Women in Land Conflicts Suffer Disproportionately, Study Finds

Nearly all women involved in land disputes have experienced mental health problems as a result and nearly half have considered suicide, according to new research.

A survey earlier this year by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) found that 98 percent of 612 women involved in land disputes across 12 provinces suffered mental health effects, 46 percent considered suicide, 18 percent had attempted suicide and 35 percent still harbored suicidal thoughts.

A woman who claims to own a piece of disputed land in Phnom Penh's Chroy Changva district speaks to reporters in April. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A woman who claims to own a piece of disputed land in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district speaks to reporters in April. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The study, “Cambodia’s Women in Land Conflict,” also found that the effects of land disputes were disproportionately felt by women and were exacerbated by an entrenched gender bias and traditional roles.

“Khmer women are generally expected to fulfill traditional roles, which involve duties that can only be performed where there is security of tenure, such as providing shelter and food for the family,” the report released on Tuesday says.

“Given their intrinsic link to land, particularly in rural areas, it stands to reason that Cambodian women would bear the brunt of Cambodia’s widespread land conflict.”

Alongside evidence of the psychological impact on women, the survey found incidents of domestic violence, financial insecurities and family breakdown increased following the onset of land disputes.

“The findings of CCHR’s survey support the assertion that land conflict leads to increased incidences of domestic violence, with 23 percent of women in relationships involved in land conflict self-identifying as victims of domestic abuse,” the report says.

Of those women, nearly 54 percent said the violence only began after their involvement in a land dispute and only a quarter said they had sought help from authorities.

At the report’s launch, Yorm Bopha, a prominent activist from the capital’s eviction-hit Boeung Kak neighborhood, said her mental health and that of other women in her community had suffered as result of the land dispute.

“Women evicted from their land live with a lot of severe impacts, you know. We have been suffering,” she said. “I myself, and all the people here, live with this pain. I shed a lot of tears, so many times.”

Ms. Bopha attributed a number of suicides in the community to the conflict.

CCHR director Chak Sopheap said the report’s focus on women reflected the high proportion of women activists.

“We are supporting a number of human rights advocates and many of them are female, they are at the frontlines,” she said.

Ms. Sopheap said the organization would seek meetings with relevant ministries to discuss a range of recommendations in the report. They include establishing accessible and nationwide mental health clinics, providing training for authorities to recognize and adequately support victims of domestic violence, and increasing gender equality education in schools and communities.

Sakhoeun Savady, deputy director of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said she would raise the findings and recommendations with Minister Ing Kantha Phavi.

However, responding to criticisms from activists that the ministry had failed to help them, Ms Savady said staff were limited to their assigned projects and that, depending on the case, other ministries might be responsible.

Vuthy Vanra, the Ministry of Land Management’s deputy director, dismissed the findings by claiming they were not nationally representative and criticized the researchers for not acknowledging government efforts to resolve disputes.

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