The UN Office on Drug and Crimes’ (UNODC) Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific has launched a six-month public information campaign to help address key barriers to combating gender-based violence (GBV) in Cambodia.

Launched on May 24, the campaign aims to strengthen community-police relations and increase public awareness of the services available to tackle GBV-related crimes, and is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office.

UNODC said in a press release that domestic violence or intimate partner violence, which includes physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, is the most common type of violence against women in Cambodia. One in five women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical violence, it said, and this incidence rate has risen during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a 2020 Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) report.

The UNODC’s campaign focuses on building the capacity of frontline police officers of all genders to better detect, report and refer incidences of GBV to authorities and community resource centres.

Esteban Felipe De La Torre, UNODC Regional Coordinator for Southeast Asia, said the campaign aims to sensitise the harmful consequences of GBV in Phnom Penh and make people aware of the services available to victims, adding that GBV does not only affect the victims.

He said the campaign is part of a wider advocacy and awareness-raising UNODC project focusing on community policing approaches to reduce cases of GBV in high-risk areas in Phnom Penh.

The campaign identified – with support from the municipal Department of Women Affairs and its district Office of Social Affairs and Welfare – six communities in three districts with alarming GBV rates. The districts were Dangkor, Po Sen Chey and Sen Sok.

Its key target audience is women between the ages of 15 and 49. The campaign hopes to reach out to this demographic – and the public – by disseminating online and printed content. Prominent online influencers from various sectors have been roped in to help amplify the campaign’s message.

With the hashtag #SpeakUpAgainstViolence, the campaign hopes to encourage victims and witnesses to overcome the cultural and social stigma associated with GBV and speak up by building positive sentiment towards seeking support when needed.

Sar Sineth, deputy secretary-general of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said at the campaign’s launch that it was important to reach out to women who are victims of GBV as they form part of the most vulnerable communities.

Angelika Stauder, first secretary and deputy head of cooperation at the German embassy in Phnom Penh, said the police alone could not solve violence against women and girls, and that it is “a societal problem which requires a societal response”. However, she said, the police do have “unique powers and responsibilities” to protect victims from further harm, pursue perpetrators and prevent crimes.

“I hope that this public information campaign launch is an important step in directing victims towards the available police service and safety resources,” she said.