R oads in the capital were blocked off on Wednesday as 1,000 monks and nuns,
onlookers, and women's groups took to the streets to mark International Women's
The event, Dhammayietra, the first march held for Khmer women in
more than 20 years, was organized to highlight the exploitation of women and
passed through the city's Toul Kok red light district, where many local and
Vietnamese prostitutes hid inside brothels.
Organizers hoped the march,
which started at Wat Sompeou Meas, would attract members of the public and
locals, but only a handful of lay women participated despite the day being
declared a public holiday.
However, it was business as usual for the
girls in the red light district, many of whom laughed and waved as the
One teenage prostitute said she had not been told
about the march but was glad monks and nuns were praying for the country's
"Because of today's procession, women may one day get full rights
- and may even get on top of the men exploiting them," said the girl who
declined to be named.
"Of course, today we don't get a holiday. We're
still working, even though it's Women's Day."
Minister for the
Secretariat of Women's Affairs, Keat Sukin, said the four-hour parade, which
drew hundreds of onlookers into Phnom Penh's streets, was a
"There has been a huge turn out and both men and women have
shown their support," said the minister whose wife and children live in Sydney,
Australia, and did not attend.
"Many of our women work as prostitutes
because they need to make money.
"But we hope to set up education centres
to increase the literacy rate amongst women so they can get better jobs and play
a greater role in improving the economy," said the 42-year-old
People in the procession, holding incense sticks, candles and
flowers, carrying banners saying "Stop exploitation, discrimination and
trafficking of women", stopped at Wat Phnom and the Royal Palace for meditation
services before the parade ended at the Independence Monument.
the Royal Palace, the monks and nuns prayed for peace and harmony in the
country, for freedom for exploited women, and for prosperity.
Leiper, president of Khemara, an NGO for Khmer women and children, said the
march would not wipe out prostitution in the country.
"The march may not
stop prostitution but at least it has made some of the girls realise they have
rights just like everyone else," said Sochua.
"It is our role to alert
all women, including prostitutes, of their rights and we have to push the
government to ensure the quality of life for women is
"Violation of women's rights, sexual exploitation and
harassment must be eradicated. Today we took the first step," Sochua said
referring to the slogan the secretariat used to promote the campaign for
Seventeen local and international NGOs helped organise the march,
the last event in the three-day program.