Rachana is a passionate development and policy expert with over 10 years of experience working in the human rights and women’s rights sectors in Cambodia. Rachana has worked with multiple well-established local and international non-governmental organizations and UN agency, and in 2018 Rachana co-founded and continue to lead Klahaan, a local feminist research and campaigning organization. Rachana holds aMaster of Social Sciences in Development Studies from the City University of Hong Kong, and a Bachelor of Laws, the Royal University of Law and Economics, Phnom Penh, Cambodia and a Bachelor of Arts in Education from Wanlan University, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Professional wise, Rachana has had a hand-on experience in design and delivery of training on human and land rights (ICCPR, ICESCR and tenure Rights) and the training on United Nations Human Rights Mechanisms (Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and UPR) to various stakeholders such as government officials (Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Cambodian Human Rights Committee), parliamentarians & senators, I/NGO workers, unionists, and community activists.
Q: Hello! Are you busy these days?
Rachana: Hello! I am a bit occupied with the works and in- and outside of my organization.
Q: what are you working on recently?
Rachana: I continue working on my project. My friend and I joined together to create Klahaan in 2018. Klahaan is a feminist organization that aims to promote women’s rights and change the perspectives, ways of thinking and ways of living, as well as cultures that pressure women.
Q: What does feminism mean?
Rachana: Feminism means equality between men and women in society. If you want to have equality and social justice, you can consider yourself as a feminist.
Q: Isn’t it a men-hated group?
Rachana: Of course not. Our society is biased. Men are able to access greater opportunities than women. Men are more prioritized than women in society. When someone or a group comes out to say that “it is unfair, and we need to change it,” people always accused that this isn’t a good group or a men-hated group. Feminism is not about men or women group, we talk about the system in the society.
Q: How did you start Klahaan?
Rachana: It is a bit difficult to tell how I started the project. My friend and I worked on women’s rights a long time ago. We have worked on the issues of land rights, education, and advocacy. We worked on promoting women’s rights and women’s empowerment. Then, we thought, if we worked on women’s rights but we didn’t focus on feminism, it wouldn’t make any progress. We thought, if we want to address the issue, we need to address the root of the problem.
For me, addressing the root of the issue should not focus on the system that is too big and difficult to change. To make changes more manageable, we gather people who are passionate about women’s rights and want to address the issues to work together.
When you asked me, how did it happen? It is difficult to answer because it progressed little by little. We didn’t start it as a big idea. We follow our passion. We don’t like the system that won’t generate positive changes as we expect. We want to have an activity or group that bring these issues to talk about.
Q: I heard a lot that feminist doesn’t like to work with men. Do you experience this?
Rachana: Some people made a joke about us. They said “women group” or “Krom Srey Srey.” I think they don’t have enough information [about feminism], and don’t understand about feminism, feminist and what this group wants. When I said I am a feminist, I heard a lot of responses that “it is a men-hated group.” Some people said this group wants to get over men to control power or control society by themselves. It really happens in society, and we need to talk about it. We won’t argue that we are not feminist.
Some people advise us that if we want to make fast progress in our organization, we shouldn’t identify ourselves as feminist. When you said that you are feminist, women don’t even want to support you.
Q: Why don’t they support you?
Rachana: I think because they don’t get enough information. They don’t get enough information on how feminist and feminism contribute to positive changes in the region and in the world. It is dangerous that people don’t get enough information in supporting their thinking and analyzing.
Moreover, our society has constructed ways of practices of men and women. For instance, a woman shouldn’t make a sound when she walks, and she shouldn’t talk loudly. When someone comes out and says, this is unjust that challenges what people use to practices, people always wonder about us and think we are a difference. It needs more conversation about what feminism is and why we work based on the feminist perspective.
Q: Can you give me some examples of how feminism impacts the world positively?
Rachana: Historically, society didn’t grant rights to vote to women because we didn’t have equal rights at that time. Society prioritized men at that time. Seeing that unjust society, women leaders gathered together to challenge it. I think it did start in Europe. They asked for rights to vote. They debated with others to demand rights to vote for women for years. Women’s rights to vote didn’t exist in other parts of the world. Because women in other places have seen that example, they stood up and demanded their rights to vote. If they have not stood up to demand women’s rights to vote, I don’t think we have rights to vote today.
Also, even though the first generation of women advocates were granted rights to vote, women yet didn’t have equal rights. After the world wars, men were in the war fields, and women worked to support their families. Later on, there was a movement to demand equal rights and equal status in society. From a women’s right advocate generation to another generation, people had different agenda to demand their human rights based on reality. In our age, we don’t just look at the gender identity of men and women; we look at the agency and diversity of human being because we have more than men and women in this society. We also have LGBT. Most of the times, the LGBT group doesn’t access social services and social opportunity as equal to men and women in society.
Q: I have seen that men hold the top power in the society. When you work on promoting women’s rights, do you face challenges?
Rachana: We face many challenges because of the gender discrimination existing in society. Women have less accessed to education than men. They have less confidence than men. They don’t have economic independence. So, they are less competitive to get a position with the government and civil society organizations. At the community level, they even face so many challenges. Nowadays, we have seen many young girls who are confident to participate in politics and economics. However, if comparing the participation rates between men and women, there are still limited. I think our society has not addressed the root of the problem, yet we discussed only at the superficial level. For example, deputy governor level is required to have women. However, we have seen this as a tool to recruit women, yet there is no real intention to promote women and build women’s capacity. It is just an impact which does not reflect reality.
Q: What challenges have you experienced in promoting women’s rights?
Rachana: Some senior professionals told me to stop working on what I am doing because it won’t be changed, even if I work till I die. That does not discourage me because I have seen many progresses these days. Previous generation has done great jobs, so that we can enjoy the opportunities today. People can give you many ideas, but you have to ask yourself what you want for your life. We have benefited from the work of women in previous generation. We need to ask ourselves how we are going to continue working to promote women’s rights and social justice and make sure that our next women generation will be able to have better opportunities than ours. I don’t have good enough encouragement to do what I am doing.
Q: How do you encourage yourself?
Rachana: When I am depressed, I looked at the people around me. I look at people who work on women’s rights. I learn from their life. I learn from their efforts. Some women are poor and don’t even know how to read. They have only an old bicycle, and they sell vegetable in the market. They can support three or four kids to study at the university. I always wonder where they get the energy from. If you look at those types of stories, you don’t want to stop doing your work even though you are depressed. If you are tired, take a break to save your energy to continue working.
Q: You are feminist. I have heard a lot that feminism is a western concept. What do you think about it?
Rachana: That is what other people think. They have freedom to think what they want. But I want to highlight that I am Cambodian. I was born in Cambodia. I want to see women are more independent and have full agency to control their life and their body. I think it is a basic need for each individual. If we look at our constitutional law, the law recognizes equality between men and women. I would encourage them to look at the constitutional law. Isn’t it our identity that the law states about equality between men and women? I want people both previous generation and my generation to open their minds and try to understand each other. I am in the middle age. I am not youth anymore. Because I am in the middle age, that give me a bigger picture of what previous generation wants, what my generation wants and what next generation wants. I don’t think it is healthy to classify group of people, being Khmer or not Khmer. Each generation has different ways of thinking and has different social needs. You need to understand that what you need to change. We need to understand about the changes of culture from time to time. If you just judge others based on a word “culture”, I don’t think you understand clearly about our culture.