They wear white ribbons to promote awareness of violence against women. They light candles to mourn the victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking and rape. They are men—rallying to support the rights of women.
As a groundbreaking domestic violence draft law makes its way through the legislative process, the Cambodian Men’s Network began its annual 16-Day Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women, on Sunday.
“It‘s easy to blame all men for committing violent acts against women and creating violence in society,” said Ros Sopheat, the network’s executive director. “But the reality is, there are bad men and good men. We want to show society that good men suffer and feel bad when they hear about the actions of others.”
Men can be victims as well as perpetrators of domestic violence, a fact dramatically illustrated in a recent weekend. Police linked two deaths in Kompong Speu province—one man and one woman—to domestic disputes.
On Nov 16 in Kong Pisei district, Sok Vy, 33, was fatally struck with a hoe by his wife, Heng Phala, 22, after a fight over custody of their son, police said. On Nov 17 in Samraong Tong district, Kong Khoeun, 38, was beaten to death with an axle by her husband, Cheav Sin, 40, because he said she spent all his money.
“This is why I tell officials from [the Ministry of] Women’s Affairs not to educate men, alone, about family violence and human rights,” said Chea Vuth, Kompong Speu deputy police commissioner. “Sometimes women are violent, too.”
Minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs Mu Sochua said the two deaths illustrate the need to act quickly to enact Cambodia’s first domestic violence law. The draft law is in the hands of the Council of Ministers. Mu Sochua said she believes the draft law will go to the National Assembly in December and be passed in January.
The law would guarantee broad new protections to victims of domestic abuse—marital rape would become a crime, victims of abuse could seek protective orders and police wouldn’t need warrants to enter homes where they suspected violence was about to occur.
A law can punish perpetrators, Mu Sochua said. But to stop violence, social attitudes must change—that’s why support from groups like the men’s network is important, she said.
The men’s campaign aims to encourage men to take an active stand against violence and speak out. The campaign includes seminars, a public concert on Dec 8, and distribution of white ribbons and information throughout Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap, Battambang, Takeo and Kompong Chhnang provinces.
The men’s network already has voiced support for the draft law, signing two petitions with at least 75 signatures.
Mu Sochua said her ministry has built support in government for the draft law by sensitizing lawmakers to the issues involved. She said Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh support the draft law, but she admits it still faces a challenge.
“There are some more-conservative members who will have things to say in the debate,” she said. “I’m ready for the debate.”