Nearly 60 Cambodians sat in silence along Phnom Penh’s riverside on Monday reading their country’s constitution. A day later, about 40 sang and danced for peace in front of the Council of Ministers. The following day, they gathered at Wat Phnom to offer prayers for peace. Yesterday, the group met at the iconic knotted-gun monument.
The demonstrations – calm, peaceful and garnering scant media attention – drew grins from passersby and sent police into a near tizzy. What the group was calling for is simple: It wants to see more females in the government.
“Cambodian women must be heard and represented in our country, in politics and in our calls for a peaceful and transparent resolution to this election,” Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development in Cambodia, told the Post on Wednesday.
More than 30 women from a range of groups have organised the week of flash-mob-style events in preparation for tomorrow’s planned “peaceful sit-in” organised by the CNRP, according to Thida Khus, executive director at Silaka.
“Even though it’s the majority that must affirm what is fair, this country’s women must be heard,” she said.
Making their voices heard has not been easy. On Tuesday, the group was met by some 100 police while trying to sing and dance for peace.
The presence, said several attendees, was designed to incite fear among citizens attempting to protest.
“They should protect our rights to assemble peacefully,” a 23-year-old who gave his name as “Boone” said.
But Silaka’s Khus said Cambodian women must demand their human rights be respected.
“Non-violence has consistently been our message, and cheating [in reference to the NEC’s lack of transparency following the elections] is something we also consider ‘violent’,” she said.
“We see shameless behaviour everywhere in the system, and this country and its women are in desperate need of transference and accountability. The NEC must be held accountable to the people – or are we to be led by morally bankrupt leaders?”
Live with Dignity, Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC), Housing Works and Cooperation Committee for Cambodia are among the groups working to sustain the grassroots movement. Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, who was in attendance on Wednesday, said the events appeared to reflect a growing comfort in freedom of expression.
“I think this is a real movement driven by pacifism and freedom of assembly,” he said, while watching the group being led in prayer by a single monk, adding “all of which I support”.
Independent analyst and Cambodia scholar for think- tank Global Strategy Asia, Peter Keo, said it would be unwise to discount the group’s power. In an email he wrote that with time and greater numbers “these women will have generated the capacity to impact significant positive change … on a much larger scale”.
The non-partisan, pro-peace group has distributed 120 first-aid kits should things take a turn for the worse tomorrow.
Offices at GADC and CCE are being offered as sites to administer first aid and NGOs Adhoc and Licadho will be on deck to record any police brutality if serious injuries are sustained, according to Sopheap and Khus.
“We want to make sure people are sent to hospitals we trust to properly record any abuses,” said Reasey Seng, 25, assistant to Silaka’s executive director.