In October 2003 a group of experts of the Division for the Advancement of Women in cooperation with the International Labor Organization gathered to analyze the role of men and boys in promoting gender equality. Today Cambodia is shocked by other rape crime in the Kompong Cham Province where seven young men confessed to gang raping and then stabbing to death a 13 years old girl.
The Cambodian police moved quickly this time to capture the authors of the horrible crime. More astonishing is their ages: Sean Chummit, 18; Phan Mao, 19; So Kavey, 20; Ma Lin, 20; Soy Savin, 22; Pen Somol, 23 and the leader, Tes Sompouv, 20, according to the report of the local police published by The Cambodia Daily.
Tes Sompouv, a motorbike driver, confessed the crime. He drove the girl from a local pagoda to her home. Then he used a chemical to render her unconscious and took her into the woods. He called six friends to meet him. They drank and took turns to rape the unconscious victim. They stole her belongings and stabbed her in the back and stomach and cut her neck because they were afraid the victim would denounce them, they confessed to the police.
Surely this is not the only case. Then it is not only a Cambodian problem at all as we understand that women seem to be threatened by male.
We have to improve the ways to protect the rights of women and the gender equality around the world. Women are exposed to any kind of abuse, especially if they belong to the poorest social level in any country. In Cambodia, it is a fact. After decades of wars and conflicts, the male population was reduced and the Cambodian women were the living force to rebuild their impoverished nation. Little by little the country is normalizing its birth rate and female-males proportion.
Several organizations in Cambodia, privates and officials, have put attention to women rights. Several initiatives are on the way and even the legal frame to prosecute abusers and criminals of women is getting stronger. The role of the media and human rights organizations has played a good role in such improvement. However, it is not enough and a more decisive commitment has to be done by all parts of the Cambodian society to avoid tragic events like this of Kompong Cham this week.
Then, it is a good time to remember this document of Brazil: the men’s and boys’ role in promoting gender equality. The document centralized in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but I would go further to violence against girls and women.
With the respect to many organizations and departments that work in the protection of women, in many occasions they forget that it can be achieved with the participation of the male gender as well. We cannot stand only in the repressive part. It is important to create legal frames to punish the abusers and put the authorities at the side of the vulnerable women of our society. But as I insisted in many occasions, we have to work also in prevention.
Organizations (private or officials) that work in protection of the women’s rights should work also in improve the education of boys and men in their relations with women. Boys and men with a high conscience and value for the women are likely protectors of their rights in any sense. In the case of our Cambodia, all the sectors of our society should study what are the attitudes and behaviors of men and boys in regard to girls and women. In the Cambodian cultural context, we have to discover the kind of ideologies on masculinity and what is understood as manliness in order to understand the reasons of violence against women and how it can be corrected through education and communication campaigns around the country.
As women are by nature the first educators of male children, women must be involved in the formation of values of how to educate their sons to play a mature role in the gender equality. Sons must feel responsible for works at home, sharing the duties of the family and not letting it only to their sisters and mother. Education should finish with discriminatory practices of women. As the main discriminators are men and boys, they must be prepared to understand that women are equal as humans and worthy of respect in their dignity.
In many cases, our cultural traditions will enter in conflict with the process of women rights’ protection. Practices like giving the daughter in married to the man chosen by the parents, will enter in conflict in the coming decade in Cambodia by sure. In this case, we have to analyze the meaning of our ancestral traditions and the willing of modernize our country. The review of history will show us that many of our traditions are based in fortuitous circumstances. At the other side, human rights are above any world tradition if such practices mean the reduction in the dignity and value of a person.
Let us make a game to understand.
If we say that men and women are equal in their humanity, why a girl must be given in marriage to a man selected by the parents? Would boys accept, therefore, to be given in marriage to a woman selected by the parents, instead? If we consider unacceptable that a man should be given in marriage to a woman selected by his parents, the same would be said in the case of a girl.
This kind of discussions should be opened to a national discussion in many levels of our society. We have to open a sharing between men and women, girls and boys in the country around the issue of gender equality and how it will prevent abuse, violence and HIV, among other evils against women.
Documents for study
- The Role of Men and Boys in Achiving Gender Equality. United Nations for the Advance of Women. 12 January 2004.