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An inhuman act against men and women

Editor,

In your recent story on forced pregnancy under the Khmer Rouge (Forced pregnancy: crime but no punishment? September 16, Post Weekend, a number of harms suffered by victims were brought to light. As a researcher with a focus on gender, who was quoted in the article, I would like to add to my arguments that this was an inhuman act against not only women, but men too.

An unknown number of women were “forced to get pregnant” through the strict surveillance of Khmer Rouge (KR) spies. After a couple was “forced to marry” they were coerced to “consummate” their marriage. The findings from my most recent study also revealed that 55 percent (n=66) of women among 121 women had unwanted pregnancies, though some were already married before the KR. In any case, there were no easily accessible means to terminate their unwanted pregnancy, although my studies revealed that abortion was not prohibited under the KR and that it was even practised by midwives.

However, I would like to assert that “forced pregnancy” within “forced marriage” was not a solely inhuman act against women, but also an inhuman act against men. Men were forced to become the biological father of a child that they might not have wanted to have with their assigned wife. Men’s reproductive function was used by the state (KR) without his consent and treated with indignity.

In addition, such an inhuman act may have disproportionately affected the masculinity of Cambodian men, who were socialised to be the protector, provider and authority of the family. When a man, willingly or unwillingly, started out on his journey of fatherhood, his offspring may have died from starvation or preventable diseases.

There are many accounts of men’s hopelessness and lack of any moral support to them at those difficult times in my study. They had to endure all their sufferings in isolation, without being able to disclose their sad and desperate emotions, in order to adhere to the hegemonic masculinity assigned to them.

A man may blame himself for not being able to protect his child and think that he failed in his fatherhood, which could impose unimaginable challenges to his male identity for the rest of his life. This may be another source of traumatic experience among male survivors.

In the discourse of “forced pregnancy”, the differing impacts between men and women need to be carefully examined from the perspective of gender dynamics. Surely, it is of great importance to acknowledge that women were disproportionately affected by such an inhuman act, as some of my fellow women’s rights activists assert, because it was only women that could be forced to carry a pregnancy at the risk of her life under extraordinary hardship.

However, such a biological function does not preclude men from having equal reproductive rights or diminish their suffering from the emasculation of their gender roles.

Kasumi Nakagawa
Author of Motherhood at War: Pregnancy during the Khmer Rouge Regime

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