During the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, members of a local commune council in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, took to the streets to say ‘Sexual Harassment Stops Here!’.
The councillors were joining CARE’s campaign to raise awareness of violence against women, hoping to begin the process of changing people’s attitudes. The campaign wants to ensure women are not blamed if they are sexually harassed, but instead such incidents are reported so those who do this are held accountable for their actions.
In Prek Leap commune, violence against women is not uncommon, particularly as there are many restaurants where women often work as waitresses or beer promoters. Women in the community are readily able to talk about the harassment that occurs in public spaces. “Some strange men yell rude words,” says one woman. “I would be happier if men stopped this.”
Her words are echoed by a nearby landlady, Chhanthy. “Sexual violence is very serious but people don’t understand this,” she says. “As a woman I am very angry. It looks like men look down on us.” Chhanthy primarily rents her 10 rooms to women who have moved to the city from rural areas. She says they face many challenges in finding safe accommodation and dignified work, so they are often vulnerable.
The commune council leadership is aware of these issues and with CARE’s support is starting to take action. Phannary has been their focal point for women and children since 2007 and is able to give examples of times when men do not treat women with respect. “Male clients in restaurants ask girls to sit with them and touch them inappropriately. Most women are not happy about this. When they finish work this also happens on their way home.”
Phannary is keen to change this. “I want to give awareness of this information [about shifting the blame for sexual harassment] to women who live in the commune who work in restaurants.”
As a first step, she helped organise a tuk tuk parade through the community. Tuk tuks displayed the lifesize figure of the fictional character ‘Chanda’ saying “no” to sexual harassment. Loudspeakers played the ‘Safe Workplaces, Safe Communities’ karaoke song. Members of the commune council spoke with community members about the campaign’s three key actions: listen, support and report. There was a particular emphasis on reporting incidences of violence or harassment, with landlords being given posters displaying the phone numbers for reporting this to the local authorities.
Chhanthy considered each of these three actions carefully before emphatically agreeing that reporting is the most important action people can take in her community. She says, “I am glad to have this kind of campaign in Cambodia so people can have information and be aware of this.”
CARE's work to end violence against women in Cambodia is funded by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women and the Australian Government.