The 6th French Network for Asian Studies International Conference (26-28 June 2017) was organized by the French Network for Asian Studies – FNAS (or GIS Asie in French) – together with Sciences Po, Paris.

Fenneke Reysoo, Siny Seng and Joanna Bourke-Martignoni presented their research in a panel entitled “Violence against women in Asia. Analyzing intersected oppressions and questioning prevention policies” organized by Lucia Direnberger and Estelle Miramond. This panel dealt with violence against women as a social phenomenon that reveals and increases unequal power relations between men and women. The goal was also to examine national and international policies on the prevention and elimination of violence against women as objects of social demand in Asia. The two researchers of Demeter team present their papers in this research post.

Domestic Violence, Land Grabbing and Food Security in Cambodia

Fenneke Reysoo’s paper showed that n contemporary Cambodia, conceding large-scale land areas for commercial agriculture is a double-edged development practice and policy. On the one hand, it contributes to the promotion of modern and competitive crops for the international export market while at the same time attracting foreign direct investments, which are thought to engender positive macro-economic outcomes at national level. On the other hand, concessions have important impacts on the livelihoods of local agrarian populations who are frequently evicted from their lands to become wage labourers on the newly created commercial farms or to engage in off-farm work. How these policies and practices impact on food security and gender equality has not been widely studied. Based on fine-grained semi-directive interviews in three Provinces affected by rapid and large-scale land concentrations, this paper presents transformations in gender relations in terms of work, income and time-use and their incidence on food security and domestic violence. More men than women can access wage work and earn an income and women thus become more dependent on male income to provide food for the family. Contrary to agricultural work, wage work goes hand in hand with leisure time. New kinds of masculine sociability emerge in the form of drinking, gambling and karaoke. In a context where household resources are scarce, competing expenditures (family needs and leisure time) strain men’s social roles as providers and their construction of masculinities and women’s role as care-givers and cooks. The ensuing conflicts between wives and husbands reveal gendered patterns with wives complaining that the money given to them is insufficient to feed the family and (frequently drunken) husbands engaging in domestic violence which is rationalized by the fact that meals are not ready when they return home. Our ongoing research will continue to investigate how international framings of gender equality and women’s rights are being translated into local settings and what might be the added value of examining large-scale land commercialization through the lenses of the right to food and gender equality in the context of land grabbing.

Translating international norms on domestic violence into national laws and policies in Cambodia

Joanna Bourke-Martignoni and Siny Seng’s paper provided an overview of the Cambodian legal and policy frameworks on domestic violence at the national level and then presented some findings from qualitative research with civil society organisations and policy-makers concerning the implementation of these frameworks at the local level. While the national policies and legislation constitute – in theory – a strong basis for local action to eliminate domestic violence against women, there remains a large gap between these policies and legal guarantees and their practical implementation.

Following the work of anthropologist Sally Engle Merry, our research explores the role of larger national NGOs with a presence in sub-national areas as ‘intermediaries’  in translating international human rights law on gender-based domestic violence into local practice and in feeding these local experiences and responses up to national and international decision-makers. In a number of cases, women’s rights NGOs have been very successful in working with local communities to gradually change attitudes towards gender equality and to get authorities and individual men within these communities to take their obligations to eliminate domestic violence seriously. These NGOs have also had some impact and influence over policy-making at the national level and their advocacy efforts have resulted in the creation of structures such as specialized gender violence officers employed to receive complaints at the sub-national level. They have further managed to inform international human rights processes through the preparation and presentation of alternative reports to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The paper queries, however, if this civil society focus on domestic violence against women may be diverting attention away from broader forms of structural violence caused by gendered neo-liberal development paradigms including the privatization of common lands and the granting of economic land concessions for agricultural development. The linkages between land grabbing and domestic violence are beginning to be discussed by some civil society actors and further research on these issues will be done by the DEMETER team in collaboration with these groups during the second phase of the research.