About 100 women’s rights activists and their supporters turned out yesterday for a “One Billion Rising” gathering in Phnom Penh, though the event’s relatively sparse male attendance highlighted what some attendees consider the greatest obstacle to gender equality in Cambodia – getting the message to those who need it most.
The Rising rallies take place in major cities all over the world each February, and seek to combat gender-based stereotyping and violence. Held in the auditorium of the American Intercontinental Institute’s Tuol Kork campus, the gathering featured interactive song and dance numbers, face-painting, a comedy skit and short films condemning gender-based violence and its gratuitous depictions in Cambodian pop culture.
Ros Sopheap, an organiser of the events since 2013 and executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC), said that awareness of and enthusiasm for the event had steadily increased over the years.
Nevertheless, yesterday’s crowd was overwhelmingly well-educated and female, with strong ties to NGOs, and while men were present, they constituted a small minority.
Chansolinda Cheath, who works as a project officer for SILAKA, an NGO that offers training programs and consulting services for other Cambodian NGOs, said that she hoped One Billion Rising would provide young women with “more confidence”, but also hoped to see more men attend in the future.
“We need men to understand women’s rights,” says Cheath. “If you only provide training to women, only they know their rights,” she said.
Chandy Eng, a former GADC staff member who recently completed a master’s degree in international human rights in Thailand, agreed.
“When men see ‘violence against women’, they get awkward,” she sighed. “They say ‘why violence against women, but not men?’”
To counter this ignorance of gender-based discrimination and violence, Eng asked her boyfriend Pisey Lay to join her at the gathering.
Lay, a 26-year-old who works for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, acknowledged his own struggles with sexism.
“It took years,” he said. “Whenever I talk to my friends or relatives they say, ‘Men must be the decision makers’.”
And though he hoped One Billion Rising would help sensitise other young men to gender-based issues in Cambodia, Lay said he remained sceptical.
“People will post about this on social media,” he said. “It helps, but only a little; we come from an environment where men run everything.”