Cambodia illustration


Re-building at Boeung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh October 2011 (Source: Ben Woods)

Re-building at Boeung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh October 2011 (Source: Ben Woods)

Intimate Geopolitics: Women, Home-grown Activism, and Forced Evictions in Cambodia
Date: February 2013
Funding: N/A

In the name of economic development and urban modernisation, thousands of homes in Cambodia are being demolished. Forced evictions, also known as land grabbing, have become one of the most widespread human rights violations affecting Cambodians in both rural and urban areas. In response to such dispossession, various forms of civic activism have risen among (soon to be) displaced residents who are seeking to protest their rights and challenge the power of government-backed developers. The project focuses on one particular group who have increasingly come to the forefront of the battle against forced evictions – women. In the context of Boeung Kak and displaced railroad communities from Phnom Penh, the twenty interviews hone in on their activism as well as the impact of forced eviction on their familial lives.

Initial insights from this research have been published in The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Lay and Institutional Knowledges of Domestic Violence Law: Towards Active Citizenship in Rural and Urban Cambodia

Dates: January 2012-December 2014
Funding: ESRC/Department for International Development (DFID) Joint Scheme for Research on International Development
Co-investigator: Dr Bunnak Poch, Western University
Partner organisation: Gender and Development/Cambodia
Film-trainer: Dr Bradley Garrett

Domestic violence (DV) is a one of the starkest collective failures of the international community in the 21st century. It represents not only a fundamental barrier to eliminating poverty and building peace, but also impoverishes women, their families, communities and countries. It is the most pervasive form of violence against women in the developing world and represents one of the most significant barriers to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Although a growing number of laws have been passed to protect women, governments from around the world have struggled to convert promises into prevention. Focus has traditionally been placed on understanding the magnitude of DV and have centred mainly on women as victims and survivors. Since 1994 however, the international development community have adopted a ‘rights-based’ approach to their work, concentrating not only on relieving poverty and suffering, but addressing their root causes. Despite this change in emphasis, important links have not been made between men’s and women’s access to legal information, their legal knowledge, and the influence this has on women’s ability to claim their rights. Implementation strategies could benefit from a far greater appreciation of how these connections are perceived and experienced by different age groups of men and women from low-income communities. Understanding the gendered attitudes and responses of local authority, police and judicial officials who are charged with enforcing such laws is also critical.

This study concentrates on the 2005 ‘Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of the Victims’ in Cambodia. It seeks to produce a clearer picture of the challenges and hindrances which have resulted in a situation where large swathes of local authority staff, police officers and the general public, do not understand the law, or even know of its existence. An adequate evidence base does not yet exist to substantiate or respond to these NGO claims. The study therefore asks:

- How much knowledge do different men and women have of the 2005 Law and of policies seeking to empower women? And what are their attitudes towards such policies?

- If and how knowledge of the 2005 Law and women’s rights is being translated into more critical thinking and gender-equitable attitudes?

- Whether greater knowledge of the 2005 Law brings about any transformative change in women’s lives (and if not, why not)?

Conducted in two provinces, the research uses a survey of households to establish levels of knowledge on the 2005 Law and see what associations can be made to different individual, community and societal factors. It is also making films with local communities on DV and using interviews with key individuals to uncover the range of knowledges and experiences surrounding DV (law). As a post-conflict country experiencing rapid social and economic change, the findings will be of significance to other countries which share a similar recent history and which are looking towards effective implementation of hard fought legal advances for women.

Initial insights from this project have been published in The Guardian and to the UK Parliament Select Committee on Violence against Women and Girls.

Youth Spaces and Practices of Love in Mumbai, Phnom Penh and Taipei

Dates: June 2011- June 2012
Funding: RHUL Research Strategy Fund
Co-investigators: Professor Katie Willis & Dr Vandana Desai

Research on ‘love’ in Asian cities has tended to focus either on the shift from ‘arranged marriages’ to ‘love marriages’, or the role of love in constructions of the ‘Asian family’. However, in both cases homogenising narratives have failed to recognise social and spatial distinctions, particularly important given the rapid economic, political and social change in many parts of the region. There has also been an absence of work on the role of love in other social relations within Asian urban space. This research involved working with female university students in three Asian cities: Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Mumbai (India) and Taipei (Taiwan). In particular, it seeks to consider the role of different methods, including diagramming and accompanied urban walks, as well as more conventional interviews and focus groups, in researching spaces and practices of love.

Home Dissolution and Family Change: Gendered Experiences of Separation and Divorce in Rural Cambodia

Dates: June 2010- May 2011
Funding: Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) Small Research Grant

Based on the experiences and perspectives of 42 women affected by abandonment, separation and divorce in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia, this research sheds light on the gendered emotional, cultural, economic, legal and practical issues encountered in dissolving a marital home. Through in-depth interview research conducted in 2011 and 2012 – alongside interviews with key development actors in the country – the research shows how women’s family backgrounds as well as differential, and often ambiguous, legal statuses heavily mediate the unmaking and remaking of Cambodian marriages. The project brings to the fore how the material structure of home, land tenure, and child custody arrangements have become the site of extreme contestation in the process by which couples divide their everyday lives.