The Only Way Out Is Education

Kun Chheng welcoming us to her house. Photo: Michael Klinkhamer/Oxfam Novib

The Only Way Out Is Education

Blog by: Stijntje Blankendaal, Valentina Montanaro, Choeurng Theany

How Kun Chheng and her daughters are fighting domestic violence and poverty.

A message from Chheng from Cambodia for International Women’s Day: “I would like to bring a message to all the women - in Cambodia and abroad - to strongly commit together with all men to love, understand and respect each other. We must eliminate domestic violence all together, to build a prosperous future.”

Kun Chheng (50 years old) lives in Pursat, one of Cambodia’s poorest provinces. She has two daughters. The oldest daughter (24 years old), named Ting Navy, left school halfway through high school. She wanted to protect her mother. This is also Kun Chheng’s biggest regret: "She wanted to move back in my neighbourhood because my husband beat me more and more when he was drunk. I could only run away, it used to happen at dinner a lot and I would run away with a plate of rice in my hands."

The violence only became more tolerable when Chheng and her husband participated in a training of GADC, a partner organization of Oxfam in Cambodia, which work on gendered relations of power and work with the community to tackle domestic violence. "I learned that I could speak out and seek help. And I learned to speak to my husband about his behaviour when he was sober. As an illiterate woman I had never dared to do that before. My husband participated four or five times, and his attacked me less and less. But then he died."

Life is not easy as widow with a teenage daughter at home. Kun Chheng earns her money by carrying things for customers in a market and when it goes well she brings about $ 2.5 a day. Her eldest daughter Navy with her husband and granddaughter also live with her. Navy does not work. Her husband (26 years old) only works occasionally with temporary jobs in construction. If he does not bring anything in, all the five people in the family rely on Chheng’s income.

But of those 2.5 dollars per day, Chheng puts half aside for the study of her youngest daughter, Ting Tavann (17 years old). She does this very purposefully: "I try to collect money for tutoring, which occasionally succeeds, so hopefully she can get a scholarship and go to college. She will then no longer be as vulnerable as I am, she will be free. That's why I encourage her to continue studying. The only way out for her is to continue learning. "

Kun Chheng and her family, her younger daughter Tavann is standing behind her. Photo: Michael Klinkhamer/Oxfam Novib

GADC is a Finance for Development (F4D) partner of Oxfam in Cambodia. They advocate for gender sensitivities in laws and policies. GADC’s emphasis is on the need to shift from a focus on women’s roles in development towards a consideration of gendered relations of power, including access to and control over resources, and decision-making by women and men.