Women representing dozens of civil society groups met yesterday to discuss Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent use of derogatory language when discussing a female protester accused of injuring a security guard.
Following the afternoon meeting, Ros Sopheap, executive director of local rights group Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC), said a joint statement would be released to express concern at the remarks, which included labelling the woman nhee, a term reserved for female animals, and mee srey, a phrase used to express anger at a young woman.
The premier’s language “sets a bad example for lower officials and the younger generation to follow … because this is the word of the top leader”, she said.
Yesterday’s outcry followed a speech on Monday during which Hun Sen called for the arrest of an unnamed woman who allegedly kicked a security guard during a violent protest next to Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in July 2014.
Sopheap said yesterday that the woman should be punished by the law, rather than by degrading language.
“Women are human beings like men are, so if anyone commits an offence, we should enforce the law.”
Thida Kus, executive director of rights group Silaka, said the offensive language could set a dangerous precedent and affect women across the country.
“Although that woman is a criminal, it affects women in the general population, too,” she said. “The leaders should be careful with their words.”
This week is not the first time that Hun Sen has been in hot water for using derogatory remarks against women.
In 2009, prominent opposition politician and women’s rights activist Mu Sochua filed a defamation suit against him for allegedly using the term cheung klang – a Khmer term meaning “strong leg” but considered derogatory when used in relation to women – to describe her.
The premier later filed his own countersuit, and Sochua was convicted of defamation.
Sok Eysan, spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, yesterday defended Hun Sen’s most recent remarks.
He “was only commenting on a tree, not on the whole forest. That woman is just a rotten tree, but it has not spread to women in general”.