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Cambodian schoolboy champions women's safety

Many of CARE’s activities to reduce gender-based violence in Cambodia focus on empowering women to have the confidence to stand up for themsleves. However, CARE also recognises that engaging with men is key in order to change deep-rooted attitudes. Sakseth, a slim schoolboy of just 15 years old, is one of CARE’s key advocates for social change. He has completed changed his behaviour towards women and girls; now a peer educator himself, he is actively encouraging others to treat women with respect.

In April 2014 Sakseth received training from People Health Development (PHD), a vibrant team of young men who are educating students – particularly men and boys – on topics which are not usually covered by the traditional school curriculum. As well as detailed information on topics such as gender or gender-based violence, Sakseth learned new skills such as how to run informal sessions with groups of students.

He is one of a number of peer educators in his high school in Phnom Penh who conduct education sessions with their peers with the aim of changing attitudes about women. Sessions cover basic topics such as gender or the role of men and women in society. Rather than boring classroom education, attendees join interactive activities to brainstorming ideas or work in groups using poster materials to represent their thoughts. So far Sakseth has conducted two large education sessions with around 20-25 attendees at each.

Sakseth also conducts informal one-on-one sessions with friends, family and neighbours 2-3 times each month. “It is common for guys to touch girls and think it is ok. The girls usually shout back and this causes arguments in school. I share messages and information about ending violence against women to encourage boys at school to treat the girls with respect.”

Being recognised as someone with knowledge on sensitive topics such as domestic violence means people also seek him out for advice or support—not just for problems among friends but also within the wider community. Sakseth recounts one incident where a friend came to him for advice about hearing violence every night in a neighbour’s house: “We spoke with the family as a group to help them understand the real cause of the arguments which were leading to violence. It emerged that they had money problems, but we also learned that the wife had good skills she could use to earn money. The husband had not considered that if he showed support for his wife to play an equal role in the family that this could help reduce their conflict.”

Becoming a peer educator has not only helped Sakseth share information with others; it has also changed his own actions and attitudes. He is the class president responsible for keeping the classroom in order. He used to order the girls to clean up the room while he and other boys relaxed. Now he makes sure everyone, regardless of their gender, participates so the work is shared equally. Sakseth has even intervened when he witnessed some men harassing a garment factory worker on the street, rushing over to stop them pushing her around so she was able to run away and escape.

“Before I used to play and pretend to hit at girls, but now I have changed. My friends say ‘Who are you? What happened to your old self?’” say Sakseth. “Before I did not think, but then I realised my mum is also female and that she is a great role model. This helped me to think differently about women and see we all are equal.”

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