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Romchek Women Experiences in Times of War and Peace

Romchek villagers and their village chief, Mr. Liv attending Women Rights Forum

ImageWomen Rights Forum organized for the first time in Romchek village of Anlong Veng district with 37 villagers (31 women) participating. On the morning of October 15, 2019, the villagers came, individually or in groups, from all over the village and gathered together in the house of Mrs. Hean Pisey, deputy chief of the village. Although she has informed about the forum many days ago, Mrs. Pisey drove around in her motorbike and made a final call for the forthcoming forum. The gathering sounded like an occasion the villagers greeted joyfully. Everyone chatted while waiting for Mr. Liv, Romchek village chief, who was coordinating with other villagers to reconnect the village road after it was destroyed by flooding. While waiting, DC-Cam-produced songs: “Anlong Veng, My Love,” and “A Rainbow, No Love,” were played, everyone listened carefully and said: “both songs are beautiful and meaningful.” 

Upon Mr. Live’s arrival, I started the forum by thanking him and all the villagers for letting this forum happen in one of the remote villages in the district. Anlong Veng Peace Center was established to concentrate on memory, peace and reconciliation in Anlong Veng. Women Rights Forum is one of the many sub-projects of the Center. The history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) and Anlong Veng community are the main focus and focal points of discussion. I then briefly presented on the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979, under which 1.7 million people perished because of the notorious rule. I focused my discussion on daily life during that period so that the participants could relate with their own experiences. A common, spontaneous response was that KR rule made their lives extremely horrible. 

In connection with that period, the history of the Anlong Veng community was also discussed. Given that they directly experienced the recent history of the community, several women made comments from their seats. They said they formerly worked in the transportation unit, and that they were required to carry ammunition from Anlong Veng to the battlefront as far as Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces. A few hundred women were instructed to walk on a designated path, carrying as much Imageammunition and artilleries as they could. They had no choice but to walk in line. Returning, they were instructed to walk a different way. The women were sometimes under attack and got injured due to insects and mine explosions. The helplessness of women is, therefore, not an issue.
Cambodian elderly women in rural areas normally sharing and eating betel leaf when they meet up casually or formally. 

Cambodian elderly women in rural areas normally sharing and eating betel leaf when they meet up casually or formally.

In relation, attention was also paid to the ongoing development of the district. The Anlong Veng Master Plan was discussed. The Anlong Veng Master Plan is part of Documentation Center of Cambodia’s (DC-Cam) promise provided by the Inter-Ministry Committee on the Development and Preservation of Anlong Veng Historical Sites. Anlong Veng Master Plan has two phases: Phase I entails the construction of a new path to connect all fourteen historical sites. This path is detailed in the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC) sub-decree on Anlong Veng Historical Sites. Phase II contemplates the transformation of Anlong Veng into “A City of Peace, Regeneration, and Prosperity at Cambodia’s Northern Border.” After hearing this, a participant said that, “It’s good.” The rest nodded in agreement in what the concept note has shown. 

In the final part of the forum, each participant was given the opportunity to raise any of the abovementioned topics or other contemporary issues facing their villages for discussion.

Six men attending the forum, while some brought along their kids and took care of them on behalf of their wives
ImageA woman broke the silence by raising the issue of “family’s debt.” She, and others, said that each family became entangled by the burden of debt as a result of unfavorable low prices for their agricultural products such as rice, cassava and mango. They spent so much money ploughing the fields, fertilizing and on other things. Rather than generate income, the net result is that the family could not pay back the debt borrowed from financial institutions. Then, I asked Romchek village chief Mr. Liv to respond. Mr. Liv said he acknowledged that issue. He added that the problem, however, could be mitigated if each family came up with a good, careful family plan. Without this, each family has an unavoidable risk. 

Two women mentioned the drug trafficking and domestic violence among youths in the village. Others confirmed that domestic violence had taken place in the village, but that it was not a primary concern. However, youth violence because of drugs was a grave concern for the villagers. Drugs breed many problems in the village. 

Image A woman right behind the village chief suddenly spoke after I asked if anyone wanted to say anything. She complained about her land being grabbed by the military. She said she cleared and worked on it for many years. Mr. Liv gave her some advice and informed her about the government’s decision to give people the title to the land if they have already worked on it. As her land did not fall under Mr. Liv’s authority, he encouraged her to look for a solution with Mr. Set, Romchek Khang Lech village chief. 

Six men attending the forum, while some brought along their kids and took care of them on behalf of their wives

While paying attention to the forum, some women grabbed a betel leaf.
Mr. Liv took that opportunity to inform his villagers that each family has a chance to get affordable electricity to light their homes and to watch TV. Of course, they all saw this as good news as they had been waiting a long time for this. Then, Mr. Liv declared the end of the forum.

While smiling and walking slowly back home, Sap, 59 years old, said she was pleased with this gathering and provided quick feedback:
“In that period, life was extremely hard. I did not have a secure place to live. Only after the reintegration [in 1998], did I come and live here in Romchek village. Our community has made substantial progress. Currently, primary and secondary schools, roads, and a pagoda and a hospital have been built. Villagers’ children receive education at the public schools. I am so happy with this. Peace brings us these abovementioned things.”
The forum lasted for about two hours.

APPENDIX: Women Rights Forum in Rumchek Village
https://photos.app.goo.gl/BhxCtshhJKX6eGmL6
TEAM: Mek Navin, Hean Pisey and Ly Sok-Kheang
REPORT: Ly Sok-Kheang
DONOR: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)

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