On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, CARE Cambodia highlights the many forms this violence can take with the publication of a study looking at perceptions of sexual harassment in Cambodian workplaces and women’s ability to report this. The study revealed that women working in hospitality, tourism and garment sectors perceive a regular and daily risk of sexual harassment in and around the workplace.
Verbal sexual harassment – such as inappropriate comments about bodies or appearance – was by far the most common type of harassment that women reported occurring. However, the types of harassment women reported being at risk of included verbal, physical, sexual, requests or demands for sexual favours and being shown sexually suggestive materials and receiving phone calls, messages or emails related to sexual offers. There were also reports of coercive behaviour related to sex by a supervisor or manager. The fear of sexual harassment was shown to limit women’s freedom of movement and inhibit their work options—demonstrating the profound impact the threat of violence can have on women’s lives.
Many who were interviewed for the study – from tuk tuk drivers to local authority representatives – viewed harassment as ‘normal behaviour’. In addition, the prevailing view was that harassment is something women can control by changing their actions, such as dressing differently or not going out at night. The onus was all on women to deal with this, with some men going so far as to say that the way for women to deal with harassment is simply to be patient and accept this.
It is these attitudes that the 16 Days Campaign – and CARE Cambodia’s ongoing work on gender based violence – seeks to change. Rather than women being held responsible for sexual harassment these views need to be turned around to show that far from being women’s fault, it is the perpetrators of violence against women who should be held accountable. CARE Cambodia envisions a society where women are not only free from fear of harassment but live in an environment where its existence is absolutely not tolerated within their community.
It is perhaps a result of this tolerance that very few women in reported a willingness to make formal complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace and no reports had been formally reported to local authorities in the communes included in the study. The research revealed that there are inadequate reporting systems in place to determine the number of cases of sexual harassment reported within communities. Any reports raised – both within workplaces and communities – are often resolved via mediation between the parties involved; as a result, the perpetrators of violence against women continue to go unpunished and can continue activities with impunity.
However, the research did demonstrate that effective policies to prevent violence against women do have a positive impact. Women from one workplace where it was clear such actions would not be tolerated reported that they did not experience sexual harassment at work and they were confident in their ability to seek justice if it did occur. This is a positive step towards ending violence against women in Cambodia and one that CARE will continue to build upon.
The study forms the baseline for CARE’s Safe Workplaces, Safe Communities project, which aims to reduce gender-based violence and sexual harassment in Cambodian workplaces and communities. A key part of this is working with employers to develop effective sexual harassment policies and engaging with police and commune councils to improve response procedures at community level. CARE has been working to combat gender based violence in Cambodia for over a decade, with notable success in its work with beer promoters.
The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence is an international campaign that started in 1991. The campaign runs annually between 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and 10 December, International Human Rights Day. Further information about the campaign, Cambodian partners and activities in Cambodia can be found at unitecambodia.wordpress.com.
Read the full report ‘Safe Workplaces, Safe Communities: Baseline for program indicators’ >
Learn more about CARE’s work to end violence against women in Cambodia >
Learn more about the activities CARE Cambodia will support during the 16 Days Campaign >