In Cambodia social causes find new partner in technology

Date: Friday, May 16, 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia — “The Internet provides a space where we can speak openly about violence against women [and girls] ,” says Man Keo Sema, a 22-year-old business administration student at the Build Bright University, in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Cambodia student
Man Keo Sema is a 22-year-old business administration student at Build Bright University in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Photo: UN Women/Veronika Stepkova

She was among the 300 Cambodian youth who took part in the Angkor BarCamp meeting in Siem Reap, in March 2014. BarCamp is an international network that organizes events world-wide to connect IT students and professionals around web and technological innovations.

“ICT [information and communications technology] is a growing sector in Cambodia and a breeding-ground for innovations,” reflects Sunnary Manickam, a young monitoring specialist at the Open Institute, a Cambodian NGO. “It is crucial to connect young dynamic ICT professionals with the use of ICT for social causes.

Sunnary and Yuki Lo, UN Women Cambodia staffer, worked together to inspire 300 youth at the Angkor BarCamp through a workshop focused on how violence against women can be monitored, reported and researched more effectively with the use of  modern technologies.

The presentation focused on Cambodia’s increasing engagement with ICT as a tool to combat violence against women. Sunnary highlighted the work UN Women Cambodia and the Open Institute are undertaking in using technology to monitor and record how violence against women is portrayed in the Cambodian media.

By using a customized media-monitoring system, Sunnary together with her team works to monitor the reporting of violence against women in mainstream media; to promote gender-sensitive coverage of violence against women; and to strengthen the media’s understanding of how the Government can be held to account in terms of progress on gender-related policies. The results of this monitoring will be shared through both traditional and social media and will form the basis of training workshops with media and policy makers. Using this methodology, the Open Institute´s team aims to alter the perceptions around gender issues and its representation in Cambodia.

Breaking new ground in the use of ICT as a tool to prevent violence against women, the Open Institute developed a Violence Reporting Website, where users are able to report instances of violence via different ICT tools, including web apps and text messages. These are used for example by victims and witnesses of violence to warn other women in the neighbourhood. The data collected add to the evidence base that serves to inform policymakers and civil society alike about issues in the community. Importantly, the tool also encourages public debate and challenges perceptions.

Sunnary provides training Photo UN Women Veronika Stepkova
Sunnary Manickam, a young monitoring specialist with the Open Institute, motivates youth to use ICTs to monitor and prevent violence against women at the Angkor BarCamp in Siem Reap, Cambodia in March 2014. Photo: UN Women/Veronika Stepkova

“People tend to assume that gender-based violence is a problem of poor people living in poor neighbourhoods. Until they realize that it happened in their neighbourhood to a family of the same social status, they will not take any measures to protect themselves,” reflects Sunnary.

In the recent joint UN-supported study “Why do some men use violence and how can we prevent it?,” PDAs (personal digital assistants) were employed for the most sensitive questions on the perpetration of sexual violence and criminal activities. Using this technology, the questions were self-administered using audio-enhanced functions for confidentiality reasons and in order to avoid any potential ethical issues arising in relation to obligations to report criminal behaviour to the police.

The result was one of the most rigorous studies on violence against women in the region, and the findings revealed that in Cambodia, rates of male perpetration of physical and/or sexual violence against a partner are as high as 36 per cent.

Talking about the broader work of the UN in the region, including the joint UN-funded research, UN Women’s Yuki Lo explained how the innovative use of ICT impacts not just the amount of information collected on violence against women, but also can improve the accuracy of the data collected and the understanding of the results.

"ICT can be used to amass and store a large volume of data, supporting analysis to ensure that trends can be identified and findings can be graphically presented in a way that is compelling to the target audience," she said.

Back at BarCamp, Sunnary and Yuki collected reflections from the young ICT professionals and students in the audience. Discussing the increasing role that the Internet plays in their lives, the participants described how it has provided a space where public citizens, especially youth, can develop approaches towards social issues, interact and get motivated to take “offline” action.

This work is supported by UN Women Cambodia’s EVAW Programme, through funding from UN Women’s core budget as well as funding for the Media Monitoring project from the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.