Posted by: Patrick Mosolf | Monday, 20 September, 2010

Portrait of Men at Disadvantage: Unequal Treatment by Law Enforcement in Cambodia

One of the purposes of this post (and possibly a few following this) is to demonstrate some of the ways that men are actually at a disadvantage in some ways vis a vis women.   My purpose here is not to claim that men, on the whole, face more disadvantages than women.  I merely want readers to recognize that it is possible for men to face disadvantages which women do not face.  Or, on the other hand, that women may have some advantages that men do not have.

As far as I can observe, most people, especially women’s advocates, are currently living in the paradigm that only women face disadvantages in life, and only men have any advantages.  Women are lucky if they can achieve equality, but they do not have any advantages.  My goal is to contribute to a paradigm shift in readers, that they will at least be open to the idea that men face some disadvantages in life, and women may benefit from some advantages.

It seems these days that I regularly read some gender related item in the newspaper that could be fodder for this blog.  Yesterday there was an article in the Cambodia Daily called “The Increasingly Female Face of Land Protests”, by a writer named Kuch Naren.  The writer goes on to provide some evidence that women are becoming the predominant force in land protests because the police are less likely to arrest or beat women than they are to beat or arrest men.

A bit of background:  Cambodia is plagued by land conflicts, which partly arises out of the fact that the Khmer Rouge transferred all land to state ownership.  After the end of the Khmer Rouge, people moved around and settled on various pieces of state owned land.  Under the land law of 2001, people are supposed to be entitled to legitimate ownership if they have been living on such land for a number of years.  Unfortunately, powerful and wealthy individuals are often able to take advantage of the situation, and through legitimate or corrupt means, get land titles to land where a group of people are living.  In other cases, the government has granted huge land concessions to foreign companies which displace local people.  The justice system in Cambodia is very weak and vulnerable to political interference and corruption, so it is difficult for these poor people to get fair treatment in court, especially when powerful or wealthy people are their opponents.

These land conflicts have been going on for years, and I observed that they have been increasing recently as Cambodia’s economy has improved, and so wealthy people have had more money to invest in land.

This article in the Cambodia Daily, however, was the first time someone had identified a trend of men taking less part in land conflicts (at least that I had read).  In terms of support for this, the article  first cites an interview with a local villager who said that men have been intimidated by the threat of arrest.  This statement is followed by a quote from an ADHOC monitor, who said the number of women has grown dramatically at protests recently, whereas male protesters have been “severely beaten with wooden sticks, or shocked with electric batons, and physically abused with strong kicks.”  Women were also detained less often in land protests- only 30% of all detainees in land conflict cases since 2008 were were women, according to cases recorded by ADHOC.  LICADHO reported that in 62 arrest cases since 2009, only 4 of the arrested were women.  The Technical Supervisor for LICADHO said that men are often targeted for arrest, so they go into hiding out of fear of arrest.

According to a District Governor from the area where the protest cited in the article took place, they treat both male and female protesters the same.  But he later said that in the protest in question, “we used soft measures to compromise with those female land protesters.”

Well, we all know that women are considered softer than men, and now the authorities are also using “soft measures” to address them when they protest.  But men are beaten, shocked, kicked and arrested.

If what this article is suggesting is true, it means that in these demonstrations at least, women enjoy greater access to the right to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly.  If it is true, men are actually being punished more by the authorities during demonstrations, and enjoy the right to Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Expression less than women.

If this is really a trend in Cambodia, it could put men at another further disadvantage.  It could prevent them from participating as leaders in the organizing of the protests.  So it means from a local political perspective, they would be at a disadvantage to women.

An acquaintance, a woman, reacted to our discussion of this article by saying that “women are better at this kind of activity…because they are better at compromise”.  Well, its nice to know that women activists will jump on any opportunity to claim that women are better at this or that (I’m being sarcastic).  Later in the same conversation, this same person was complaining about when men make discriminatory judgments based on arguments like, “women are not as good as men at [activity]”.  But only a few minutes earlier she had made a similar sweeping generalization comparing men and women’s organizing ability.  It’s frightening to see how someone who advocates for women’s rights could be blind in her own statements about men.

The men activists may have been unable to attempt to “compromise” because they were being attacked.  The authorities privilege the women demonstrators by negotiating with them, rather than beating them.

Again, men in Cambodia have many advantages over women, I just want people to be aware that in some aspects, men may be at a disadvantage to women.  Without recognizing that possibility, there will be a blindness to the problems that men face, and ultimately the public discourse will be unjust.  In this instance, and if this is a real trend, men were not treated equally by law enforcement, and were subject to significant violence.  As a result, they withdrew from land conflict demonstrations, and are less empowered politically as a result.

In the overall picture, though, we must all hope that the land conflicts will reduce in number, that the Cambodian courts will proceed with these cases fairly and according to fair laws.  The number of such conflicts in Cambodia is tragic, it is painful to think of the suffering that has been caused to poor people as a result of this kind of case.   I hope the government will come to its senses and I cheer those land rights activists who are trying to protect the people’s rights.

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