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A woman pins a white ribbon on a man in Phnom Penh yesterday as part of a worldwide 16-day campaign to end violence against women.
A woman pins a white ribbon on a man in Phnom Penh yesterday as part of a worldwide 16-day campaign to end violence against women. Pha Lina

Groups aim to end violence against women

A worldwide, 16-day campaign to end violence against women kicked off in Cambodia yesterday, with NGOs, the United Nations and government agencies intensifying their efforts toward preventative measures.

Spanning from yesterday’s International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women and Girls until Human Rights Day on December 10, the “16 Days of Activism to End Gender-Based Violence” is co-sponsored by UN Women and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in what the former calls a national public stand against abuse.

“It is of utmost importance that we change the perception that violence is justified. Women must be aware of their rights, and their rights must be protected by all of us,” said UN Women country representative Wenny Kusuma.

The campaign will stage four major events around the country, including a marathon at Angkor Wat, alongside a host of civil society actions. Among these, the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF) yesterday visited Phnom Penh restaurants, nightclubs and beer gardens to raise awareness about violations among both employers and employees.

“We want to inform managers about violence against women and how to intervene when female staff are assaulted by their clients,” said CFSWF vice-president, Ou Tepphallin, encouraging employers to report offences to unions or local authorities directly. “We also met with women in their workplaces and nearby homes to explain about our campaign.”

However, Tepphallin claims that instances of violence against women in entertainment venues are the product of a broader societal attitude legitimising mistreatment of the estimated 10,000 Cambodian women in the industry.

“Women in these services are looked down on due to a culture and tradition that sees them as tools for entertainment and reducing stress, so the discrimination is still going on,” she said.

The 16-day campaign follows a report released on Friday that underscores the persistence of gender-based violence in the Kingdom. Coordinated by the World Health Organization, the National Survey on Women’s Health and Life Experiences in Cambodia documents that one in five Cambodian women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, the majority at the hands of an intimate partner.

A further 40 per cent of victims surveyed stated that they had not sought help because they regarded the violence as “normal” or not “serious”.

“Intimate partner violence is not only a leading public health threat, but one with which many people are familiar,” wrote Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi in the report. “Social mobilization can therefore increase the visibility of this issue and community awareness that it is not acceptable.”

The study’s findings chime with the theme of the 2015 16-day campaign, “Shift the Blame”, which emphasises attributing responsibility to perpetrators of violence, rather than stigmatising its victims.

As UN Women program officer Vutha Phon explained via email, “UN Women Cambodia has played a lead role in coordinating activities amongst our partners in Cambodia – civil society organisations, government, universities, private sector, donors, UN, and development partners – for the 16 Days Campaign. So we would like to say ‘we together can #endviolence’.”

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