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)

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

Dates: January 2012-October 2015
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

Domestic violence is often described as one of the starkest collective failures of the international community in the 21st century. Although a growing number of laws have been passed to protect women, governments from around the world have struggled to convert promises into prevention. This timely study concentrates on the 2005 ‘Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of the Victims’ in Cambodia. The research examines why investments are faltering, and how these insights could shape the strategies adopted by programme and policy-makers.

Located across two provinces, the research is based on a quantitative household survey of 1,177 villagers; four participatory video workshops; and suite of interviews. The latter included forty interviews with female domestic violence victims; forty with male and female householders; and a further forty with local stakeholders who have an occupational investment in domestic violence alleviation. They included legal professionals, NGO workers, police officers and provincial, district, commune and village-level authorities. In January 2014 an additional ten interviews were held with high-level policy makers and development practitioners in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Findings from the research have been published in an infographic report designed by Bison Bison entitled Domestic Violence Law: The Gap Between Legislation and Practice in Cambodia and What Can Be Done About It.

In the UK insights from the project have been disseminated in: The Guardian (2013); a submission made to the UK Parliament Select Committee on Violence against Women and Girls (2013); and a DFID Violence Against Women and Girls Evidence Digest (2014).

In Cambodia, policy engagement has been extensive, including: contracting to the Asia Foundation of the quantitative dataset to improve the targeting of interventions for primary prevention of intimate partner violence (2014); invited ‘volunteer expert’ participation at, and presentations to, government and UNWomen events (2014); and invited peer review of the draft 2nd National Action Plan on the Prevention of Violence Against Women (2013).

The research has also been featured in daily newspapers in Cambodia and online internationally:

Brickell, K. (2014) Domestic violence in Cambodia has to be tackled by law (Op Ed). Cambodia Daily, 07.02.2014..

Crothers, L. (2014) ‘Report finds poor implementation of domestic violence law’. Cambodia Daily, Jan 21st, p15.

Woodside, A & Sen, D. (2014) ‘Finances tie victims to abusersThe Phnom Penh Post, Jan 21st 1&5 (billed as ‘National News’ headline on newspaper front cover)

Reiss-Wilchins, G. (2014) Gender-based violence in Cambodia: The intersection of rights and poverty. The Huffington Post (online). Jan 31st.

It has also been featured on the radio stations Radio Free Asia and Radio France International (2014).

Client Consultation Workshop and Competition: Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and the Protection of the Victims
Dates: 2013-2014
Funding: Foreign and Commonwealth Office Bilateral Programme Fund

Drawing on cases of violence against women identified through the above ESRC/DFID grant, and in collaboration with Pannasastra University, Phnom Penh this project brought together law students at a client consultation workshop and competition on Cambodia’s first ever domestic violence law. The series of events held between January-February 2014 were officially marked by a speech made by H.E. Sy Delfine, Secretary of State, Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Participatory action research was undertaken in tandem and will be analysed for publication.

Intimate Geopolitics: Women, Home-grown Activism, and Forced Evictions in Cambodia
Date: February 2013-February 2014
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.

The research is forthcoming in the journal Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Entitled “‘The Whole World is Watching’: Intimate Geopolitics of Forced Eviction and Women’s Activism in Cambodia” the paper demonstrates the manifold relationship that forced eviction reflects and ferments between homes, bodies, the nation-state, and the geopolitical transformation of Southeast Asia. Forced eviction is framed as a geopolitical issue; one that leads to innermost incursions into everyday life; one that has spurred on active citizenship and collective action evidencing the injustices of dispossession to diverse audiences; and one that has rendered female activists’ intimate relationships further vulnerable. In doing so it charts how Boeung Kak Lake women have re-written the political script in Cambodia by publically contesting the inevitability accorded to human rights abuses in the post-genocide country.

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.

The research has been published in two journal articles, the first in Geoforum (“‘Plates in a basket will rattle’: Marital dissolution and home ‘unmaking’ in contemporary Cambodia”), and the second in Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology with Maria Platt (‘Everyday Politics of (In)formal Marital Dissolution in Cambodia and Indonesia’).