On the eve of International Women’s Day, the Cambodian government blocked an effort by Cambodian women activists to finalize a “Women’s Demands Paper” by pressuring the university which was hosting their meeting to cancel the booking. Government crackdowns against citizens and political opposition rallies are becoming commonplace in this country. Most recently, protests for higher wages for garment-factory workers and against land evictions were met with violence by security forces.
Some journalists and activists argue that Cambodia is on the brink of an uprising as people are tired and frustrated at the lack of progress on the economic and social issues affecting them. For example, thousands of families have been homeless since 2007 after being driven out of their homes when the government granted a 99-year lease to Shukaku, a Chinese-backed company. Instead of addressing these economic problems, the government has used the the police to control civil society’s ability to organize, defend their rights and demand change. The political tension between the ruling party, Cambodia People’s Party (CCP), and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) since the election in July 2013, has exacerbated political tensions.
But, in spite of this setback and the risks they face, the gathering’s organizers—young women from JASS-inspired network Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN) and from the prominent women’s NGO, SILAKA and other women’s groups have made alternative plans for their meeting which will bring together 200 women—political organizers, garment workers, sex workers and young activists—to identify common issues affecting women, including repression, gender-based violence, poverty, and low wages. They plan to present their petition of demands to the Cambodia’s two main political parties and other government agencies in an ongoing effort with other civil society organizations to push the government to better meet the needs of people, especially poor and marginalized women.
By bringing diverse women together and making women’s urgent needs the starting point and heart of the agenda, CYWEN’s organizing and advocacy are a vivid example of JASS’ feminist movement-building work. Formed in 2010 following a national level training and strategy process carried out by JASS Southeast Asia, CYWEN is now established as a reputable source for the perspectives and concerns of young Cambodian women. CYWEN’s organizing on International Women’s Day will not only amplify young women’s voices, it will also help advance the momentum for change looming on the horizon in Cambodia.