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Written by Pin Marin

I have long dreamed of living in a “prosperous” Cambodia – where everyone contributes to the country’s development, where women and men are active and equal participants, and where we finally attain peace and justice.

But this dream seems elusive when I look at the situation in Cambodia right now. The lack of respect for basic human rights has been the Cambodian government’s trademark given our Khmer Rouge history and even our current political context – where political harassment is common, and where workers’ rights and land rights are disregarded. The lack of respect for women’s basic human rights is a reality that we Cambodian women have to face on a daily basis.

But fortunately, there is still hope; there are alternatives to make this dream possible. Despite being deliberately silenced for a long time, more women are now standing up for their rights, while young women’s organizations are also multiplying.

I am a proud member of the youth organization Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN). CYWEN is a youth alliance formed in 2010 following a national-level leadership training process carried out by JASS in 2009.  JASS continues to be a supportive partner and mentor of CYWEN in both leadership skills building and in mobilizing young women. Before I joined CYWEN, I was unaware of the different women’s issues in Cambodia. I was unaware of what feminism is and feminist leadership means. Now things are clearer for me.

In CYWEN, we talk about pressing political issues and linking these to our daily lives. We really want to see women’s status change and for women to become more involved in decision-making in the private and public spheres. We create our own safe spaces where we build women’s confidence, talk about the power of choice and discuss women’s rights.

I share the same vision of the future as CYWEN’s. I want to push for change! I am especially interested about changing Cambodian women’s lower status and in challenging cultural barriers that prevent women from exercising their rights. Ultimately, CYWEN gave me the chance to share my similar concerns with other young women like me.

Through sharing sessions among the team, I constantly learn a lot from other members’ experiences and from different women’s contexts in other sectors. CYWEN currently has more than 200 student (individual) networks in Cambodia. It is also building its network with women in other Southeast Asian countries.

One of the most unforgettable experiences I had this year was when I joined the Asia-Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF) to represent CYWEN and Cambodia. The Young Feminist Spaces facilitated by JASS and FRIDA, as well as the JASS workshop on “shadow power” – struck my feminist chord!

In JASS and FRIDA workshop, I learned more about JASS’ power framework as a tool to analyze women’s situation.  Women Win’s workshop on digital storytelling  taught me how to make digital stories and how they are a good way to share women’s stories of change.  During JASS’ workshop on “Challenging Shadow Power with our Movements”, I learned a lot from all the presenters. I found Niken Lestari’s (from JASS-inspired FAMM-Indonesia) testimony particularly powerful.  She talked about how she deals with and navigates the culture and traditions in her family. From Bandana Danuwar, a young woman from Nepal who uses community radio to end child marriage, I realized the importance of using a popular medium to advance our causes. I think it is inspiring how she mobilizes young women to join with her given her organization’s limited resources. These are just a few examples.

In the future, I want to see CYWEN organize more young women leaders to strengthen their capacity and build their confidence. I also want CYWEN to collaborate with other networks in and outside Cambodia to fight against injustice.

I strongly believe that young women can play an important role in changing Cambodian society. In recent months, the young women of CYWEN are linking up with grassroots women – on the streets – in peace protests – and in feminist spaces that JASS facilitates. I think this connection is necessary because we learn a lot from grassroots women’s experiences and strategies.  Even though local women face many problems, they have a lot of solutions to contribute. CYWEN, together with grassroots women, can make pushing for women’s rights stronger.

These experiences and influences continue to inspire me as I continue to claim my power and my rights – amid violence and political tensions. In the near future, given the rising number of empowered women, hopefully, achieving peace and justice will no longer be just a dream.

About the Author

Pin Marin is a 25-year-old non-government organization (NGO) worker from Cambodia. She is currently a project assistant of the Women Leaders at Sub-national Level (WLSN) Program at SILAKA – a local NGO based in Phnom Penh. SILAKA works hard to identify and provide quality programs and training opportunities for individuals and organizations in Cambodia. One of SILAKA’s visions is to set out to establish, build and strengthen the capacity of Cambodians.

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