar Meanchey, one of Cambodia’s poorest provinces, ADB has worked with nongovernmental organization WOMEN to implement a community-based program on the prevention of HIV and anti-trafficking among women and girls. With assistance from the Government of Australia, the program has also helped victims of domestic violence.
“Before the project came here, he hit me a lot,” said Chenna, who has eight children from her 28-year marriage. “He would throw things, smashing everything in the house.” Her tiny body has been beaten countless times, yet her eyes are strong and dart about when she speaks.
“I did everything. I looked after the children, ran my own small business, and did the housework. He did nothing,” she recounted.
Chenna’s husband still comes home drunk, often yelling and throwing things in the house, but he does not hit her anymore. “He is afraid to go to prison,” she said.
Project workers informed Chenna’s husband that under Cambodia’s Domestic Violence Law, he would be prosecuted if he continued to hit his wife. They also worked with the whole family, but especially with her husband to change his attitude and control his violent outbursts.
“Now, when we quarrel, I run to the police station for help. The police help me,” she said.
Socheata is the quieter of the two women, with emotional scarring plain to see. Her husband has also stopped hitting her. “Nhick Sophy (the WOMEN project manager) works closely with my family. When my husband becomes violent, she always comes to advise us.”
The daily beatings she suffered for the past 24 years, however, are still fresh in her mind. “Things are better now - it’s true,” Socheata said. “But when I think of the past, I cry. I cry a lot.”
Their husbands used to clear landmines for a living. After the work was finished, they were not able to find another job. Angry and disillusioned, they have turned to the bottle for comfort.
Chenna believes that real change could come about if the project worked more with men. “The teachers (outreach workers) should educate the men, the husbands. Teach them, step-by-step,” she said.
Outreach program for men
Deputy Governor Nak Kamol of Samraong City has worked closely with WOMEN in designing the Real Men program, which taught men about women’s rights, promoted safe sex practices, and encouraged them to help with housework and childcare.
The Real Men program taught men about women’s rights, promoted safe sex practices, and encouraged them to help with housework and childcare.
“This is the only project providing these services in the area,” she said. “We have a very good partnership with the project, and it has the full support of the local authorities."
Nou (not his real name) was one of the men who have been helped by the project. He said the challenges of supporting eight children on a low income drove him to alcohol abuse and violence.
“I have a lot of children. I was always stressed. I drank alcohol and my wife did too. We were both stressed,” he said. “But since the training, I am trying to do something to fix things.”
Today, Nou is raising and selling chickens, and trying to turn his life around for his family.
He said attending the training given by the project taught him to understand his wife. “We understand each other better now. It’s good for the whole family.”
Nou said he would like to see a program that teaches men and women to work together and to understand each other’s issues.Stay up to date Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest issues, news, events, jobs and data in your e-mail inbox.