Local and international NGOs, universities and government institutions on Monday began the annual international “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign demanding the elimination of all forms of violence against women.
National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun said there was no recorded figure in the category of violence against women and girls, while some cases had not been reported.
UN Women Cambodia country representative Sarah Knibbs said research showed that one in five women in Cambodia have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partners. Almost half of these women did not confide in anyone or report the abuse to authorities.
She said according to a research done with men, one in five in Cambodia had reported raping a woman, with around five per cent having been involved in a gang-rape.
Knibbs said Cambodian women are currently subject to attitudes that excuse violence against women and the belief that physical violence is a justified form of punishment.
Access to justice also remains limited, with the community settling for informal mediation practices that usually failed to provide strong disciplinary measures.
“In the long term, if we want to prevent gender-based violence, the most important strategy is to change people’s attitudes,” Knibbs said.
Gender and Development in Cambodia (GADC) executive director Ros Sopheap said that despite huge resources having been spent on combating the issue in the last two decades, it still occurred.
Power inequality between men and women, especially in the family, was one of the main causes of gender-based violence against women, Sopheap said.
She added that most gender-based violence was committed by men, with violence perpetrated by women accounting for less than one per cent of cases.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), said laws designed to protect women against gender-based violence in Cambodia were “inadequate and flawed”.
She said the definitions contained in the domestic violence law, including what constitutes domestic violence and who may be considered a victim, left out some of the complex and diverse ways in which women experienced violence.
“Cambodians do not acknowledge that gender-based violence is wrong unless it results in severe physical injury or death, and/or violates a specific article in the Criminal Code. It is therefore not surprising that many cases go unreported.
“Even when they are reported, very few lead to criminal proceedings, and even fewer go to trial,” said Chak Sopheap, adding that the number of perpetrators actually sentenced for their crimes was alarmingly low.
Chak Sopheap added that service providers assigned to gender-based violence cases were not properly trained to treat survivors with sensitivity.
Both the director of GADC and of CCHR recommended the government to allocate more financing from the national budget with which to offer free medical, legal, psychological and economic services to the victims of all forms of gender-based violence.
GADC’s Ros Sopheap said the government has been taking the necessary measures to stop violence against women and girls.
However, she noted that these efforts needed to be part of a long-term commitment to ensure that the public is well-informed of the threat that gender-based violence poses to the family, the community and the development of the country.
Knibbs from UN Women Cambodia acknowledged the efforts made by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ to improve such health and legal services under the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women.
Deputy chief of the Legal Department at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Sor Sineth said her ministry had included many strategies in the Neary Rattanak National Strategic Plan and the National Action Plan.
“The ministry has teams to respond to violence against women at the national and sub-national levels. The ministry provides training and capacity building to service providers to educate them on gender-based violence.
“The ministry also provides legal aid to help the victims receive the necessary services. We also have awareness initiatives on gender-based violence and how victims can seek community assistance,” Sineth said.
To raise public awareness regarding gender-based violence and in support of the campaign, various activities will be organised in several provinces across the country from Monday until International Human Rights Day on December 10.