Cambodia: Beyond ‘Inspiring Change,’ the theme for 2014 International Women’s Day

Inspiring change is the theme for this year women rights day celebration held annually on 8 March. Inspiring change has been taken place and will continue to take place only when we all look beyond the theme itself, namely action in real life.

While there are increasing role of women globally, Cambodian women has been on rise to play key roles in social and political life. We are not only witnessing women who are sitting in national assembly or commune council level, but you could also see the female activists who are at frontline to advocate for her and community’s rights to land or natural resource. More and more young women could also be found in various sectors such as social media as a blogher (in Cambodian context, I would name them clogher), journalists, and enterprenuer to name a few. I could proudly say that there are more and more inspiring ladies working in the organization (the Cambodian Center for Human Rights) I am working with and indeed they are the agent of change along with other male colleagues that make CCHR one of promient human rights organization.

This change taken place possible is credited to Cambodian government who has been supportive to women empowerment together with various civil society organization and public especially men who recognize and support the value and role of women could play in this society to work together to make a better change. However, more effort need to be done to ensure the committement and achievement we have been witnessed today could be fully addresing to gender equality.

There are occasion where security force has used disapportionate force against protesters especially when they confronted with female activists. This practice must be stopped to ensure that we all could talk to each other peacefully and with due respect to women rights. There are cases where authority and politician acted and used discriminatory language against women. When it comes to exuse to remove women out of position due to her persistent to uphold her role to protect citizens, the question of her qualification was raised. Such discriminatory attitude shall not be tolerated. When it comes to domestic violence, it is very important that women who are claimed to be victims shall be protected especially from authorities. A case of a recently released on condition land activist Yorm Bopha for example where she calimed of vilotently attacked by her husband, insteading of receieving support from authority and certain media and public to investigate on her domestic violence case, she has been double victimized from the report saying that she had an affair so it was justified for her husband reaction. Another recalling rape case of a young disable girl who was instead receiving full support from authority but was blamed of being rapped as the district police chief commented that “it was already 9 p.m. when was raped. She shouldn’t have been out so late.”

These are few cases out of other reported and under reported cases of vioence and discrimation against women where I want to draw attention to all stakeholders that we need to do more amid our pride that we has been achieving in promoting women rights in this country. Only when women rights are properly respected in real practice, inspiring change could take place as women could join hand equally and proudly with men and other gender for our nation’s development. Also, it is also necessary that women need to catch up with the speed of change by equiping ourselve with knowledge and further capacity building so that we can advance ourselve to change within and for the society. Rights in human history are not granted but advocated.

Happy women rights day!

Posted in Gender, Human Rights and Peace Campaign | 1 Comment

Quote for human rights and lives

Recently I was quoted in an article tiling “What’s the Price of Workers’ Lives in Cambodia?” by Anne Elizabeth Moore, a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow, Weinberg Fellow at the Newberry Library, a Fulbright scholar, and the author of several award-winning non-fiction books. The article touches upon recent violent crackdown by government on the demonstrations by garment workers demanding a fair wage, that resulted in five deaths and dozens of injuries.

Following Anne’s article, there is a response from Chrek Sophea, a Cambodian feminist and worker rights activist and former garment worker based in Phnom Penh, to Anne’s article but she mainly expressed her opinion on my quote specifically; her article tilting “The human right to a living wage is far from being won in Cambodia”

Sophea also shared her article to me directly and I am glad she did so and here is my copied response to her feedback:

Cited Sophea’s article: “According to Chak, the workers’ movement did not provide enough evidence to show that the garment workers cannot survive on the current minimum wage. But what kind of data do we need to prove that workers cannot survive on the current wage? And who should be qualified to conduct the data collection?”

My response: My argument is not to deny that hardest fact of workers has been faced. I have been traveled to area where worker has been staying, sharing room etc, and just imagine ourselves in their shoe of living standard with high inflation in Cambodia within these few years, it would even harder. So, just to make it clear with you that I don’t mean to question on this. What I has been suggesting is the way for effective advocacy by union leaders and also CNRP [opposition party] who also voiced support for workers at that time to come up with data argument. So far different argument has been raised by all sectors, let alone not to expect from GMAC per se to support this, some even put the figure higher, so if we could come up with data properly, the figure for workers salary would even higher and I would even encourage for the demand for other associated proper benefit that worker shall entitled to to ensure their adjusted salary rate would not be just ended up the same inflation challenge (namely, when I bought the orange at market, sellers would say that the price now increased because even workers’ salary increased, so here the argument is not just about salary increase but the inflation adjustment issue that the government must ensure this). That was absent during the strike.

Cited Sophea’s article: “Chak goes on to pose the question: Is it only garment workers who deserve such a pay increase? Why not raise the pay for teachers (who are also poorly paid in Cambodia) as well?”

My respone: You even raised this further, which of course this was my conversation with Anne during her interview. I did not raise this question by myself, but it was the context in the interview that whether it would be worth to have a national minimum wage or not and why only worker now, how is others. So, I had raised all civil servants including teachers who received very modest salary, and if current mass could raised up to national minimum wage or whatever it would be based on such as education, sectors etc, why not?

Cited Sophea’s article: “I could add to her questions. Why not also look at the pay of military? Or that of medical doctors? Why is it NGOs worker earn much more than civil servants? Should we debate who should get less based on their educational background?”

My response: I think you raised a good question and this is what we should draw upon more study and if these sectors could earn a proper wage to ensure their living standard with dignity, that is the benefit for the society.

Cited Sophea’s article: “Should we demand that some people have their pay lowered because they currently get paid more than garment workers and others? Of course, that would be ridiculous.”

My response: I do not know what make you draw this question, but I would say the same that it is ridiculous and like to cut head to fit hat issue.

I have realized Anne has also elaborated her purpose, definition, and ultimate aim of her article tilting “Wages: minimum, living, decent, and fair” which I believe three of us (Anne, Sophea and I myself) including others would  agree altogether:

Anne’s response to Sophea:

“What we need to do,” Chrek Sophea writes at the end of her essay, “is to support and join the struggle to improve all people’s livelihood.”

I couldn’t agree more, and believe my piece reflects that.

I am not sure if this is a matter of quote, language, or any other reason, I believe we shared common goals and this positively proved to me that people are watching the current Cambodia closely now, espeically the ordinary citizen, who are willing to stand up for human rights cause.

Posted in Human Rights and Peace Campaign, Social Politics | Leave a comment

My Birthday Cause for Kantha Bopha Hospital

These few days, I have been back and forth to hospital to see my newly born niece who had health problem and she was advised for operation. It was a critical moment for our family to bear the pain of this little girl. Her operation has been completed and she is okay now although doctor requires following up her condition still.

I thought the moment our family is burden is that tough, but when you would expose to other child’s condition at the hospital especially the newly born up to one-month old baby who were placed at a large room together, while two babies may share the same bed altogether, the moment was even more trouble-some. You would hear different stories: a child was left out by her mum who has never now returned to take care of him, yet thank to hospital profession for continuing taking care of him and even hiring the baby-sitter to ensure his condition is watched out closely like other child who is accompanied by mother or both parents. Suddenly, you would hear other story: a mum was crying loudly while her kid was already gone given that his/her condition was serious and doctor could no longer assist him/her (I dared not even look at the scene but only hear the cry of the mother). You would see other scenario where the mother has to stay fully at hospital alone (while my sister would be accompanied by her husband and also an often visit by me) and could not even afford to a mobile phone and she would need to get out hospital to give a call by using paid call service to her husband (who maybe on job-mission of income generation). This are few examples where I have been exposed to amid other poor and venerable parents would have been relying to the effort of the hospital who hardly bear the cost of the service, building, and other associated cost to doctors etc.

Wait, I have not yet named out that hospital and I am sure this is not new to all of you: It is Kantha Bopha Hospital. This hospital offers a free of charge medical service to the families in Cambodia who are simply too poor to even make a small contribution for the service. According to the hospital source, without this hospital, 3,200 additional children would die in Cambodia every month. The figure is quite shocking amid the fact that the hospital sometime and recently has faced financial crisis to sustain its operation. I was glad that at least I jointly with other fellows to contribute to the cause during that time. But, the moment even convinced me that more continuing effort from each of us would ensure children access to health service.

I therefore wrote this piece, not merely to thank to the hospital for professionally taking care of my niece, but also to encourage all of you to make a contribution to the hospital so that this could be partly ensure its sustainability that ultimately help surviving many poor and vulnerable kids in Cambodia.

To make direct donation you could go to the foundation website directly but you could also join my cause here:

From now up to 30 March 2014, please jointly celebrate my 29th year old by gifting me $1 each or more so that the sum will be contributed to Foundation Childrens Hospitals Kantha Bopha. Please contact me via chaksopheap@gmail.com for any inquiry about this cause or way of donation.

Posted in Announcement, Appreciation, Health | 2 Comments