Women in Cambodia remain underrepresented at all levels. Traditional norms and gender discrimination have a huge impact on their lives. Most girls do not get a proper education and marry at a young age. Most people in Cambodia believe that a woman’s most important role is to take care of the home and to cook for her family. Especially grassroots women leaders play an important role to overcome those stereotypes and make women more visible in public decision-making. That is why Johanniter´s local partner organisation Women Peace Makers (WPM) implements the Weaving Women’s Leadership for Change Program (WWLC).
The WWLC connects 20 established and emerging grassroots women leaders from all over the country. Within the program they can share their experiences and attend workshops to guide them through topic on self-care, team leadership, group development, feminist leadership, emotional first aid, collective leadership and project management. They also formed the Sisterhood Mentorship Program. Here mentors help participants with their personal and career development, personal growth goals, and motivate and empower them.
One of the participants of the WWLC is Ms. Reakshar. She is from Siem Reap where she works as a coordinator with Transparency International Cambodia. As the youngest daughter in a family of five, Reakshar grew up on a family farm that raises pigs, chickens and ducks. Growing up she was surrounded by patriarchal structures: “Before I joined this program, I had no idea of the obstacles that women face in achieving their goals. I thought that Cambodian law provides equal rights and opportunities for women and men. I thought that there are few women in leadership positions because the women themselves have incapacity to grab opportunities. Conversely, when I joined this program, I learned that the issue is a lot more complex.”
In WWLC’s workshops, Ms. Reakshar learned more about the challenges such as stereotypes, discrimination, family pressure and social pressure women face becoming leaders. She notes, that “there are a lot of grassroots women leaders in the program which are strong and fight for their own voices.” Ms. Reakshar is planning a community project focused on women-leadership and self-awareness. “In the future, I want to create a women’s network as well as support other women in my community through sharing our concerns, stories, exchanging knowledge, and finding solutions for each other. It is challenging for a single voice creating change, but collective voices are powerful. My dream is to see more women in my community becoming leaders such as community council or community chief.”
Mrs. Fong Chompey is another participant of the WWLC. She works as deputy chief for Cambodia Indigenous Women Working Group (CIWWG) and belongs to an indigenous group known as Jarai, located in Ratanakiri. Especially in indigenous tribes, women are kept out of school, as they have to help in the household and are not involved in any decision-making. “Witnessing the way the community’s traditions work to privilege men, it has pushed me to learn about and work for the promotion of women’s rights. With my work, I hope to change these perceptions and obtain respect, value, and decision-making power for women in their family, community and society.”
Being part of the WWLC has been a throughout positive experience for her. “I especially appreciate having someone as a sister to support each other and shine together. I am so happy that my dream came true to get a mentor. Joining WWLC has helped me to build my knowledge and competency through key topics such as self-care, feminism, team leader, collective leader, self-awareness, especially sharing real-file stories from other participants and mentors. WWLC is a safe space for women to learn together, to speak out, to inspire each other and to support each other.”
Photo: Lyhour Heang
WWCL is part of the GROWTH-project which supports Grassroot Organisations in their longterm developement and to stengthen their work and influence. The projet is financed by the BMZ.