Women in action: From grassroots to global

A 19 years old Rima has emerged as an international young female advocate for women and children and serves as a youth representative for the children and youth council in her Community, located in the village of Anlong Kong Tmey, Khan Dangkor, Cambodia.
Thursday, March 7, 2024

A 19 years old Rima has emerged as an international young female advocate for women and children and serves as a youth representative for the children and youth council in her Community, located in the village of Anlong Kong Tmey, Khan Dangkor, Cambodia.

"I gained a lot of knowledge about violence, children's rights, and human rights in my lesson. But these courses are all just paperwork created by the curriculum of the school," Rima reflects, "I saw a lot of people in my community, including the students themselves, turning to violence to have their problems resolved."

The particular highlight that she sees in her Community is the violence —between men and women, between parents and children, and even between children and children. For this reason, she is committed to solving the issues confronting her village's children, women and residents. 

"Their main source of livelihood, often involves activities such as alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking, and gambling. Additionally, some children may engage in drug use, leading to conflicts with their parents, while others exhibit disobedience towards parental authority, resulting in fights among siblings, thereby contributing to the root causes of violence," said Ms. Chan Sophal, a World Vision International Cambodia Area Programme Manager.

According to Fulu (2015), the National Survey on Women’s Health and Life Experiences in Cambodia conducted by the National Institute of Statistics, Ministry of Planning provides valuable insights into women's health issues; indicating that around 21% of Cambodian women of working age had been subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, with 75% of these women experiencing significant abuse. Most women (more than 80%) reported experiencing acts of violence many times, demonstrating that intimate partner violence is rarely an isolated incident.

Women in rural areas had higher rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) than women in cities. In contrast, younger women reported experiencing more violence in the last year than older women.

"Education is not just about acquiring knowledge; it's about empowerment. It's about giving children the tools to protect themselves and shape their futures. Education is the key to combating climate change and creating a more sustainable and resilient future for all," said Rima.

With a profound belief in the transformative power of education and empowerment, Rima advocates safeguarding the most vulnerable population from harm and abuse and fostering flexibility in uncertain climate change.

Her call to action is to incorporate climate education into the school curriculum to promote awareness among young people and teach both men and women the principles of environmental stewardship. She advocates for government support and stakeholder engagement to boost youth-led climate projects, highlighting the importance of youth and women's voices being heard nationally and internationally.

"A variety of factors contribute to the income distribution: factory workers make between $150 and $200 per month, some people remain unemployed at home, construction workers make between $150 and $200 per month, though they sometimes experience financial instability and unemployment, and some families encourage their daughters to quit their jobs and work in factories in order to earn a monthly wage," said Ms Chan Sophal.

Gender Equality Deep-Dive for Cambodia Common Country Analysis, a 2022 United Nations Cambodia research, provides information on gender equality challenges in the nation; Women account for a sizable proportion of the labour force (84.1%). They are more likely than men to work in informal employment. The most vulnerable category consists of 53% of women (compared to 41% of men) who work for themselves or as unpaid family caregivers without receiving compensation. Women control 62% of micro-businesses and 26% of small and medium-sized businesses in Cambodia, contributing significantly to the economy, yet they continue to face financial and registration challenges.

"In order to perform this task properly, I need a team who can discuss, plan, act, and learn how to eliminate these problems in our village. Fortunately, when World Vision Cambodia began working in the area, my friends and I saw it as an excellent chance for us to form a team and work together to improve our Community," Rima recounts, reflecting on the beginning of her journey.

But Rima's journey to leadership had its challenges. "During this journey, my team and I have met many things together. We got rejected by our village's leader at first but we tried so hard to show him that our team was trying to help our village. We want to see positive things in our village," Rima recalled.

The United Nations Cambodia also stated in a report from 2022 that women have taken a prominent role in land conflicts and forced evictions, which has both advantages and disadvantages for the communities and the women themselves. Women human rights campaigners and land activists are regularly harassed and assaulted, and their long-term leadership in these campaigns has seldom resulted in increased decision-making capacity. Women are disproportionately underrepresented in management positions at all levels of government, trade unions, and industries.

Born and raised in the village of Anlong Kong Tmey, Rima observed the harsh reality of violence and injustice in her Community. Together with her team, they took advantage of the opportunity provided by World Vision Cambodia to launch grassroots action. 

"I have been involved in many advocacy initiatives and campaigns. We have worked on eliminating violence against children, promoting children's participation in the Community, children drop out from school, promoting children's rights, village clean-up campaigns, climate change." Said Rima.

They began with action to end violence against children and women, promote education, and raise awareness about climate change. Despite initial scepticism and internal conflicts, Rima and her team persisted, moving ahead with steadfast conviction.

"Today I can see that people in my community stopped using violence to solve their problem, and they respect their kid's right better than before," said Rima.

As reported by Ms. Chan Sophal, the provincial government often emphasises World Vision International Cambodia's positive impact on the community, citing examples such as the livelihood support provided by WVI, assistance in supporting children through the provision of learning materials, and opportunities for families to gain knowledge and allowances through participation in WVI activities.

"Furthermore, parents express happiness when they witness their children engaging in learning activities within youth clubs, participating in volunteering efforts, rather than engaging in less constructive pursuits", said Ms Chan Sophal.

Rima described taking constant action, and their vision became a reality, resulting in an observable change in their neighbourhood. They observed that the individuals in their Community, including children, parents, and the village chief, had altered their thinking by 60%. Children's parents who had previously refused to allow their children to attend school began to reconsider and seek methods to help their children in school.

Through it all, Rima remained steadfast in her conviction that every voice matters.

"I want to send my message to all the young girls in Cambodia that our voice is very important. We live in the Community every day we see the issues, the impact of it, sometimes we are some of the people who experience the same thing as others. So, if you have a chance to speak out, just speak out, and find any way that can make a different change in our Community. You are a very important person in your village so don't be afraid, try your best to advocate for your Community," she emphasizes, urging fellow youth to become agents of change in their communities.

As we celebrate International Women's Day, Rima's story serves as evidence of the unbeatable spirit of women and girls around the world. Through her courage, resilience, and unwavering commitment to education and environmental stewardship, Rima embodies the essence of empowerment, inspiring her Community and young girls her age.

And with that, Rima continues to pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future, one empowered step at a time.