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Young People Are the Solution to End Corruption

Written by: Yin Verak, a 3rd year student majoring in Business Administration at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo was taken on November 8, 2020 after a discussion with Mr. Ok Serei Sopheak, Good Governance Specialist, under the topic: "Good Governance at Sub-national Level" in Battambang province )   “I hate corruption. I don’t want to see any corrupt activities in my country anymore. I despise corruption. Corruption is dangerous for the country’s development. Corruption is an unspeakable issue.” There are what I have heard from different people who expressed their thoughts and perspectives about corruption. But the problem is, have they done anything to stop corruption? Or are they just words?    I believe that most people have known about how corruption negatively affects our country and our livelihood. Almost every sector of our country, even justice, education, healthcare, public services, and natural wealth, are seriously impacted by this unspeakable issue. Organizations, communities, individuals and the country as a whole are no exception. Corruption can undermine transparency, creditability, accountability, consistency and prosperity of the country. Besides, it brings many consequences to our country’s economy, society, politics, and governance, leading to an increase in poverty. According to the Transparency International, corruption is defined as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. Corruption erodes trust, weakens democracy, hampers economic development and further exacerbates inequality, poverty, social division and environmental crisis. Corruption can be found everywhere including in the government, education system, business, healthcare sector, the media, politics, the courts, civil society, and so on and so forth; moreover, most people have engaged in it both directly and indirectly. People usually say that corruption is terrible. Additionally, they also know how serious and dangerous corruption is for their nation, their fellow country people, the world and even themselves. However, have they ever been involved in it? The answer would be “YES, they have, and many are probably still engaging in it.” I personally believe most, if not all, people have engaged in corruption and experienced this issue at least once in their lives. Moreover, I literally think that people engage in corruption because it’s beneficial for them. Politicians, public servants, NGO workers, business people, government officials, journalists, judges, lawyers, and anybody can engage and participate in corrupt activities. Corruption hurts everybody, affects everything and brings about many unspeakable consequences into this whole world. It can take from us, especially young people, the opportunity to learn, develop, grow, improve, seek, and obtain better lives and brighter futures. The young generation play a vital role in contributing to their country’s development. They also represent the future of their own country; essentially, they will be able to become potential leaders of tomorrow. To be the potential youth, they need fair and abundant opportunities in everything; however, everything will be ruined if there are corrupt activities. In fact, corruption not only curtails our opportunities, but it also badly affects every aspect of public services. It devastates the education system, leading to the low quality of education, mismanagement of the school system, lack of availability and quality of educational goods and services, unqualified students and teachers, educational inequality, high rates of unemployment, and so on. Besides, in terms of corruption in the healthcare sector, the judicial system and politics, the more money you have, the more opportunities, justice, power and the best quality of healthcare services you will get. Therefore, people who are in the low income group or in poverty have no chances to obtain quality and equitable access to public services, even if they are the citizens of the country just like the rich and the powerful. Environment, moreover, has also been harmed by the act of corruption. Natural resources, ecosystems and natural wealth are stolen and damaged by corrupters. All of these negatively impact our country’s development, to say the least. There are also a lot more consequences of corruption on people and every aspect of society.  Therefore, it is time to stop any kinds and any forms of corruption in order to save our country for the next generations. Young people are the solution to combat corruption As young people in this generation, we need to start from now to be the solution creators or initiators to fight against any forms of corruption; most importantly, we need to normalize anti-corruption campaigns and make them a norm in our society as well as in this whole world in order to build equality and transparency for all. Young people have to strengthen, renew, refresh and renovate all systems and factors of their own country; especially, the laws, policies, mechanism, procedure and so on in order to make them stronger and more efficient. We also need to ensure the successful and effective policy implementation. Below are some suggestions for youth to make a difference in their country and to fight against corruption. First things first, it all starts within ourselves. We need to be truly and strongly educated, which means we should have knowledge, ability, skills and experience to understand the causes and effects of corruption, as well as understand the laws and mechanisms that the government uses to fight against corruption. We also need to examine and take part in enhancing the implementation of those mechanisms and other strategies to combat corruption. The goal is to innovate the solutions, figure out how to solve all of these problems and enhance the transparency and accountability in all sectors of society. Moreover, we have to value moral, transparent and honest activities as always. Particularly, we need to be committed and avoid engaging in corruption so that we can contribute to minimizing corrupt activities in our society. If we take part in this good social cause actively, sooner or later corruption in our society will be gone.  As young people, we can also inspire and influence other people based on our understanding and commitment to an anti-corruption mindset. We can mobilize other youth to raise public awareness, build understanding, and motivate as well as empower others to be strongly, physically and mentally active in promoting transparency and the anti-corruption system in the country; specifically, we have to act to bring about inspirations and movements against corruption in all aspects in our society. To do so, we can utilize social media platforms because social media is a powerful, effective and quick way to reach out to others. Therefore, we can post and share blogs, vlogs, quotes, pictures, news, perspectives, opinions and so on through the platforms. Moreover, we need to report any activities related to corruption through the internet in order to expose this issue and let others know how bad it is and how we all can work together to solve it. We can conduct online campaigns to engage other youth to form a critical mass to fight against corruption and corrupt people. We can also form small groups in our local communities or large groups with international youth who want to stop the same issue. Additionally, we can discuss, learn from each other and share our points of view or solutions with our friends, colleagues, families, and other youth. This is not only for eliminating corruption but also for addressing other social issues.  We can also work closely with civil society organizations, NGOs, youth groups or even government officials to combat corruption and promote corruption-free society. We need to follow and observe how our taxes are collected and spent. Besides, we should participate and engage in any policy development and implementation activities to enhance effectiveness, transparency and accountability. Engaging in public policy debates and anti-corruption initiatives can enable us to understand the existing corruption policy, how effective the policy is, and what needs to be improved. We need to also understand the gap between the policy and the implementation to find ways to contribute to the effectiveness of policy implementation. Most importantly, we have to expand our understanding and build skills as well as experience on how to resolve and prevent corrupt practices in our communities.   In summary, corruption is unacceptable. It is undeniably, culturally and socially disgraceful. As the young generation, we need to change this diabolical habit and embrace a new system that is free from corruption. We need to step up, raise our voices and take action to ensure that our country and every aspect of our society are corruption-free. Don’t just hate corruption, but stop ourselves from being involved in it.  We need to stop it from stealing our future by starting to kill it now!   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Why Are There Few Cambodian Women in Diplomatic Careers?

Written by: Kong Sreynou, a 3rd-year student majoring in International Studies at Institute of Foreign Languages, RUPP. Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a Ph.D. Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia.  Photo Credit: Royal Academy of Cambodia Media Team The fight for gender equality and equal employment opportunities has been around for decades as most careers were traditionally dominated by men. The fight is bound to get even more vigorous now and in the future. The importance of having an inclusive society where everyone has equal opportunities regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation cannot be overstated. Despite ongoing efforts by the governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), women are still underrepresented in many professions in Cambodia as is the case in many other countries. In the realm of international relations,  a career as a diplomat has always been considered to be one of the most prestigious and important professions. Although female representation in careers in international affairs serves as the public face of any given country in terms of gender representation and empowerment, the number of female diplomats representing Cambodia abroad is still low.  At present, based on the data from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MoFA), there are only two female consul generals out of a total of 12 consul generals appointed to represent Cambodia overseas. The Royal Government of Cambodia attributes this low female representation to prevailing cultural and social norms that make it difficult for women to leave their home and accept an overseas posting. However, there are three main reasons that can explain the underrepresentation of female diplomats engaging in international affairs and diplomatic positions abroad.  First, it is the issue of gender bias that may have contributed to the limited number of women working in international affairs in Cambodia because those positions have been subjugated by men. Thus, it is understandable that overseas diplomatic positions have also been dominated by men. Although the percentage of women representatives has significantly increased since Cambodia began to rebuild itself in the 1990s, women still hold less than 20% of positions in politics. In this context, among 31 Cambodian ambassadors who represent the Royal Embassies of Cambodia abroad, there are only four (0.13%) female ambassadors, according to a report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Furthermore, women's underrepresentation in the diplomatic field can also be influenced by social norms and beliefs which stereotype women as lacking knowledge and skills to perform well diplomatically and internationally. Society also continues to doubt the ability and capacity of women in leadership positions that involve direct dealing with other nations or other nationals. Although the world is moving toward gender equality and putting more effort into empowering women in all sectors, skepticism toward women’s capability remains a critical issue. Many still question whether or not women can be equally as effective and efficient as men.  Second, it is related to individual factors as women have to encounter difficulties in navigating the demands of their family life and career. There is an extra burden for women to ensure that their career aspirations would not have a negative effect on their families. In Cambodia, women tend to have more family responsibilities. They need to look after the children and do a lot of housework. Therefore, paid employment could jeopardize their commitment to their domestic and maternal responsibilities. Moreover, they are constrained by social, cultural, and traditional norms. For example, a popular traditional code of conduct for women, called “Chbab Srey”,  lays out the ways in which a Cambodian woman should behave to be recognized as a good or perfect woman. This code of conduct and other explicit and implicit social norms have caused countless consequences on women’s well-being and their basic and fundamental rights as a person. They have been struggling to enjoy their freedom of choice, movement and expression throughout their lives. These social and cultural constraints have occurred and are contemplated as barriers preventing women from striving for their role in diplomatic positions and other careers. Traditionally, parents have always discouraged their female children to work far from home, let alone working abroad.  There are feelings of anxiety and doubt about their safety and survival because of the widely held belief that women are weak and fragile. This thinking may have somehow influenced how women nowadays aspire to involve themselves in male-dominated careers.  Third, gender disparagement is considered as another major problem that undermines women’s confidence and authority in their careers. Gender disparagement includes issues concerning verbal acts that tend to discredit and degrade women’s gender and their status. It is the demeaning comments about women and statements about women’s dress or appearance that make them lose their confidence to pursue their dream career and professional stature. It also involves repeated interruptions toward women while they are speaking. These interrupting verbal acts have lowered women’s esteem or standing. They could serve as challenges that discourage women from engaging in careers in diplomacy. Furthermore, within the male-dominated professions in the diplomatic sector, some women could also find themselves losing their confidence in voicing their opinions and ideas.  To conclude, in the light of women’s participation in policymaking, women still remain underrepresented in the foreign and diplomatic services. We can see that women are generally being barred from involvement in the realm of international relations for many reasons, ranging from the ongoing gender bias, traditional and cultural norms, and gender disparagement. Although there have been efforts to encourage and promote gender equality, available evidence still depicts the limited representation of women in politics and diplomatic careers. Thus, more efforts are needed to support and empower Cambodian women so that they can fully participate in making decisions within the realm of international affairs.      

For Gender Equality: Misogyny Must Be Stopped

Written by: Tea Sovanmony, a 3rd year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Heng KimKong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia   (Photo Credit: "END MISOGYNY" by UNARMED CIVILIAN is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)   Women’s status has been regulated and controlled by the concept of misogyny which refers to expressions of dislike and mistrust on women, further entrenching prejudice against women. Through misogyny underpinned by the concept of gender norms, the inequality between men and women is subtly integrated into social norms, which is a serious issue. Misogyny is common and can be seen in various platforms such as on social media and in music. The status of women has also been controlled and subjected to linguistic behaviors. Thus, it is important to stop the use of sexist language and misogyny toward women in order to achieve gender equality and put an end to the societal norms that discriminate against women.  The concept of misogyny can be illustrated through discriminatory language such as sexist derogatory slurs. Sexist derogatory slurs are terms that describe the use of bully words to depreciate women in the male dominant society. For instance, women have been the victim of misogyny on social media and bullying in their workplace or school. Some people tend to use sexist derogatory slurs like bitch, slut, or whore to describe women. These words may seem harmless, but they are very offensive toward women. They humiliate women in a way that compares them to objects or people of lowly status. The word “bitch” is objectifying women toward female dogs who are annoying and aggressive. Therefore, these negative terms can harmfully affect women’s status and devalue their important role in society.  Misogyny and sexist derogatory slurs are common in hip-hop music. In the hip-hop society, rappers tend to use sexist slurs like bitch, whore or hoe to add the coolness to their music. For example, in one album consisting of 15 songs, words such as pussy, bitch and hoe were used numerous times to depict women. The use of sexual objectification in hip hop music oppresses women under the perception of sexual use and sexism in society. Sexual objectification is the idea that subjects women to sexual pleasure and treat them as a type of commodity. This is an unfair perception that disregards women’s personality or inner beauty. In the workplace, this type of unjust perception is being used to evaluate women’s status and credibility, which eventually creates inequality between men and women as well as considers men to be better in every perspective of life.  In some cases, women have been misjudged by their monthly menstruation that is linked to their sensitivity at work. It discourages them from moving to a higher position or taking up higher responsibilities. This further contributes to the lack of women’s role models who work in higher positions in society. Therefore, misogyny frames and stereotypes women, making them appear inferior to men all the time. In the process, women are stereotyped to be housekeepers, caregivers, and objects of men’s discussion in both offline and online communities.  Thus, in order to promote gender equality, the concept of societal misogyny must be eliminated. It is unfair to label women through the presence of misogyny and portray them negatively. Women should also not be subject to song lyrics that use misogynistic language to sound cool. There is a need to promote public awareness of the use of gender-sensitive language in public communication. There should be a collective action to stop the use of sexist language in Khmer music as well. We need to also encourage and support women so they can step up and raise their voice whenever they become a victim of misogyny or sexism at schools, universities or workplaces.  Feminist responses to misogynisitic speech and behaviors such as “That wasn’t funny,” or “Actually, that’s an outdated stereotype” may also help. Moreover, as misogyny is now more prevalent online, social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram should put stricter restrictions on posts or comments that suggest misogyny or discrimation against women.  Overall, the concept of misogyny unfairly gives the power of control to men, making them superior to women in most contexts.  Hence, we all need to work together to stop misogynistic speech and behaviors. We should use language in a gender-sensitive way to avoid discriminating against women. We also need to empower them through our encouraging and inclusive words. When misogyny appears  in the workplace, on social media platforms, and in music, it perpetuates gender discrimination that tends to always stereotype women as incapable or unworthy.   To promote gender equality,  respect, value and equal opportunities need to be given to women to encourage and empower them. We need to support women to build their confidence and see their self worth. When women are empowered, not discriminated against, they will be able to contribute more to the development of our society.   Thus, misogyny should be discouraged and stopped. We all need to enhance  women’s social status and show more appreciation to them.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Cambodia Should Consider Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Written by: Tol Chhourkimheng, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Education from The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia Photo Credit: "IMGP3478" by mattbuck4950 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Introduction “We can get married by following the Cambodian tradition and culture, but we don’t have legal recognition.” This is a statement I heard from LGBTIQ people. The term LGBTIQ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer. The government, non-governmental organizations, and youth groups have put in numerous efforts to advocate for LGBTIQ rights and to stop discrimination against LGBTIQ people. At the meeting with LGBTIQ people, Keo Remy, head of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, declared that “the government had called for an end to discrimination against the LGBTIQ community and supported all forms of freedom of expression.” This is the positive movement towards LGBTIQ people from the government. Thus far, 29 countries have legalized same-sex marriage, and among those, Taiwan is the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. In Cambodia, same-sex marriage is not legalized yet. Article 45 in the Cambodian constitution stated that “[….] Marriage shall be conducted according to conditions determined by law based on the principle of mutual consent between one husband and one wife.” Similarly, Article 6 of the law on marriage and family published in 1989 stated that “A marriage shall be prohibited as to: a person whose sex is the same sex as the other; […]” These articles prohibited same-sex marriage.  Meanwhile, while the 2007 Civil Code and the 2011 Law on the Implementation of the Civil Code revoked the prohibition of same-sex marriage, they did not mention the legalization of same-sex marriage. The absence of the legal recognition of same-sex marriage has caused numerous problems to LGBTIQ people. The government should therefore do something to ensure that everyone is equal, secured, protected by the law, and no one is left behind. Legal same-sex marriage is a pathway to minimize and get rid of the discrimination and prejudice against LGBTIQ people.    Why Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Matters According to a video interview with one LGBTIQ person, there are two essential factors that played a crucial role in legalizing same-sex marriage. First, legal recognition grants LGBTIQ people full rights as citizens so they can live without worry, fear, and concern about discrimination and hatred from other people. Second, their family will be recognized by the authority, allowing them to have equal accessibility to the public service.  In a report conducted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) with 121 current or former members of rainbow couples (i.e., same-sex couples), 96 respondents answered “Yes, a lot” to the question “Is marriage important to you?” 32 respondents agreed that marriage is a core value to fit with the cultural tradition. 11 respondents viewed marriage as a way to gain recognition from relatives or the public. Nine respondents determined that marriage helps to validate a long and loving relationship. Four respondents reported that marriage brings happiness and strength to their relationship, whilst 24 respondents claimed that marriage could improve equality or human rights. Moreover, three respondents stated that marriage can help to gain recognition from the authorities or the law. In the same report, 94 respondents feel that legalizing same-sex marriage would help to reduce discrimination against LGBTIQ people. Among those 94 respondents, many of them recognized the necessity and power of the law. Therefore, LGBTIQ people view marriage as a fundamental value to fit with the culture, obtain more recognition, validate long-term relationships, bring happiness, and protect their rights. Legalizing same-sex marriage will therefore help to reduce and eliminate the discrimination against LGBTIQ people. The government should take all these possible consequences into consideration and consider legalizing same-sex marriage.   Without the law, how do same-sex couples jointly own property? How do they divide the property when getting a divorce? Without legal recognition, same-sex couples cannot access the legal facilitation on the settlement of their property, expense, and income. For instance, Article 971 of the Civil Code stated that “husband and wife shall share the expenses of married life, taking into account their property, income and all other circumstances.” Furthermore, Article 972 stated that “the types of property listed below shall be treated as separate property belonging to one of the spouses alone: a) property held by a spouse from before the marriage; b) property acquired by a spouse during the marriage by gift, succession, or testamentary gift; c) property obtained as the consideration for disposing of property described in items (a) or (b) above.” These two articles are proof that only husband and wife who are heterosexual can access this legal facilitation on the division of their property and protection by the law.   People might ask: If same-sex couples also want to have children, how can they make it happen? Presently, we are living in the era of modern technology. Same-sex couples can have children by adoption, using In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other methods. There is evidence that, a same-sex couple in Cambodia has successfully used IVF, and their child is growing up. However, there is no legal recognition of the children of same-sex couples. It is important to note that there are two kinds of child adoption: full adoption and simple adoption. Article 1008 of the Civil Code declared that “(1) In order to become an adopter, a person must have a spouse. […]” Since there is no legal recognition for same-sex marriage, the adoption of children by same-sex couples cannot be protected by the law. On May 23, 2021, I conducted an interview with SOTH Peosamnang, an LGBTIQ activist Samnang said: Personally, I think Cambodia should definitely consider legalizing same-sex marriage because it will create an equal opportunity for everyone, especially for LGBTIQ+ rights. One more thing, it is one of the top priority advocacy plans for LGBTIQ+ rights. Legalizing same-sex marriage will lead Cambodia to become more brilliant in terms of respecting diverse gender identities, and also it is one of the points that the Cambodian government has approved with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) committee. Moreover, it is very important for the LGBTIQ+ community in Cambodia to access the legal supporting documents regarding their needs to make a family book, adopt children, and do other crucial things which need legal documents such as a marriage certificate. I Strongly Advocate for the Legalization of Same-Sex Marriage Personally, I stand with and strongly advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage for three significant reasons. First, everyone is born equal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People are equal; thus, the discrimination against gender identity and sexual orientation has to be eradicated. Every citizen is willing to follow the culture and tradition of the country with no discrimination and prejudice. While straight people have opportunities to get married, LGBTIQ people should do too. Second, culture plays a key part in people’s lives. However, the presence of law is more essential to assure all citizens can live in peace, harmony, fairness, and equality. If the law serves only specific groups of people, division in the society will occur. Some parts of the culture also give weight to the law. Nevertheless, the law can be amended and updated from generation to generation because the world is moving forward, and the movement has to get better, not worse, for everyone. Imagine that a child of an opposite-sex couple has the legal family book and is fully protected by the law while the child of the same-sex couple doesn’t have this fortune. How can the state ensure the safety, security, and rights of children of same-sex couples? Thus, by having legal recognition, LGBTIQ people can claim fair benefits at work as other people can. For example, some work missions outsides the country allow opposite-sex couples to bring their family along by virtue of the bonding and well-being of the family, but how about same-sex families? If they want to bring along their family, how will they do with no legal recognition? Additionally, some workplaces give employment benefits including insurance and other benefits to spouses and children of heterosexual staff by using the family books and marriage certificates. In contrast, same-sex couples cannot access these legal documents, making them unable to access the various benefits offered by their employers.  Third, as Cambodia is a democratic country, all Cambodian citizens should be able to access public services, live equally, raise their voices and concerns, take part in social decisions, and have freedom. No one is superior to another because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. All citizens should be protected by the government and the law with no exception. Thus, legalizing same-sex marriage will guarantee that LGBTIQ people can live as full citizens protected by the law. They are human resources who participate and engage in social decision-making. The legalization of same-sex marriage responds to the characteristics of a democratic country that put its citizen above all else.   Conclusion The government, non-governmental organizations, and youth groups have been committed to combating the discrimination against LGBTIQ people. However, the lack of legal recognition of self-identity and same-sex marriage is still a major issue that needs to be addressed by the Cambodian government. While many heterosexual couples enjoy their wedding legally and are protected by the law, same-sex couples do not have that chance yet. This is the case of “same same but different,” meaning that LGBTIQ people live with us in the same society and country, but they are treated differently. It is time that the Cambodian government seriously consider the legalization of same-sex marriage and makes a new history for the LGBTIQ community in Cambodia.  

Toxic Masculinity and Its Impact on Gender Equality 

Written by: Virak Kanhapich, a 3rd year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Heng KimKong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia   (Photo Credit: "Cambodia Women Entrepreneurship Programme" by ILO in Asia and the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   When it comes to whether or not one is ready for marriage, men are oftentimes assessed on their ability to have a stable job, high income and assets, while women tend to be subjected to criteria such as cooking and housekeeping skills as well as their understanding of childcare. As a matter of fact, all of the above factors are not specific or bound to any specific gender, yet why do people still associate them with a specific gender and not the other? Despite the wrong perceptions which still exist in contemporary society, women are more than just white clothes. If men are gold, so are women. Traditional stereotyping jeopardizes all genders and its consequences lead to a patriarchal system that creates numerous issues. In everyday’s life, toxic masculinity can appear in a subtle way that you may fail to notice. It does not come with obvious displays of aggression or discrimination, and thus it is unknowlingly passed down on a daily basis.  So what is toxic masculinity and what are its traits? According to Cambridge Dictionary, masculinity refers to “characteristics that are traditionally thought to be typical or suitable for men”. Toxic masculinity is the society’s perception and cultural pressure towards manliness for how a man should or should not behave, thereby creating extreme pressure for men. In many ways, it glorifies unethical practices and further plays its part in creating gender inequality due to its nature. Owing to such pressure, it is often assumed that men must obtain powers and be respected while rejecting anything that is considered feminine or weak even if it is an ethical and responsible act. For instance, in everyday life, males are less likely to feed their child because it is seen to be feminine work and most men will be frowned upon if their wife has a higher income. There is nothing wrong with it, but because of the social and cultural pressure, it is viewed as unusual or wrong.  Research has shown that hegemonic masculinity includes being brave and strong physically, being the breadwinner, being dominant, and most importantly, never being “girly” or showing any form of weakness. In order to see how faulty this idea is, some questions should be taken into consideration. Why do males always have to be the breadwinner? Why must males be the one who always pays? Why do men have to be strong and muscular? We can see that there is no rational or concrete answer to these questions because there is no senseful answer to something that is nonsensical. When males are still being subjected to these stereotypes, women will also be subjected to other stereotypes for females because both genders are treated unequally. By believing that men should be strong and muscular, it sets a stereotype that women must be weak and petite. Women who are bigger in size or stronger in strength than men will be stigmatized and frowned upon for something that is completely acceptable for females. By believing that males have to be the breadwinner, it puts many girls’ education in jeopardy because society believes that women do not have to study or work hard because they will be supported by their spouses. However, it is more than just pressure and stereotyping. It is one of the main causes of gender-based violence. Toxic masculinity made men believe that they should not be weak and therefore they tend to resort to aggression and violence to solve problems. In Cambodia, gendered norms and behaviours are attributed to codes of conduct such as Chbab Srey (rules for women) and Chbab Proh (rules for men). These rules set social expectations for men and women; however, Chbab Srey outlines strict rules for women, which cutails their rights as a human being and helps to perpetuate gender inequality in society.  Meanwhile, a study published by Partners for Prevention found that patriarchal hierarchies gave powers to men and in many cases, it can put women at further risk of violence. The patriarchal society system in Cambodia made violence common in so many households as men often felt some sort of entitlement and superiority. It is embodied in man that such actions are acceptable because they are the head of the family. Gender-based violence in Cambodia is a huge concern. In 2015, 21 percent of Cambodian women experienced physical and sexual violence according to a national survey commissioned by the Cambodian government and the United Nations. As a consequence of  the code of conduct that teaches women to respect males in all situations, most women victims stayed silent, fuelling the notion of toxic masculinity to continue in the society. A survey conducted by four United Nation agencies in 2013 showed that one in five of  the 2000 male reponsdents had attempted or committed violence against women. Many cases of violence went undocumented as they were  unreported or as some believed domestic violence is a normal within the household.  In short, power imbalance in gender can subsequently be internalized by the young generation as the blueprint of future society; henceforth, there is a need to put a stop to toxic masculinity and empower women to achieve gender equality. It is saddening that we live in a society where toxic masculinity is so ingrained that almost everybody experiences its effects at some point with or without knowing. Therefore, it is  necessary that everybody take actions and start noticing unconscious gender biases in order to speak up and obliterate the unnecessary and illogical stereotypes that are detrimental to all people regardless of their gender.  *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Corruption in Cambodia: Causes, Impacts and Ways Forward to Eliminate It

Written by: Han Noy, a 3rd year student majoring in International Relations at Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng KimKong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia     (Photo Credit: Corruption Perceptions Index 2020, Transparency International)   The Government of Cambodia has made some progress  in combating corruption through three means such as education, prevention, and legal implementation. Education is used to educate, inspire and disseminate anti-corruption laws as well as to show the impact of corruption and the role of civic participation  in reducing and eradicating corruption. Prevention measures have simultaneously been introduced alongside education to discourage people from committing corruption. Law enforcement also goes hand in hand with prevention​ and education measures.​ The grievance redressal mechanism has received a generally positive evaluation from the plaintiffs. However, despite what has been done, corruption is still pervasively practiced in Cambodia. According to the Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, Cambodia received a score of 21 out of a total 100 points. Despite an improvement of one point since 2018, the report placed Cambodia at number 160 in the global ranking among 180 countries and territories. Considering this rank, Cambodia’s corruption seems very deeply rooted, systematic, and hard to eliminate. The causes of corruption in Cambodia There are many factors which contribute to corruption in Cambodia, but based on my observation, there are four key factors. First, the culture of corruption. As we can see, Cambodian people normally perceive that giving an unofficial fee in order to get things done fast is just a gift for public officers; they normally don't  think it  is a kind of corruption but just “tea money”. Also, some people of course offer unofficial fees to public officers even when not being requested to do so if everything goes well for them. Research by International Transparency Cambodia shows that the culture of corruption has been rated as the most significant reason for paying unofficial fees.  It was found that 47 out of 100 participants had paid unofficial fees. Similarly, some participants answered that the general culture of corruption had pervaded the country when asked to explain the issue of corruption. What has been mentioned above is generally seen by Cambodians as a normal thing while foreigners consider that act as a form of corruption. Second, it is a lack of law enforcement. For instance, the law enforcement is not really effective and efficient since those who implement the law often get bribed from people who are committing crimes, so criminal cases are often ignored and law abusers are allowed to go free to carry out their wrongdoing again. Specifically, in the case of business, as reported by Transparency International Cambodia, “53 participants think that the lack of law enforcement is a factor that engenders the payment of unofficial fees. The lack of law enforcement engenders the payment of unofficial costs on a day-to-day basis, for example with the inspections, as well as in the registration process. Lack of law enforcement also contributes significantly to the fact that a large number of companies are unregistered and do not pay taxes.” Besides, those who did not register just claimed that it was too tortuous or too costly for registration which was not balanced to the income they could earn. Indeed, most small medium enterprises run in unofficial ways, so officials just tolerate them because they can take advantage of this as well. This is not to mention other sectors, but we can see that it is operating in similar ways. Third, a lack of an independent and effective judicial system is also a  factor which perpetuates corruption. The judicial system is often of little help to victims of corruption. According to the 2020 Global Corruption Barometer, Cambodian citizens perceive the judiciary as the sector most affected by corruption after police, local government councilors, and government officials. The judiciary has proclaimed its independence, but this is just only on paper. As we can see, all judges and all prosecutors are appointed by the Cambodian People’s Party which is the ruling party right now, and there are a lot of examples that show cases of executive interference. For example, judges get intimidated by security forces, and there have been cases of “arbitrary dismissal of judges, [and] charges being dropped after the executive’s intervention.” Based on a report by Transparency International Cambodia, “53 interviewees were of the opinion that the weak judicial system in the country is an important factor that contributes to the payment of unofficial fees. Furthermore, only a third of the participants said that they would use the court system if they had an important corruption problem. The lack of an effective judicial system therefore contributes to the lack of accountability of many people.” Fourth, the lack of transparency and accountability is another cause of  corruption as well. As I have often seen, public officials not do not really adhere to their roles and obligations. They may not think that they have the role to serve the public. Thus, they normally commit corruption to serve their self-interest. For example, according to the Transparency International Cambodia’s report ,“48 interviewees thought that they had to pay unofficial fees during the registration process, 22 of them thought they did not have to do so, while the rest did not know about the registration process. Some interviewees mentioned that they would register their company as soon as the online process works. One of the interviewees recently registered her company by herself, referring to the form online but indicating that it did not work.” All of these show the lack of transparency and accountability of public officials, so whether we want it or not, corruption is set to occur. Impacts of corruption on people’s lives and Cambodia’s development Corruption negatively impacts the daily lives of people. Our freedom, dignity, value, and livelihood will be damaged when corruption does not decrease in our country. For example, when money for the public interest has been stolen to serve self-interest or personal benefits only, our life will be full of darkness, inequality, and injustice since the state budget which should serve the public interest goes to a group of people or individuals who hold power or have the opportunity to commit corruption.  Moreover, it erodes democratic freedom, the rule of law and trust in the government. Corruption reduces our chances for a healthy environment and sustainable future. For instance, when money meant to tackle the climate crisis is stolen, that’s our future being taken from us. When money meant to improve our local schools, hospitals, and roads is snatched away, opportunities for a better life are lost with it. When money meant to improve our government and rule of law is stolen, so too is our chance for a more just and secure future. Furthermore, when we want to access public services such as public schools, public clinics, identity documents, and health centers, but we are required to pay a bribe or use the connection to get things done while all of these are free for all people, we will continue to suffer from inequality and impacts of corruption.   According to the 2020 Global Corruption Barometer, 37% of Cambodian people paid a bribe and 6% used personal connections for public services. If you are rich, it’s fine to offer bribes to public officials, but what if you are poor, how can you get access to the public service in an equal and efficient manner. This issue is really concerning and common in Cambodian society as well. What can we do to eliminate it? In order to curb and eliminate corruption, we first need to have effective law enforcement because when we have effective law enforcement which is supported by strong legal frameworks, law enforcement branches, and an independent and effective court system, those who commit corruption will be punished. Thus, whether they want it or not, they automatically dare not to perpetrate corruption. However, when law enforcement is not strong and efficient, those  who engage in corruption will continue to be corrupt. In addition, promoting transparency and access to information is also an essential approach to combat corruption. As we can see, countries which are successful in halting corruption mostly “have a long tradition of government openness, freedom of press, transparency and access to information.” Similarly, when access to information is free, the government bodies will be more responsive, transparent, and accountable. As a result, this will of course increase the level of public participation. Furthermore, empowering the citizens is a long-term approach to fight against corruption. When people are empowered, there will be an increase in demand for anti-corruption and for holding the government more accountable. Also, this is how we can fabricate the reciprocal confidence between the citizens and the government. For instance, citizens can initiate community monitoring frameworks which can help to detect and reduce corruption as well as improve the quality of the public service.  Conclusion In conclusion, corruption exists everywhere, and it is undeniable that no state is free from corruption. However, the difference is that some countries have a high percentage of corruption while others can keep corruption under control. As our country has a bad record of corruption, it is crucial we find ways to jointly subvert it. Corruption is a true enemy to development, and our nation will not have a bright future with rampant corruption. As US President Joe Biden once said, “Corruption is a cancer: A cancer that eats away a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity.” To eliminate it, it starts from each of us because we are the change agent; we cannot wait for others to do it for us since it is unlikely to happen. The fight against corruption starts with all of us!   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

What Can Cambodia Do to Avert the Microfinance Crisis?  

Written by: Khim Pichmolika, a 4th year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Central Market from Sorya Mall" by Rambo2100 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   Microfinance has become a new paradigm of development in terms of poverty alleviation and financial inclusion. It is because the services reach out to households who commonly can access traditional commercial banking services, of whom include low-income, self-employed, or informally employed individuals, with limited or no ownership titles on their assets and formal identification papers.  In Cambodia, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have continued to gain momentum over the past two decades. This sector previously emerged as a non-profit microcredit project in the early 1990s to fill in the non-existent banking services with support from the government and financial aid from international donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  Usually, microfinance is the service for the poor, and it has significantly developed from five MFIs in 2000 to seven deposit-taking MFIs and 75 non-deposit-taking MFIs in 2019. Between 2015 and 2019, the microfinance portfolio jumped by 158%, with the number of borrowers only  (Source: Microfinance Index of Market Outreach and Saturation—Cambodia. European Microfinance Platform.)   increasing only 14% in the same four-year period. By the end of 2019, more than 2.6 million Cambodians held more than USD 10 billion in microloans with an average of USD 3,804 per person, becoming far exceeding the GDP per capita of the country and the highest microloan size in the world.  With years of economic disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the partial withdrawal of the European Union’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preferences in August 2020, it has become apparent that microloans in Cambodia are accumulating to unsustainable levels.   Both borrowers and lenders engender the unsustainable growth of microcredit. On the demand side, microloans —mostly collateralized by borrowers’ land or house titles — are taken to accommodate the households’ basic needs rather than support income generation. It has put them at risk of losing their lands and human rights abuses. On the supply side, some MFIs exploit the lending practices of microloans by charging high interest rates, demanding land titles as collateral, and targeting impoverished clients who are vulnerable to land loss. Microfinance trends in Cambodia over the past five years include the tenfold increase of average loan as well as the share of loans for consumption needs, and the portfolio-at-risk due to the poor penetration of financial instruments, deteriorating lending practices, and low financial literacy.  A few trends from MFI borrowers have become noticeable as well. Any families unable to pay their debt and unwilling to lose their lands pull their children from school and force them to take a job or send them abroad to earn income. Due to Covid-19, many workers become jobless and can't send back remittance home, which is the most common source of repayment, will force indebted households to sell their land or give up on their land listed as collateral.  Cambodia’s microfinance market is highly saturated. Between 2016 and 2019, the data on the number of loans disbursed by size reveals another intriguing development. The share of the small loans between $500 to $1,000 increased significantly while the volume of the smallest loans below $500 decreased dramatically. At the same time, the share of bigger loans from $5,000 to $20,000 doubled, and above $20,000 tripled. This data suggests a dangerous situation in which the industry competition is significantly based on larger loan sizes for big enterprises and wealthier households rather than expanding the reach to the lowest-end groups.   (Source: Microfinance Index of Market Outreach and Saturation—Cambodia. European Microfinance Platform.)   Household consumption remains the primary purpose for borrowers to take on microfinance loans, followed by agricultural activities, consumer durables purchase, and the purchase/improvement of dwelling. Borrowers tend to see microfinance loans as easy money that they can borrow to spend on basic needs or residences and consumer durables to upgrade their lifestyles, all of which are not profitable. This improper use of loans can induce enormous social and economic consequences of over-indebtedness, and default rates loom large because of the covenant practice from MFIs in which borrowers listed their land title as collateral. (Source: Cambodia Socio-Economic Survey 2017. National Institute of Statistics.)   Concerning the unprecedented time of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are short-term and long-term recommendations to address the issues. Regarding the long-term strategy, there are pivotal approaches to mitigating the consequences on the poor and the economy, which can be applicable for both the demand side and supply side of the microfinance industry.  The short-term action should be the immediate interventions from the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) and the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) on loan repayments and interest accrual that have become the biggest concerns of millions of microfinance borrowers in Cambodia. After the pandemic first hit Cambodia, the government has not yet laid out any effective regulation or policy to ease the burdens of borrowers. In March 2020, the RGC urged banks and MFIs to delay repayment due dates and refrain from confiscating the property of any borrowers affected by the pandemic. The NBC provided more liquidity to specialized banks and MFIs, allowing them to lower interest rates and restructuring loans for borrowers in four vulnerable areas: (1) tourism (including hotels, guest houses, restaurants, food and beverage suppliers, service activities, and other support services); (2) textile and garment manufacturing (including employees); (3) construction (exclusively for first-time house/shop owner loans and mortgages); and (4) transport (specifically taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers) and logistics, all of which were valid until 31 December 2020. These requests did not clearly define the characteristics of borrowers that would be qualified and clarify what kind of relief to offer, which left room for financial institutions to conduct their measures for restructuring loans. Thus, the RGC and NBC must promptly share the economic burdens of borrowers by issuing practical policies on suspending loan repayments and interest accrual with a specific guideline on characteristics of beneficiaries, types of relief to offer, and institution responsibility. Meanwhile, the long-term strategy involves promoting financial literacy on the demand side and scrutinizing the regulation on lending practices on the supply side. Boosting financial literacy among people, in general, should be a necessary step for the RGC and NBC. Policymakers also need to work closely with relevant stakeholders that can effectively promote financial literacy. The NBC can first begin by forging a partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sport to integrate financial literacy subjects into the primary and high school curriculum. The two institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2019, but it needs more engagement and measurement to ensure successful implementation, especially after schools go online.  Likewise, NBC should also collaborate with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MoVT) to expand its project reach to the workforce. According to the Standard & Poor’s Rating Services Global Financial Literacy Survey conducted in 2015, only 18% of Cambodian adults are financially literate. It means the MoVT appears to be a suitable counterpart of NBC in promoting financial literacy to the adult population.  I also want to touch upon the use of technology as it is one of the challenges facing many Cambodians, which has long been hindering their access to education. NBC has to include international organizations and non-governmental organizations as chief stakeholders because they have the financial and technical capacity to promote financial literacy.  Last but not least, the RGC and NBC have the task to regulate the microfinance sector before the imminent problems turn ungovernable. In addition to that, there should be effective regulation of the interest rates. In 2017, the Cambodian government capped microfinance industry interest rates to 18% just months before the Commune/Sangkat elections. There have been debates whether this action was to help microfinance borrowers or politically motivated. Many scholars have already claimed it was a political stunt without proper consideration of the consequences. They further argue that the lower interest rates induce borrowing and increase the debt burden among small borrowers. The lending practices of MFIs need to be closely reviewed and revised if necessary to tame the microfinance sector in Cambodia. If this sector remains loosely monitored, many borrowers, especially the poor, will continue to be exploited and abused by the MFIs. Ultimately, the microfinance industry has become unsustainable based on the massive growth of portfolios beyond comparison to the expansion of gross national income per capita in the last few years. Fear of insolvency soars among the poor as debt repayment becomes more threatening to their livelihood than getting infected by Covid-19. It is true that these people are among the hardest-hit who have been waiting for effective intervention by the government to relieve their burdens.  All in all, the absence of basic financial literacy skills necessary for making informed financial decisions and management has been a significant culprit of the debt crisis. It, of course, also allows MFIs to exploit borrowers and might dangerously embolden households to take on loans without specific and proper plans for spending and repayment.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Press Freedom in Cambodia Suffers Degeneration During COVID-19 Pandemic 

Written by: Chea Sameang, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Ambassador Heidt held a press conference to discuss United States-Cambodia relations on September 12." by USEmbassyPhnomPenh is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)   During the annual celebration of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, many journalism organizations and NGOs in Cambodia gathered to discuss and seek solutions to the challenges facing them. With the 2015 Telecommunication Law and the establishment of the National Internet Gateway, people raise concerns that the regulations can be powerful tools for the government to curtail and manipulate online information. If this is the case, it will likely become a successful platform for the government to quash critics and comments made by the public and civil society groups on the decline in press freedom, and a slowdown in democratic development. Speaking of challenges, Cambodian journalists have encountered diverse threats from a series of attacks by unknown assailants to arrest for repeating the government's words and harassments by authorities while covering sensitive issues, including land conflicts, loss of wetland, deforestation as well as other political issues.  Harassment and restrictions still hold Article 41 of the Constitution stipulates that “Khmer citizens shall have freedom of expression, press, publication”, and the Law of Press in 1995 is a means to guarantee freedom of journalists to press ideas or publish their stories without fear and censorship. However, they continue to face incitement charges, which continue to be a gigantic roadblock for them to break the cycle of social injustice.  Noticeably, Cambodia's freedom of the press remains among the worst, with a rank of 144 out of 180 countries, according to the 2020 press freedom index by Reporter Without Borders. Moreover, journalists have also been facing both physical and legal harassment. According to a 2020 report by Cambodia Journalist Alliance Association, there were 35 cases of harassment against 72 journalists, and 22 journalists were either attacked or threatened. Among them, 42 were detained for questioning or imprisoned for committing a felony. People may question why these still happen given that the government appears to value the role of journalists in developing society. People may still remember that Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen openly articulated that he considered journalists as good partners of the government, and he even went on to say that he would be a mentor of reporters after retiring from politics while calling on journalists to report facts and eliminate fake news. Even though it sounded promising, in reality, journalists continue to be targeted because of their role in keeping a free and informed society. And speaking of tackling fake news, the government has not seemingly been in solidarity with journalists in addressing the issues but instead tries to use the reason of combating disinformation and misinformation aiming to restrict their works.   Covid 19 creates more challenges for journalists  To curb the spread of the virus and manage the public crisis, the Cambodian government has created many regulations, including the law on the control of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases. But the legal tools have not only been used to stem the spread of the disease but also prevent journalists from performing their duties effectively.  As we know, news updates on Covid-19 cases and administrative or health measures taken by the government during a public health crisis are critical for citizens. But it had been more challenging during the recent lockdown. Based on my observation, journalists have faced three challenges. These include fear of legal consequences, difficulties in providing accurate information, and deterioration of mental wellbeing. First, when journalists work on sensitive issues especially linked to high-ranking officials and financially powerful people, they risk facing threats and being arrested or detained. This risk discourages them from seeking to cover the sensitive issues.  Second, as a working process, professional journalists need to conduct interviews verbally or face to face to have more accurate and colorful information on a subject matter they are covering. However, in early May, the Ministry of Information ordered journalists to stop reporting from the “red zones,” arguing that some journalists had misled the public through their live streaming on social media with comments on health-related and technical incidents. That, it said, could cause social unrest and increased the risk of Covid-19 spreading. With this restriction, journalists could not go out doing field reports. Without conducting physical interviews and observing the scene with their own eyes, it is hard for them to provide accurate and sufficient information to the public, given that news is vital for their daily life. Third, work from home has created mental challenges, and for journalists who are accustomed to going out, it is even more challenging. As I have talked to one VOD journalist, she told me, and I quote: “I just stay inside my home struggling, I am not able to do the stories I want to do due to travel restrictions. It is hard to contact sources during the lockdown; I feel emotionally drained after sitting in front of the screen inside my house for too long. I don’t feel as energetic and productive [as I used to].” Journalism: a mirror of the government  Even though journalists can dig out the stories and inform everything the public needs to know,​​​​​ misfortune still follows them. And the fear of physical violence and the legal dispute continues to be a part of their profession. But, in times of pandemic, people understand the value and the importance of news updates on the spread of the disease and its daunting impacts, and we can’t imagine a life without news. Therefore, ensuring efficient and comprehensive access to information and promotion of information access is in greater need. For professional journalists, protecting the public interest is their chief responsibility. It is crucial that they strictly uphold their professionalism and adhere to the code of conduct. However, not all journalists are practical and professional, and we all agree.  But in a country where democracy is slightly progressing like Cambodia, journalists become even more essential, acting as messengers who can carry truthful evidence towards the public. They also have to be a watchdog who can hold the government accountable for its actions and dig deep to find reliable information for the sake of the public interest.  Another problem I want to raise here is rising disinformation and misinformation. By saying that, we need more professional journalists who can work as truth providers. As fake news is widespread, the government and all stakeholders need to work together in partnership to support journalists in a fight against fake news.  Most importantly, it can be a good partner and a mirror for the government to reflect its actions, eventually contributing to the reform process of public policy and governance. No society could indeed build transparency and accountability without the involvement of professional journalists.  However, in the context of Cambodia, moving toward a democratic society appears to be far from reality as media freedom remains restricted if not under attack. For example, independent newspaper Cambodia Daily was shut down while some outlets faced license revocation.  Promoting and supporting journalism for good  My explanation could already prove that journalism is not an easy job, and with that comes a great responsibility where the story moves, no matter if there is jeopardy and uncertainty. To do so, journalists need to risk their life if they are committed to covering the sensitive issue in a hostile environment as it can affect the interests of affluent people and other political elites.  But the government has a responsibility to protect journalists and ensure that the freedom of the press is free. By saying so, it means journalists can freely practice their profession with no harm, threats, harassment, or fear of arrest and imprisonment.   And the government must also avoid discrediting the works of journalists and silence them for reporting truths. Following the constitution and press law, the government should not use the criminal code to stifle the voice of journalists through arresting, detaining, and jailing them if it is a democratic nation, as it repeatedly proclaims. Instead, the government should educate them, taking serious action to support and engage with professional journalists and provide them with more training to upskill their professional capability.  Not only the government but non-governmental organizations and journalism associations also have the responsibility to support journalists. They can provide legal protection, daily support, and mental health consultation, especially during times of crisis.  All in all, these are the key steps to ensure the quality of freedom of the press. It will allow all people, regardless of their backgrounds, to gain access to good quality information, which in return will significantly contribute to building a democratic and vibrant society.   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors. 

A Guide to Combating Colorism in Cambodia 

Written by: Keo Priyanith, a fresh graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations from Paragon International University Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Black Women Matter" by Miki J. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)   Whenever a Cambodian beauty queen participates in a beauty pageant, it can gather a large viewership on Facebook.  Cambodia has only taken part in beauty pageant contests in recent years. Therefore, it makes sense that beauty pageant contestants amass a large following on social media. Many Cambodians feel pride in seeing their nation represented on an international stage.  However, when Miss Grand International 2020 was crowned, during which Cambodia had a participating candidate, pride turned bitter while the comments on Facebook became less than gratifying. One main reason is: Miss Abena Appiah is Black.  Miss Abena, a Ghanese-American singer, was sure to stand out from the crowd in the Thailand-based beauty pageant, with a large Asian audience.  While the nature of such competitions dictates that there will be fans left unsatisfied, this particular crowning moment was different as it became more sinister. The negative comments mostly revolved around the reigning beauty queen’s skin color, with many hinting at the ridiculousness that a black woman was chosen as the winner of a beauty contest. I came across some demeaning social media posts circulated with many unacceptable comments and those include: "Iced latte is out, and black coffee is in", "My whitening lotion is still on sale", and "With such black armpits, how can you confidently wear sleeveless clothing." With this kind of action, one might believe that the ideas of colorism are still as prevalent as ever, and it will not be going anywhere soon.  These things could not happen without reason. In the past few years, mainstream pop culture in Cambodia seemed to be stuck in a time loop, seemingly unable to evolve past the 1950s. A local production house produced a music video with lyrics going, "Your face is so beautiful, but you are so chubby." Sales of whitening lotions are still widely available. Blackface routinely appears every few years.  However, despite this mounting evidence, I believe that the situation is not as dire as it may initially appear. My observation is that anyone, who willfully degrades another human being for their skin color, has to encounter myriads of people who are ready to dissect and discuss the fact that there is no place in modern Cambodia for such anachronistic views.  Colorism, the tendency to favor lighter-skinned people over those with darker skin, has a deep-rooted history and has been a long-held and prevalent view across Asia, and Cambodia is no exception. We can distinguish colorism from its evil cousin, racism, by investigating the intent. Racists discriminate based on membership in a particular ethnic group, whereas colorists are prejudiced against people having a darker skin tone.  Given that colorism had a colorful past in Cambodia, the influence of Western pop culture in the past decades has had a contesting force in undermining the problem of colorism. And cultural diffusion from the western world should also not be understated and disregarded.  On the topic of colorism, I have a solid reason to believe that young Cambodian millennials share the same view as I do as being black is not synonymous with being unattractive. And no one should be appraised by the color of their skin.  Amidst the drama of Miss Grand International, groups of people swamped comments on the posts that had connotations of colorism. They rebuked negative statements with valid, elaborate, and well-thought-out views on why they were wrong. Hours later, people withdrew their colorism comments while, for public figures, it pressured them to make apology statements.  Despite this, it is impossible to conclude that these individuals have altered their ways of thinking. We cannot be sure if they have genuinely come to accept that colorism is unacceptable and wrong. However, it should be considered a success that it is no longer tolerable for people who demean others for their skin color.  Speaking of the success, however, I recognize that it remains inadequate. In everyday interactions, comments mocking others of their skin color continue to be a common occurrence. Women often fall victim to unsolicited advice, which tells them to stay indoors or avoid any specific color in their wardrobe because it will not look good on people with dark skin. On the other hand, lighter-skinned people often get favorable treatment because of the misunderstanding that fair skin is only inherent to those of the upper class.  Although colorism remains an obstacle for our community, we can also do more to tackle it. I believe it can begin with a conversation on social media. It should also take place in real-life situations. Anyone making colorism statements must not escape without repercussions.  Meanwhile, education has a role to play in the effort to make a change as well. By modeling anti-colorist behavior, such as correcting students when they make fun of the skin color of their peers, teachers can set good examples for them. Oftentimes, there is no ill intentions or malice behind colorism but simply a lack of awareness and unintentional ignorance of some people. So, integrating lessons on inclusivity in the school curriculum, not just on colorism, but also LGBTQ+, racism, and other subject matters can eventually contribute to solutions. Such education should not be confined to just in the classroom but should also occur in real life through books, entertainment content, and conversations.  In terms of entertainment content, producers also have a role in addressing the issue of colorism. They should mull on creating characters that break free from the stereotypes of colorism; dark-skinned people are often portrayed as unattractive suitors or a person of low intelligence or from the countryside. Instead, writers, directors, and producers should strive to demonstrate that skin color has no presence in human intelligence or merit.  There are also steps we can take as individuals to prevent colorism from going unpunished. Individually, we must take time to reflect on our own words and actions for any unchecked implicit biases. Implicit biases are the attitudes and beliefs that occur outside of our conscious awareness and control. In other words, you might hold certain biases against dark-skinned people without even knowing it. To tackle implicit or unconscious bias, you can try adjusting your perspective or at least viewing things from other people’s points of view. And you also need to educate yourself on what unconscious biases are, how they arise and how to spot them in yourself and others.  It is also a good idea to practice having meaningful and nonaggressive discussions on heated topics like colorism. Instead of accusing somebody of colorism, you can try giving them the benefit of the doubt. Then, you can try to get them engaged in an open discussion on why their statement was wrong and explaining what colorism is and why it is harmful.  All in all, to fully eradicate colorism in Cambodia requires much more to be done. However, with social media, facilitation of educational content, proper representation in the entertainment sphere, and individual action, colorism can be tackled eventually.     *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors. 

Why Knowledge of the Government Structure Matters for Young Cambodians

Written by: Khim Pichmolika, a 4th year student majoring in Global Affairs at The American University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo was taken after Politikoffee Forum on Saturday, 23rd November, 2019 at KAS Cambodia office on the topic: Cambodia's Political Situation: Division or Unification?")   Political literacy is reasonably a novel term that has not been mentioned frequently until recently in our society. The term political literacy, however, originated in England many decades ago. Bernard Crick (1969) first raised the argument for the introduction of politics in school that, “Since it cannot be avoided, it had better be faced. Since it should not be avoided, quite a lot of care and time should be given to it.” This sort of idea gave ways to political literacy, emphasizing the importance of politically literate citizens for the nature and logic of democracy. A politically educated population can access the chief policies of political parties as they can comprehend how democratic institutions work and their importance and knowledge to use their voice. Political literacy, in short, refers to the awareness of the society we are living in and aspects of our daily lives. Political literacy itself can be confusing and intimidating since it has the word "political". Some people have ignored the general information concerning the government and its operations as they have been afraid of the political process and participation. Therefore, this article focuses on the Cambodian government structure because I want to draw more attention from Cambodians who might have been apathetic toward this fundamental topic.  I think understanding and scrutinizing the Cambodian government structure is critical for the general public, especially youths who are the potential future leaders of the country, for three reasons.  First, having a proper understanding of the structure will encourage them to get more actively involved with elections and enhance their experience quality. It can begin with a piece of knowledge on the commune/sangkat council. Commune/sangkat council is local governance elected by citizens of that commune/sangkat every five years. As one of a few groups formed through direct elections, this should prompt people to make good use of their chance of choosing representatives for the next five years. The commune/sangkat council members will be selected from the winning political party candidate lists. The numbers of seats also need to be proportionate to the numbers of council members determined under the Law on Commune/Sangkat Administration. Commonly, there would be a conflict of interest between a potential candidate and the party that the candidate belongs. Thus, this should be crucial information to be taken into account as they will have to decide whether to vote for the candidate or the party. When people make an informed and purposeful decision before casting their ballots, it will enhance the quality of their experience in shaping their community’s future. Likewise, the above reasoning also applies to the national election through which the members of the National Assembly —the lower house of the country’s legislature— are elected every five years through a proportional representation system. The National Assembly consists of 125 seats divided by provincial and capital constituencies. The party holding most seats will become the ruling party. Then, the ruling party's representative will be appointed as the Prime Minister by the King with the recommendation of the President and Vice President of the National Assembly. To officially the prime minister, the appointee must receive a vote of confidence from the National Assembly.  Furthermore, this knowledge is also the foundational step and principal motivation to induce political will among youths who want to pursue a political career or become the leader of their own community. The absence of general knowledge regarding the government structure, not to mention its administration, prevents many people from going after their dreams in politics. Just like other occupations, being a politician can be achievable for highly ambitious and determined individuals. Many people can be potential candidates and representatives for the people in their community. For instance, a commune/sangkat administration is administered by a chief and deputy chiefs. Therefore, it can be a good start for prominent individuals who have earned a reputation or trust from people living in their respective community.  The commune/sangkat chief is the candidate that receives the majority of votes. With the same mandate as the commune/sangkat council chief, the first and second deputy chiefs receive the second and third majority of votes. Obtaining these positions does not require power or external assistance, but they need to earn enough support from local people. It can end all misunderstanding and stigma that demotivate people from chasing a political role.  As comprehending some parts of the structure established through direct and democratic elections incentivise people to actively partake in the political process, understanding the constituents chosen by indirect elections also helps people develop their capacity to scrutinise and shape the system. For example, the Senate, which is the upper house of the Cambodian legislature, consists of 62 members who serve six-year teams. Two of them are appointed by the King, two others by members of the National Assembly, and the rest are elected by members of commune councils from 24 provinces of Cambodia and members of the National Assembly. The number of Senate seats increased from 57 seats to 58 seats after the new law of Senate Elections passed in 2017. The public has no control over what happens behind the election process, but they can choose the representatives in the Senate. If people are fully aware of the significance of their participation and can utilise their votes based on informed and purposeful decisions, their power will prevail.  Last but not least, although the structure is well-designed to prevent the concentration of power and ensure good governance, many informal institutions also work closely with and behind these formal institutions to influence the decision making process and policy formulation. As seen, there are competing interests between the public and the small groups of the political elites who have also played a crucial role in shaping the political system behind the scene. It is noteworthy that civil participation has been confined to just the election, which is just a part of the characteristics of democratic countries. Moreover, the corruption issue has still been prevalent in the governance system, even though the government has also taken steps to tackle it in response to the demand of people. Hence, the basic understanding of the government structure is a key to enabling Cambodians to meaningfully choose their representatives who could eventually influence public policies that benefit the general public.   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Getting sexually assaulted is not a choice! How can we make a safer society for Cambodian women?

Written by: Soth Chhayheng, a 2nd year student at Thammasat University, Bachelor of Political Science Program in Politics and International Relations Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia Photo Credit: "lost" by Random_Alex Frankly, I am neither a woman nor a person who has ever been sexually assaulted by anybody. But the fact that women in our society are still living under many forms of pressure is very upsetting, particularly on the matter of sexual assault. Sexual assault is a form of sexual contact that occurs without the consent of the victim and can take in many different forms such as rape, attempted rape, and unwanted sexual touching. Getting sexually assaulted isn’t a choice. All women deserve to be safe and protected at any time and in any place. The victims of sexual assault face both psychological and physical fallout. The consequences are beyond explanation. Therefore, sexual assault on women needs to be stopped and the perpetrator must be held accountable.                                         A  UN report in 2013 indicated that more than one in five Cambodian men aged between 18 and 49 admitted to having raped a woman, and one-third of the rape cases were committed by family members. The UN report also pointed out that the main factors that lead to the perpetration of these sexual crimes included poverty, lack of education, domestic violence, exposure to childhood trauma, and alcohol abuse. The myth that sexual assault occurs when women themselves provoke it by how they dress or behave is absolutely wrong and can never be justified. This claim is a flawed logic commonly used by the perpetrators to get away from their crimes. There is absolutely no excuse to justify one’s criminal act. Social pressure such as the gender norms and gender inequality has prevented many victims from reporting their cases to the authority, making sexual assault one of the most underreported crimes. No more victims shall have to live in trauma and fear with no justice delivered to them. No more girls or women have to face sexual assault. Easy to say! But how can we make a safer society for all Cambodian girls and women?  The necessary laws to prevent and punish the perpetrators are already in place. Meanwhile, relevant stakeholders such as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Justice, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and advocates for women’s rights are already there. Yet the problems still occur! It is impossible to eradicate this issue from the face of the earth within a blink of an eye. However, there are ways that we can fight against it. First and foremost, the key strategy is to demand strong willingness from the government to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness in the judicial system. In order to prevent sexual assault crimes, government responsiveness through the efficient practice of law is most needed. The government must continue to enhance its effort in reducing corruption at all levels and strengthen their effectiveness in resolving problems for the victims. Undeniably, many Cambodians neither believe in the effectiveness of the judicial system nor the authorities in Cambodia. A public’s perception survey report published by the University of Cambodia indicated that “There is not much trust in the police/authorities being able to capture the perpetrator and in the justice system to prosecute and punish the perpetrator”. Enforcement of law is therefore crucially important and the need to enhance the authority's efficiency in conducting their work is even much needed. When injustice happens, people often cry out for the Prime Minister's help. Any case that caught the Prime Minister's attention was often resolved. Those that did not often remained unsolved. Thus, it appears that justice is not always served by the verdict of the justice system. Another report conducted by LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights NGO, showed that the authority encouraged many rapes and indecent assault cases to be settled privately, by suggesting that the victim marry the perpetrator or accepting cash compensation – in which case civil servants receive a percentage of the compensation. Otherwise, the victims may have to spend a lot of money on every step through the whole legal procedure to settle the case. This scenario is a major factor that has demotivated many victims from seeking justice after having been assaulted. Most importantly, a weak justice system is likely to allow the perpetrators, especially the rich, to undermine the law and continue to commit crimes without consequences. However, the recent sexual assault case allegedly committed by a tycoon named Heng Sier on a young female star has angered the Cambodian netizen. This incident has raised an intensified public debate over sexual assault in Cambodia and many people have demanded justice for the victim. Fortunately, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s volunteer lawyers came out to represent the supposed victim of the alleged attempted rape in the court. As the case is still ongoing, the public is still waiting to see whether or not justice will be served. Second, it is crucial to raise awareness and promote social norms that protect all girls and women from sexual assault. Enough for the questions on the victims as to why they wear sexy clothes, why their behaviors are sexually attractive and so on.  Girls and women have the right to wear whatever they want. We should not put restrictions on their clothes choice. When it comes to sexual assault, NO MEANS NO! This society should ask how we can make sure that everyone is safe and can live the life they desire. Eradicating the false myths through education and raising awareness is the crucial step in achieving a safer society for women. Education and awareness raising campaigns shall start now and everywhere, including at home, in schools and workplaces, in public forums and social groups and in the community. Raising awareness through more meaningful discussions at different age groups and backgrounds will shape understanding and create a new culture that respects women's rights and their choices. It is crucial to conduct more women’s empowerment-based training that teaches healthy and safe dating for women. Third, it is vital to create well-protected environments for women. This can begin at schools and workplaces by setting strict policies to ensure safety and respect for women and girls. While at the same time, efforts need to be made to address this issue, raise awareness, and inspire everyone to respect women as equal gender. Schools and workplaces should also closely monitor their respective environments to ensure that women’s rights are protected. Consultation and help centers for victims of sexual assault in the community should be made widely available to support those in need. Last but not least, recent sexual assault incident in Cambodia have taught us an important lesson; that is, public opinions can make a remarkable influence on things that matter such as domestic violence and sexual assault on women. The exercise of freedom of expression in a democratic state is profoundly important. It is crucial not only for sexual assault problems but also other social issues. Cambodians therefore need to use social media platforms to voice their concerns and address the topics that matter to their community and their country. Our social values have been ruined by the ignorant few who try to manipulate people with irrelevant issues on social media. Enough for that too! Let us use our voices to empower women and girls! Let us use our voices to make our society better through meaningful public discussions! Let us use our voices to eradicate sexual assault in Cambodia and create a safer society for all!  

The Importance of Citizens’ Engagement in Public Procurement Bidding Process at a Commune/Sangkat Level

Written by: Tol Chhourkimheng, a graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Education from The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Heng Kimkong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia (Photo Credit: Joint Procurement Monitoring Committee (JPMC))   Have you ever wondered where the budget for building public schools, hospitals, roads, and other public infrastructure come from? Do you know the public procurement bidding process? Have your village chiefs ever informed you about the public procurement bidding process in your commune/Sangkat?    This article will shed light on the procurement bidding process and explain why citizens’ engagement in this important process is crucial to ensure transparency, accountability, and integrity of the bids.  Types of Public Procurement  According to the commune/Sangkat Fund Project Implementation Manual, procurement is the process of acquiring and finding goods, construction projects, services or other consultative services through the process of bidding. The public procurement falls under three categories: a construction project, service project and purchasing order. First, the construction project refers to the construction of public infrastructure such as pagodas, schools, hospitals, irrigation systems, roads, etc. Second, the service project is any activity that aims to provide support to achieve a specific project goal such as human resource development, community organization, and small construction. For example, creating the diversified agriculture support project helps to support citizens’ living conditions. Third, it is the purchasing order which aims to buy materials to support the operation of other projects to achieve the projects’ goals.  For instance, buying a water pump machine helps the citizens to move water from water sources to support their agriculture. Article 3 in the Sub-Decree on the Financial Management System of the Commune/Sangkat stated that “The budget constitutes the legal act that appropriates and authorizes commune/Sangkat revenues and expenditures on an annual basis. The commune/Sangkat fiscal year starts on January 1 and ends on December 31 of the same year. The budget must include all commune/Sangkat revenues and expenditures regardless of their origin or nature. The commune/Sangkat budget must reflect spending priorities emerging from the commune/Sangkat development plan.” Each year, the government allocates funds to the commune/Sangkat councils who will use the allocated budget in relation to the priorities of their commune/Sangkat development plan.  The Procurement Bidding Process Before the bidding process takes place, the commune/Sangkat councils make an announcement about the bid(s) at least 14 days in advance. The announcement is posted on the information board in the commune/Sangkat halls. The village chiefs then provide the information about the bids to the citizens in the target villages. In the process, the local authorities utilize as many methods as possible to spread relevant information to the citizens. In this period, private companies can process their proposal for the bid. During the bid, the procurement bidding committee is formed comprising three people, including the commune/Sangkat chief and two elected members of the commune/Sangkat councils. At the beginning of the bid, the committee specifies the information about the bid to the participants. The authorities then open the bidding box for the private companies which have between 30-45 minutes to submit their proposals, and the procurement bidding committee identifies the bidders in the secret room. If there is no secret room, the procurement bidding committee can request the participants to leave the room for a while or they can find any quiet place nearby. In the secret room, no one but the procurement bidding committee can see the price. This is to ensure the transparency and accountability of the process. In some special cases, the three members of the committee can request for the clerk to join. The committee then releases the results of the selected private companies with the lowest bidding price. It is worth noting that, there must be more than two private companies to process the bid, and to secure the bid, the private companies must comply with the guidelines outlined in the commune/Sangkat Fund Project Implementation Manual. After the bid, the successful private company can begin their work. During the construction period, the citizens play an important role in observing the quality of the construction and ensuring whether it is relevant to the proposal submitted during the bidding process or not. Why Citizens’ Engagement in the Procurement Bidding Process Matters? The citizens’ participation in the procurement bidding process is vital since it contributes to the transparency, accountability, and integrity of the bids. When they engage directly with the bidding process, they help to reduce corruption that may be committed by the private companies and the authorities. Moreover, as the budget for public procurement mainly comes from citizens’ tax, it is crucial for citizens to follow up and ensure whether their commune/Sangkat spends the budget effectively and efficiently. Through my work experience, I have witnessed the fact that the procurement bidding process has changed for the better from time to time through the citizens’ engagement. The authorities and private companies have strictly followed the procurement bidding guidelines, resulting in a fair amount of transparency, integrity, and accountability with the budget expenses. In a democratic country, citizens’ participation is extremely vital since it reflects the voice of the citizens. The citizens might raise their concerns, questions, priorities, needs, or ideas and be part of decision-making for their community development. Therefore, they need to be responsible and independent. They should have ownership of their community, which helps to reinforce their rights, power, and resilience. According to a book on Good Governance published by the Ministry of Interior in 2013, participation in making and implementing decisions is one of the nine elements in good governance. The citizens’ participation is essential since the authorities can collect and analyze all the information about the citizens’ needs and suggestions before making a decision.   I conducted an interview with Mr. Puth Kolka, a specialist in good governance on March 5, 2021. He said:  Citizens especially youths have to take part in the procurement bidding process at their commune/Sangkat because they are accountable for their community development due to the fact that the budget for the development comes from the citizens’ tax or donation, and they are the leader of their community and country in the future; especially they are the role model and active citizens who represent other passive ones. By participating in the bidding process, it will propel the local authorities, policymakers, and lawmakers to be more accountable and pay more attention to citizens’ needs. I conducted another interview with Ms. Mon Sotheara, a youth in Kompong Thom province. She said the following:  According to my participation in the procurement bidding process in my commune, I have observed that citizens’ participation contributes to the transparency, accountability and quality of the bid since the private companies dare not to corrupt or use any tricks during the bid. The citizens’ participation helps to ensure that the private companies follow the commune/Sangkat Fund Project Implementation Manual strictly. Additionally, the citizens are the owners of their community, so they have rights to be part of the decision-making in their community to ensure the public budget is spent effectively. Finally, as I am one youth in my community, I realize that what the citizens want the most are good governance, accountability, integrity, and transparency, so I encourage all citizens and youth to engage in the procurement bidding process in their commune/Sangkat because all those public procurements come from our tax.  Thus, the citizens have their rights to participate in the procurement bidding process because those budgets for commune/Sangkat development come from their tax. Moreover, the citizens’ engagement in their commune/Sangkat development tends to ensure the transparency, accountability, and integrity of how the public budget is utilized.     Challenges of Citizens’ Engagement in Procurement Bidding Process Based on my personal and work experiences, the citizens face a few key challenges in participating in the procurement bidding process. First, the information-sharing from the authorities is still limited. The local authorities mostly post the announcement on the information board in the commune/Sangkat hall. However, most citizens normally do not visit the commune/Sangkat hall so they are not aware of the bids. The lack of information causes the lack of participation from the citizens in the bidding process. Second, the citizens are busy with their work and cannot attend the bids since their commune/Sangkat conducts the procurement bidding process on working days. They may also believe that their absence does not necessarily have any effects on the bidding process; however, this is a misunderstanding because they leave all the responsibilities to the procurement bidding committee while they do not get involved as responsible citizens.  Some private companies still cheat during the bids. For instance, they use various tricks to get in the bids such as bribing other small companies to put higher prices, bribing the authorities to help them when opening the bidding box, asking their relatives to role play as private companies, etc. All of these have happened to both the private companies and the authorities.   Recommendations To encourage the citizens to actively participate in the procurement bidding process at their commune/Sangkat, the government has to raise awareness of the importance of the procurement bidding to the citizens. In addition, the authorities have to guarantee that the citizens obtain sufficient information about the procurement bidding process. There are diverse platforms that the government can use, especially through social media such as Facebook, Telegram, etc. That is the obligation of the authorities to spread all necessary information to their citizens to ensure the transparency and accountability of the bidding. The citizens should also be encouraged to access the website of the National Committee for Sub-National Democratic Development (NCDD) Cambodia (https://ncdd.gov.kh) as the announcements of all procurement biddings in Cambodia are published on that website. Meanwhile, the citizens have to realize that the procurement bidding process is not only the authorities’ obligation and responsibilities but also theirs. The budgets for all the procurements come from the citizens’ tax, so the citizens have their rights to know and make a decision that fulfills their needs.  Article 30 of the Sub-degree on the Decentralization of Powers, Roles, and Duties to Commune/Sangkat Councils published in 2002 states that: Every commune/Sangkat resident can attend every Commune/Sangkat Council meeting but cannot vote. Commune/Sangkat residents can ask the commune/Sangkat chief or councilors questions at the meeting of Commune/Sangkat Council in accordance with the internal rules and regulations for the meetings of Commune/Sangkat Council. Similarly, Article 31 reads: Every commune/Sangkat resident can put a written suggestion or complaint to the Council and the latter is compulsory to respond to the complaint or suggestion. Any suggestion or complaint that the commune/Sangkat chief can deal with within his/her competence, he/she shall do it and shall inform the residents of the response and shall report to Commune/Sangkat Council at the next meeting. Any suggestion or complaint that the commune/Sangkat chief cannot deal with within his/her competence, he/she shall include it in the next meeting of the Commune/Sangkat Council. Commune/Sangkat chief shall inform the resident of the response by Commune/Sangkat Council. Based on these Articles, the citizens can join every Commune/Sangkat meeting, and they can file a complaint or make suggestions to their commune/Sangkat councils if they find any irregularities or any issues happening during the bidding process. The commune/Sangkat councils have to find solutions and responses to the citizens. By raising concerns, complaints or suggestions, the citizens can ensure that the authorities will work better and follow the guidelines of every step of the procurement bidding process. This helps to reduce or eradicate any irregularities that may happen during the bids. Conclusion The citizens’ engagement in the procurement bidding process is absolutely essential because it contributes to the transparency, accountability, and integrity of the bids and reflects the active role of citizens in a democratic country. Furthermore, the citizens have their rights to participate in making a decision for the development of their community. With their active engagement in the procurement bidding process, the authorities will prioritize the pressing needs of the citizens, leading to effective and efficient budget expenses. I strongly urge youth and all citizens to actively engage in the procurement bidding process in their respective community/Sangkat. To promote sustainable development, the authorities need to collaborate with the citizens and encourage them to take part in examining the procurement bidding process. Togetherness brings development!   *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

The Role of Youth in Shaping Cambodia’s Democracy

Written by: Han Noy, a 3rd year student majoring in International Relations at Panhasastra University of Cambodia Edited by: Heng KimKong, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Cambodia Development Center and a PhD Candidate in Education at The University of Queensland, Australia   (Photo was taken on Saturday, 17th October 2020 at KAS Cambodia office after Politikoffee Forum on the topic: Current Cambodian Political Situation: Readiness for the Coming Elections.)   In 1993, a general election was held in Cambodia, following decades of civil wars and the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime. The election, sponsored by the United Nations, aimed to introduce democracy to Cambodia. After the seed of democracy has been planted, the development of democracy in this Southeast Asian country has not been smooth. A coup was staged in July 1997 by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to topple the FUNCINPEC forces. Following the coup, the CPP has become a dominant party controlling Cambodian politics since 1998. The CPP’s political dominance changed in 2013 when a newly formed opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, gained considerable support from the voters, winning 55 out of 123 seats. Following the election, the CNRP became a major threat to the CPP in subsequent elections. However, the CNRP was later accused of plotting to topple the government and was dissolved by the Cambodian Supreme Court in 2017. Its senior officials were banned from politics. As a result, the 2018 general election was held without the CNRP as a major opposition party, allowing the CPP to win all the 125 parliamentary seats.  From this brief account, we can see that democracy in Cambodia has been debilitated, making its future fragile and uncertain. This is not to mention the ongoing arrests and oppression on environmental activists, human rights defenders, and former CNRP activities. Democracy in Cambodia, therefore, faces great challenges, and according to some analysts, it seems to go backward instead of moving forward.  Cambodia’s Fragile Democracy  After the general election in 2018, Cambodia has been edging toward authoritarianism and dictatorship. According to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2020 Cambodia’s democracy was ranked 130 out of 167 countries in the world. Cambodia also gained just only 3.10 out of a full score of 10, placing it in the category of authoritarian regimes.  There are many factors that contribute to this ranking. We can look at the essential components of democracy such as human rights, media freedom, free and fair elections, rule of law, checks and balances, transparency, and accountability. These principles have, to some extent, been abused by the government. A series of laws such as union law, state of emergency law, public order law, and internet gateway law have been passed or proposed, potentially putting more restrictions on NGOs, citizens, and the media. This discourages people from getting involved in any political activities or movements to voice their concerns on issues that have not been sufficiently addressed by the government. Power conflict is another major constraint and threat for Cambodian democracy. The country’s democratic institutions have not been fabricated effectively even though Cambodia has adopted core democratic values. Power competition and deep political mistrust are pervasive among the ruling and the opposing political camps, making it virtually impossible for the country to move its democracy forward. In general, the Cambodian government has yet to fulfill its obligation as a democratic government. What happened in 2017 when there was a systematic crackdown on independent media and the political opposition speaks volumes about democratic development in Cambodia. It has been argued that a democratic government is “the government of people, by people and for people.” Thus, the government holds an obligation to serve the public interest, follow the will of the people, and prioritize the needs of the people when making any decisions. The Role of Citizens in a Democracy   In a democratic state, the government is not the only player responsible for keeping democracy on track. The citizen plays an extremely significant role, too. In this regard, civic engagement in politics is vital. People need to participate in politics and become politically literate. When the people understand what democracy is and take part in promoting the principles of democracy, it is likely that they will get the kind of democracy they desire.   Moreover, when people long for democracy but do not understand the normative minimum requirements of democracy, problems will automatically arise. For example, people mostly enjoy the idea of democracy. However, they sometimes do things which are against the democratic principles. They are afraid of giving an interview or report to journalists regarding political and social issues because of fear of insecurity. They commit corruption by bribing officials, thinking that it is not corruption. They ignore political and social affairs and let one person or a group to decide everything for them and their country. They simply do not care about what their government is doing and which direction their country is heading. These behaviors need to change and all citizens need to increase their civic engagement and actively participate in holding the government accountable of their actions.  Cambodian Youth Are the Future  In order to move democracy forward, Cambodian youth who are the future of Cambodia have a pivotal role to play. As estimated by the United Nations, over two-third of Cambodia's population are youth who do not go through the horror of the Khmer Rouge. They are less likely to be influenced by the ruling party’s recurring rhetoric of war and peace, especially in the lead up to general elections. Therefore, more opportunities for youth to strengthen their capabilities should be created. Donors and the international community should increase their support for local NGOs that have youth-focused programs to promote youth education and empowerment so that they can become change agents who can positively contribute to civic, political, social and human rights. When youth are educated and empowered, they will find the way to demand their rights and hold the government more accountable and transparent. Thus, it is vital to support youth who are Cambodia’s future political and civic leaders. Cambodian politics has been navigated by older generations and elites for a long time, and the older generations will have to give up their positions to young generations someday. As such, whether the older generation want to or not, they need to support youth and prepare them to be the future leaders of Cambodia.  Moreover, as Cambodian youth, we need to have conscientiousness and understand that we are the backbone of the nation. We cannot just wait for others to push or help us, but we need to have a sense of responsibility and growth. We must strengthen our capacity and constantly push ourselves to contribute to making positive changes in our society. We cannot make changes unless we are knowledgeable, capable, forward looking, and hardworking.  The Need to Reinvent a New Political Culture  No doubt, there is a need to reinvent a new political culture in Cambodia. Cambodian politics has long been driven by power conflict and zero-sum game competition among the politicians, causing prolonged civil wars, instability, turmoil, and chaos. This political culture must end. Politicians need to prioritize national interests, not self-interests. The current political culture has not been beneficial; it makes the nation divided, creating uncertainty to the current state of peace and development. Thus, it is crucial that politicians give up this political culture and embark on building social cohesion and unity. This is the prerequisite for this nation to rise up again.  Conclusion In sum, Cambodian people, especially youth and politicians, need to know that politics is not a job or game that we all come to play just for fun or self-interest. Politics is a place where we engage to serve the public interest, the people, and the country. We must stop thinking that politics is the rice cooker for us to earn our own interests. Therefore, in a political game, if we do not have the real will to play to serve the nation, it is better not to play because the whole nation’s destiny relies on our decisions as politicians. If we are determined to play this political game in a democratic society, we must abide by the rules and principles of democracy to avoid leaving a bad reputation for the future generation to despise.    *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.  

Knowing Your Role in Combating Fake News on Social Media

Written by: Phit Phariya, a 4th year student majoring in International Studies at The Royal University of Phnom Penh Edited by: Sao Phal Niseiy, Editor-in-Chief at The Cambodianess and Deputy Editor-in-Chief at Thmey Thmey News (Photo Credit: "Misinformation" by 3dpete is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)   Social media is an inevitable part of every society in this digital age. Many things you read online, especially in your social media news feed may appear to be factual but often are not. Due to its rapid speed, false information has been around for years and can be up to six times quicker than a piece of general news. With the illusionary adverse effect, when you hear a lie many times, you tend to believe it is true. In the era of the internet, concern about the issue is intense. You may have to take a moment to think before sharing what you see because fake news is more intimate! Importance of news for daily life   News is vital for a variety of reasons in our daily life. The primary goal of it is to keep the public informed of activities that happen and affect us. We cannot imagine our life without news. News provides us with knowledge, which is crucial for social changes. It is vital to keep track of what is going on in our society with this unpredictable dynamic era, where your views are constantly questioned. Therefore, you need to keep reading the news no matter how old you are and be aware of what is going on in your area. With that, you can assist those who do not know where to start to deal with it and miss out on it. By checking through your social media account, you can find that there is news content in your newsfeed, and it can keep you up to date with what is going on in your local surroundings and the rest of the world. More and more people now engage with social media due to the rising popularity of a wide range of internet-enabled devices and advanced mobile internet speeds. And most of us also get our news from social media sites. Unfortunately, social media has its negative side, in which fake news is widespread. Some specific groups use misinformation to influence and manipulate users for political or economic gain.  Fake news and why people fall for it  False information is not new. It has been a concern of almost every one of us as citizens who obtain information from social media. Fake news is known as false stories fabricated and circulated to deceive those who read it. Such content can damage public debate by manipulating people to make unwise decisions on all aspects of life. False information can fool people by imitating trustworthy websites or using names and web addresses similar to that of credible news organizations. This harm can be the distinguishing factor of disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, clickbait, and hoax. Disinformation refers to the deliberate dissemination of false information with the intent to deceive. Misinformation is inaccurate reporting resulting from misleading an error, an honest mistake, or using incomplete data. There is no intention in deceiving, but it is misleading. And propaganda is the spread of information or ideas, arguments, rumors, half-truths, or lies in a rumor to influence public opinion. Clickbait refers to the exaggerated content or headlines created to provoke readers by appealing to their emotions, generally anger or curiosity. It is to entice readers to connect with content to produce ad revenue. When you click on a link, the website that hosts it receives money from advertisers, but the content itself has a problem with quality and accuracy. The issue is that when a website uses clickbait, it usually prioritizes getting clicks over providing high-quality content. It implies that they do not mind wasting our time with overrated content. And hoax refers to deception, either amusing or malicious, used to manipulate or mislead others. It typically takes the form of fabrication of falsified or incorrect information.  Impacts of fake news Due to the long existence of Fake news, yet with the rise of the ease of the internet and social media, it has become more complicated to determine what can and cannot be trusted. Users are probably aware that fake news and other forms of misleading information can take several structures that may also have significant consequences. It is because knowledge shapes our views, and we place our critical decisions on that. We gather information to manifest opinions about individuals or situations. We will not be able to make good decisions if the information we receive is fabricated, misleading, exaggerated or distorted. That somehow can make us believe and support untruthful misinformation. It can manipulate our thoughts, our perspective, and view toward certain things, leading us to make irrational decisions. Fake News has an immense impact on us as social media users. The senior people who lack technological knowledge can easily fall victim or be vulnerable to it. According to a study published in the journal Science, older people are nearly four times more likely than adolescents to have shared fake news via social media. That includes the information related to the COVID-19 pandemic as the number of infected people has been deployed to manipulate individual points of view. It somehow could impact their psychology and caused the situation to be chaotic. Another case, the spread of untruthful information about the dead people caused by covid-19 which they die due to their health and sickness that completely contradicts the news. Also, there is propaganda circulating vaccine misinformation on safety and effectiveness to generate vaccine hesitancy among people. Moreover, we had seen misinformation spread, which claimed that it was possible to get rid of the virus by consuming garlic or drinking bleach. However, no scientific evidence could prove that eating garlic protects people from the virus. This false information can quickly spread from one to another, much like a virus. But generally, medical misinformation has always been fueled by ideologues who suspect science and proven measures like the case of vaccines.  How to tackle fake news On social media, fake news may be inevitable. However, improving critical thinking will aid in the prevention of the spread. To tackle fake news, people can maintain a healthy level of interest in what they see on their social media. Firstly, they should comprehend how social media sites curate what they spot and learn to take investigative activities to examine whether any information circulated on social media is trustworthy with reliable sources. It is also vital to discover whether a social media account spreading that information has any professional or sentimental connection with the claims. Thus, when consuming "news," you need to look at the source and see if the information is true and accurate. You can also ask yourself some other questions: Is it hosted on a satirical news website? On social media platforms or just personal blogs? Just keep being skeptical of information unless it comes from a reputable news outlet. Do your homework. You need to rigorously check it even though it involves the use of statistics. The point is that statistics are a common way to entice customers and offer the appearance of fact. You cannot take their claims at face value. Review the research's citations and dates, ensuring that they are reliable and not outdated. Secondly, people need to have a sufficient understanding of the aims of their fellow posters who regularly publish information and disseminate news contents. It is the key to countering false or misleading information on social media. In our country, Prime Minister Hun Sen himself urged people, especially media personalities, to join hands and spread more truthful information so it will contribute to eradicating fake news. Not only journalists who have a role, but every individual social media user can play a role in distributing accurate information and also in raising awareness on fake news among their peers. By doing that, more people will care and take action to join the fights against this infodemic. As responsible social media users, people should strictly adhere to their duties with integrity, actively report or pass around only the facts with reliable references, not exaggeration or misrepresentation. All users must spread accurate, evidence-based information. Speaking from my own experience, when people share or forward information to me on social media, I always ask them to check and verify it on official news sites before believing and sharing. If we can follow these, at least we can reduce the frequent spread of false or misleading information on social media. When executed with good purpose and consideration, social media can be a powerful tool for every individual to gather much-needed information. Thirdly, everyone can contribute to preventing fake news from being wider spread by boosting their media literacy. When almost everyone can create content related to various issues, they need to acquire sufficient knowledge on how to deal with fake news and how to use their social media more responsibly. By saying this, they have duties to read and research to comprehend the causes and effects of false information and take part in reporting such information when coming across it through social media platforms. The general public can effectively scrutinize and take further action to tackle fake news when there are more awareness-raising programs, such as seminars, training, public discussions and educational activities. All people should understand that posting false information on social media without accountability is equivalent to spreading fake news and contributing to the degeneration of their society. Everyone can become a fake news distributor, even without having an intention or understanding it, if they do not have basic knowledge of the detrimental consequences of fake news. We can never stop fake news from being circulated, but we can do our part to prevent it from being replicated! *This blog is produced with the financial support from the European Union and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency through Transparency International Cambodia and ActionAid Cambodia. Its contents do not reflect the views of any donors.