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Monks lead march on brothels

Monks lead march on brothels

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

Day.

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

procession passed.

One teenage prostitute said she had not been told

about the march but was glad monks and nuns were praying for the country's

women.

"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

success.

"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

minister.

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.

Outside

the Royal Palace, the monks and nuns prayed for peace and harmony in the

country, for freedom for exploited women, and for prosperity.

Sochua

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

improved.

"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

women.

Seventeen local and international NGOs helped organise the march,

the last event in the three-day program.

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