Phnom Penh, 11 March, 2022 – The struggles of indigenous women in Cambodia, including aspects of early marriage and domestic violence, are unique and need specific legal protection.

The particular challenges of Cambodia’s indigenous women were shared during an International Women’s Day event hosted by the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI) in Phnom Penh, entitled “Left Behind? Indigenous Peoples Women in Cambodia”. 

Cambodia Indigenous Peoples Organization (CIPO) project officer Sokny Sien said a lot of issues emanated from low education levels, which were one of the “key” stumbling blocks with most indigenous women only finishing primary school. This led to early expected age of marriage by parents who were embarrassed of late marriages.

“Twenty years old is too old [to get married],” she shared.

She also sang a song to those gathered that included the lyrics: “Indigenous women please stand up, try to get an education so we can have success in our life. We need to help each other, [because there is] strength in solidarity.”

UN Human Rights Cambodia Representative Pradeep Wagle, spoke against elevated levels of gender-based violence against indigenous women, citing from the forthcoming report between Cambodia Indigenous Women Association and Klahaan, supported by UN Human Rights.

“Victims who experience gender-based violence may suffer from different human rights violations including the right to life, freedom from torture and degrading treatment, and freedom from discrimination,” he said.

Wagle also recalled Cambodia’s ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women which obligates states to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women. 

The event was translated in Bunong, Jarai, Khmer and English and featured storytelling by indigenous women through song performances. In his opening remarks, RWI Cambodia director Ali Al-Nasani it was vital to understand the stories of indigenous women.

“Through storytelling we open the door for sharing, for listening, for healing because storytelling is an important tool in regaining identity. Listening to stories makes us part of a community.” 

The performances celebrated the resilience of indigenous women in Cambodia. The first song related to the struggle of indigenous communities to protect their land and resources, and about its centrality to cultural identity.

CIPO Director Yun Mane reflected on the threats to indigenous women of imprisonment despite laws that are intended to protect them – often not applied in the situation of perceived development.
Similarly, Cambodia Indigenous Women Working Group deputy representative Fong Chompei said indigenous women “are accused, charged and put in jail simply because they stand up to protect their land”.
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