Aftermath: women and women's organisations in post-conflict Cambodia

Aftermath: women and women's organisations in post-conflict Cambodia

How the international community can help women's organisations in Cambodia

Despite their small number, this paper finds that the post-conflict emergence of women's organisations in Cambodia have been contributing to the empowerment of women via vocational training and microcredit programs. They are assisting victims of HIV/AIDS, of domestic violence, and of trafficking and forced prostitution. They are also beginning to influence the political landscape through voter education and advocacy programs. However, women's organisations continue to face many obstacles. The country has no tradition for civil society organisations. Nor is the government always supportive of women's organisations. The organisations depend upon external assistance for their programs and survival, which limits their autonomy and the capacity to fashion new programs.

Conclusion: Women's organisations will require continual international support to survive and play an important role in improving the social and economic conditions of women and promoting gender equality. Thus the international community can help by taking a long-term perspective and providing technical and economic assistance.

Lessons learnt:

  • comprehensive, targeted interventions based on a coherent policy framework are needed to help women and reconstruct gender relations in the conditions of post-conflict societies. Gender-blind policies and programs are not sufficient to solve their problems
  • the war undermined the sexual division of labour, creating new opportunities for women in economic and political affairs. Women entered into various occupations closed to them earlier. They also held important offices at national and local levels during the conflict. After the war, international donors have developed programs to consolidate those gains. International donors can follow such a course in other post-conflict societies
  • education and training of women in refugee camps can prepare them to assume leadership roles in post-conflict societies. Thus it makes sense for the international community to support education and training in refugee camps, enabling them to acquire new skills, experience, and vision to help reconstruct gender relations-and their country-upon their return to society
  • newly founded women's organisations can carry out a wide range of programs. Therefore, the international community can use newly created women's organisations to channel humanitarian and developmental assistance in post-conflict societies
  • the international community can help establish women's organisations in post-conflict societies. Such organisations can develop local roots and gain political legitimacy despite their dependence on international resources
  • international donors should consider multiyear funding for women's organisations, allowing the groups to concentrate on their social, economic, and political development activities
  • women's organisations provide an important setting for women to gain self-respect and participate in decision-making. Thus the international community can support the growth of such groups in post-conflict societies not only to channel assistance to needy populations but also to empower women socially
  • women's organisations often follow the example of international NGOs in their working conditions, spending considerable resources on four-wheel-drive vehicles, spacious offices, and large support staff. Such operations are questionable under the conditions of post-conflict societies. The international community should try to foster a realistic and affordable vision among women's organisations
  • in Cambodia, women's organisations have not specialised. Instead, they undertake similar programs, competing with one another for external resources. International donors can learn from the Cambodian case and encourage sectoral specialisation by women's organisations
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