Community solidarity for women empowerment in Rattanakiri Province
by NAK Thaileak, Senior Project Officer, LIVE & LEARN CAMBODIA
With the common goal of standing up for women empowerment, the Women Community of Practice (CoP Women) of VOICE Cambodia, with the support and facilitation from Linking & Learning Team, Live and Learn Cambodia, implemented a joint community project called “Women’s Voices Toward Inclusiveness”. The CoP Women is composed of the ARV Users Association (AUA), Women Peace Maker (WPM), Lakhon Komnit Organization (LKO), Conserve Indigenous Peoples Languages Organization (CIPL), and Women with Disabilities Leadership and Advocacy Network (WWD-LAN). This campaign aims to address the intersecting issues within women’s groups, which include people living with HIV (PLHIV), people with disabilities (PWD), indigenous people (IPs), elderly people and youth, LGBTQI members and women facing abuse and/or violation.
CoP Women was established in 2022, facilitated by Live and Learn Cambodia. Throughout the many Community of Practice discussions and workshops organised and coordinated, the CoP Women Team agreed on several common issue; however, for their first ever collaboration, they chose the issue of stigma and discrimination in employment, healthcare services, education, self-discrimination and identity discrimination. They sought to address these by hosting a community solidarity for women empowerment in Rattanakiri Province. This was the first activity they collaborated on and conducted on 28th October 2023. They aimed to create a space where all five rightsholder groups can connect and freely express themselves, learn from one another’s experiences, put an end to stigma and discrimination and work together to address their shared concerns and response to their needs. This particularly focused on ending identity-based discrimination, which has a negative impact on the livelihood and abilities of the intersecting rightsholder groups.
The workshop first introduced the rightsholders to the history, journey and objective of CoP Women so they know that this is basically for them. The best part of this community solidarity event was that each representative from all the five rightsholder groups shared their life story facing challenges as they grew up and how they have dealt with those challenges, hopefully to inspire others.
Although each of their life stories was unique, they shared a common challenge: discrimination. They encountered it in public spaces, at work, at school and even with their own relatives. All those experiences had negative side effects to them physically, emotionally and mentally. Some of them went through hard times fighting social anxiety and depression, while some even lost loved ones due to discrimination and verbal bullying.
During the sharing, participants attentively listened to each others’ story with empathy. Participants began to genuinely apologise to each other for prior discrimination against them when they were still unaware of one another’s situation or culture. The workshop created a safe space where diverse groups learned to understand one another’s struggles, and develop a sense of solidarity. This is a sign proving that when diverse groups come together to learn more from one another, such can contribute to put an end to discrimination.
After that, the CoP Women also provided a short capacity-strengthening session to empower participants’ confidence in speaking up for their needs toward the local authority. Before the end of workshop, participants were asked to express their needs. Many of them made request to the authorities from local to national levels to end discrimination against anyone who is already disadvantaged, that everyone should have equal rights and equal access to necessities like education and healthcare services, without anyone left behind. Some of them asked for decent job opportunities. There should be a wider announcement of the job opportunities to rural areas so they can be aware of the recruitment and apply for it if it fits their interest and ability. The second most requested is the provision of “ID Poor” and disability identification card so that they can receive the benefit they are entitled to. Last but not the least, young participants also sought for the provision of scholarships for students in family with “ID Poor” and for indigenous ethnic youths to study abroad for higher education, if possible.
It was a fruitful discussion among the rightsholder groups and CoP Women, building a solid foundation for the consequent activity on “Linking and Learning Event on Freedom, Equality and Freedom from Discrimination”.
We have witnessed a lot of good practices carried out by them in spite of certain challenges and obstacles. Particularly, we appreciate their good working structure for the team which consists of facilitators, assistants and team members with distinct roles and responsibilities making the project activities run smoothly. The Voice Cambodia Linking and Learning Team genuinely appreciate the commitment and dedication of CoP-Women in working collaboratively to empower intersectionality of women rightsholder groups at local level to stand up and advocate for women’s rights.