Today, we were able to meet and learn about some incredible non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
We started off the day by visiting the Cambodia Center for Human Rights. We were able to learn about the incredible work this organization is doing including their efforts to advocate for non-discrimination policies and same sex marriage laws for LGBT people. The NGO expressed disappointment when legislative bodies are open to talking and listening but then little legislative action is taken with regards to these vulnerable people. Due to this gridlock and research regarding bullying in schools, the organization has been working diligently by educating teachers, school administrators, and youth about preventing LGBT bullying in the schools.
For lunch, we went Daughters of Cambodia Cafe. This NGO empowers girls to leave the sex work industry by offering them job training, cooking skills, textile, hospitality, and English. It was incredible to support an NGO that is dedicated to dismantling a system of human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Cambodia and their continued to commitment to expand their capacity to empower vulnerable Cambodians.
Seeing a rise in the sex work industry’s exploitation of ladyboys, the NGO launched Sons of Cambodia to continue to empower these ladyboys to leave the sex work industry. We learned that human trafficking and sex work does not operate off of one single gender, but instead highlights the intersections of gender, sexuality, class, and socioeconomic status.
Later in the day, we went GADC (Gender & Development of Cambodia). We were able to learn about the reality of women in Cambodia as it relates to income inequality, political activism and participation, and sexual assault. While this organization conducted and shared astounding research regarding these aspects of gender and development, their most incredible work came through in their devising of gender cafes. The organization would set up groups of 40 or so women and separate them by occupation (hospitality, sex work, shop keepers, homemakers), and would simply invite them to share their experience. This empowers women to have a public time and place to share their experiences. These women create a network, an interdependent and interconnected community that empower each other, listen to each other, and fight for each other.
It is truly incredible seeing the grassroots efforts to educate Cambodians and advocate for vulnerable people to the government. The organizations often expressed their exhaustion and continuous questioning of whether this work is the work of the government or if it is the work of NGOs. Regardless, this work is essential and is helping to usher in a grass-roots based approach to community organizing which is proving to be very successful, empowering for vulnerable people, and uniquely Cambodian.