Work has begun on a new project aiming to create a historical archive of stories told by women who suffered under, but survived, the Khmer Rouge regime.
Theresa de Langis, lead researcher of the Cambodian Women’s Oral History Project, is in the process of establishing a permanent catalogue featuring the stories of at least 25 women from around Cambodia. Since its inception in January, the project has compiled stories from seven female survivors, with each interview lasting about six hours.
“There’s two elements to looking at a conflict through gender: Because of women’s insubordinate status, they experience the same, but with different impacts. Who gets the food, especially when food was so hard to find? Who takes care of the sick? The wounded, the children?” she said.
The other element, Ms. de Langis said, relates to crimes committed against women because of their gender, such as sexualized abuse and gender-based violence (GBV).
“GBV was used to reinforce the order that you should keep in your place and don’t step out of your station or above your status,” she said.
Ms. de Langis has started a Kickstarter page and hopes to meet the $2,500 goal before time runs out in four days. The money will be used to interview more women. The testimonies will then be sent to the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) and Yale University in Connecticut.
One completed interview features 80-year-old Kim Khem. Among the atrocities she suffered was the murder of her baby son—something she bore witness to as her hands were tied behind her back, unable to reach out to him.
Another interviewee, Nam Mon, 52, was imprisoned in Phnom Penh’s S-21 Security Center. “After the time they killed my parents, I was raped,” she said in her interview. “They ordered my brother to kill my parents. After that they killed my brother.”
The oral history project was inspired by and compliments a truth-telling forum called the Women’s Hearing that, for the past three years, has enabled female survivors to share their experiences of rape and sexual abuse under the Khmer Rouge.
Ms. de Langis believes recorded testimonies of all experiences can help paint a larger picture of what life was like at the time.
“I’ve been involved [in the Women’s Hearing] for the past three years, but each time one of the things we come up against is that we don’t have documentation,” Ms. de Langis said.
DC-Cam’s executive director, Youk Chhang, said women’s testimonies are particularly important because their experiences and perspectives of the regime are different.
“When we speak to male survivors, they talk about prison and torture, but women describe how life was like to be a mother and try to feed your child with a grain of rice, only to have him die in your hands,” Mr. Chhang said.
“In 1979, it is estimated that about 65 percent of the population were women and there were 200,000 children without parents. So they are not only the witnesses, but they are the ones who put this broken country back together with their hands, restored education and the economy.”