As part of the strategic planning work I’m doing with the Women’s Resource Center in Siem Reap, we’ve recently conducted a pair of focus groups with the village chiefs in the area near the center’s location. We met with the local leaders to ask them about the issues facing women in the villages and the available support systems for those women. These villages are about 60k from where Tim and I are living, but I thought I’d share some of the results because they mirror the reality that we see here at site, as well. The next step will be doing in-depth interviews with women in these villages so we can get their opinions directly. But first, we wanted to hear about trends at the village level.
Biggest Challenge: When asked what issues women most often brought up to the village chiefs, all but one mentioned domestic violence, making it the most cited response. The village chiefs said that domestic violence was most often caused by men drinking too much, being unfaithful or getting jealous. Domestic violence was also listed as the most common reason for divorce.
Maternal Mortality: Interestingly enough, the village chiefs claimed that there had not been a single woman who had died in childbirth in their respective villages during the year 2012. This sentiment is often echoed by the village health volunteers and health center staff at our site too. They claim that there has been a lot of education on the idea of giving birth at the health center, thus eliminating maternal mortality in the area. Nationally, the statistics for maternal mortality actually show an increase in deaths between 2000-2010 so the responses from the village chiefs bring more questions than they do answers.
Illiteracy: Many of the chiefs said that illiteracy was a problem, particularly for older women who lived through the Pol Pot regime and weren’t able to study as children. A couple mentioned the widely-held belief that educating boys is more beneficial for a family than educating a girl. They also said that girls often had to drop out of school after a couple of years of schooling so they could help their parents make money. Now, as older women, it doesn’t seem as though the women are interested in learning to read or write. According to the village chiefs, many think it’s too late or wouldn’t be able to come to classes regularly.
Migrant Work: More than half of the village chiefs said that they had women in their communities who migrated for work, often to Thailand or Malaysia. Men often migrate to work in manual labor positions, while women are more often domestic workers. Women who travel abroad by themselves are at an increased risk for trafficking, both in terms of labor and sex work. Since these communities are so close to the Thai border – and Siem Reap, which is known as a hotspot for prostitution– this is an especially important issue to explore.
Drugs: Drug use was reported, although it was not common – especially among women. The two most commonly cited drugs were ice and marijuana. Men were said to use these drugs, as well as alcohol, more frequently than women.