Nearly all women involved in land disputes have experienced mental health problems as a result and nearly half have considered suicide, according to new research.
A survey earlier this year by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) found that 98 percent of 612 women involved in land disputes across 12 provinces suffered mental health effects, 46 percent considered suicide, 18 percent had attempted suicide and 35 percent still harbored suicidal thoughts.
The study, “Cambodia’s Women in Land Conflict,” also found that the effects of land disputes were disproportionately felt by women.
“Khmer women are generally expected to fulfill traditional roles, which involve duties that can only be performed where there is security of tenure, such as providing shelter and food for the family,” the report released on Tuesday says.
“Given their intrinsic link to land, particularly in rural areas, it stands to reason that Cambodian women would bear the brunt of Cambodia’s widespread land conflict.”
Alongside evidence of the psychological impact on women, the survey found incidents of domestic violence, financial insecurities and family breakdown increased following the onset of land disputes.
“The findings…support the assertion that land conflict leads to increased incidences of domestic violence, with 23 percent of women in relationships involved in land conflict self-identifying as victims of abuse,” the report says.
Of those, nearly 54 percent said the violence only began after a land dispute.
At the report’s launch, Yorm Bopha, a prominent activist from the capital’s eviction-hit Boeung Kak neighborhood, said the mental health of women in her community had suffered as a result of the land dispute.
“Women evicted from their land live with a lot of severe impacts,” she said. “I myself, and all the people here, live with this pain.”
Ms. Bopha attributed a number of suicides in the community to the conflict.
CCHR director Chak Sopheap said the report’s focus on women reflected the high proportion of women activists. “They are at the front lines,” she said.
Ms. Sopheap said the organization would seek meetings with relevant ministries to discuss the recommendations in the report. They include establishing nationwide mental health clinics, providing training for authorities to adequately support victims of domestic violence, and increasing gender equality education in schools.
Sakhoeun Savady, deputy director of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, said she would raise the recommendations with Minister Ing Kantha Phavi.
However, responding to criticisms from activists, Ms Savady said staff were limited to their assigned projects and that, depending on the case, other ministries might be responsible.
Vuthy Vanra, the Ministry of Land Management’s deputy director, dismissed the findings by claiming they were not widely representative and criticized the researchers for not acknowledging government efforts to resolve disputes.
kohlbacher@cambodiadaily.com, pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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