While domestic violence and rape still occur on a daily basis in
Cambodia, some women are breaking their silence to take a stand against
the years of mistreatment they've endured
A billboard in Phnom Penh urges women and communities to put a stop to domestic violence.
Blood flowed heavily from 27-year-old Heng
Theary's head. She said her husband struck her with a wooden chair, a
brutal response to her question about why he never brings money home
from his work as a coconut vendor.
"My husband always beats me without any reason," she told the Post last week.
Heng Theary's story is far from extraordinary. The Ministry of Planning
estimates that 22.5 percent of women in Cambodia are victims of
domestic violence, according to a 2005 survey - the most recent
government data available on violence against women.
The NGO Cambodian Women's Crisis Center (CWCC) keeps its own statistics
based on court cases filed by women seeking its assistance dealing with
abusive spouses. Some 572 women went to court in the first six months
of 2007 with the help of CWCC offices in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and
Nop Sarin Sreyroth, general secretary of the crisis center, said the
group does not have national figures and most domestic-violence cases
are never reported. Police will intervene only in extreme cases.
"Domestic violence happens everywhere in Cambodia, not only in the city
but also in the countryside, [both among] poor and rich," explained Hor
Phally, executive director of the Phnom Penh-based Project Against
Domestic Violence (PADV).
She said in most households the man is the only one earning money, so
many women remain in violent marriages because leaving would make their
But Heng Theary decided to take a stand against the beatings and abuse she's endured from her husband for so long.
"I can no longer tolerate his violence against me, so I decided to
complain to local police so they will arrest and punish him according
to the law. I will also request a divorce," she said.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HAPPENS EVERYWHERE
More women are making the same choice, according
to the CWCC. Nop Sarin Sreyroth said as women become more aware that
they also have rights, they choose to leave abusive marriages.
Changing the law
A domestic-violence law passed in 2005 has provided stronger legal frameworks to prosecute abusers.
But while it looks good on paper, its practice in real life is somewhat different.
"We support the idea of further protection [for women], but it has been
implemented very slowly," Nop Sarin Sreyroth said. "Now we are trying
to teach local police and authorities how to use the law."
She said a second law in 2007 raised concerns by increasing the cost
for divorce hearings. Prior to its implementation, the CWCC would pay
between US$10 and $15 to administer a divorce case. Now the fees have
risen to as much as $50.
"We pay for the women who come to us for help, but in rural areas where
we are not present, many poor women cannot afford to separate from
their husbands," she said.
Nop Sarin Sreyroth believes one key to reducing violence against women
is to change perspectives among men, many of whom consider their wives
to be personal property rather than partners.
In her work with PADV, Hor Phally has seen these attitudes play out
through forced sex, which she says is one of the most atrocious aspects
of domestic violence.
"[Some] men regard women as sex slaves and believe they have the right
to sex whenever they want, whether their wife wants it or not," she
Men must understand that sexual relationships without mutual agreement between husband and wife are in fact cases of rape.
A 42-year-old woman from Kampong Cham, who requested anonymity, said she has lived with this kind of abuse for years.
"Sometimes I do not feel well, but my husband forces me to have sex
with him," she said. "When I refuse, he gets angry and beats me, and
claims I have committed adultery to justify the violence," she said.
She tried to file a case against her husband with local police after
her husband beat her unconscious, she said, but he threatened to burn
the house down if she did.
Despite a life lived in the shadow of her husband's aggressions, she
said she and her three children continue to endure the violence.
And while a growing number of women are taking a stand, many more still suffer the outrage of habitual abuse.
"We need more awareness and more intervention from police," said Nop
Sarin Sreyroth, while emphasising the need for long-term solutions.
"We should provide more education for young women. When they get a
better understanding of their rights and become more economically
independent, their situation will change."