Driving transformative change for Cambodian women and girls


A group of women is seen outside sitting on blue plastic chairs, around a large wooden table
Chumkiri women group meeting. Credit: CHEC

Before Chhunly sought counselling from Cambodian Health and Education for Community (CHEC), she and her three children were bearing the brunt of her husband’s frustration that sometimes turned violent. A Cambodian mother living with HIV, Chhunly and her husband met with the village leader and CHEC district facilitator to attend a number of sessions on behavior change towards gender-based violence. This has led to a significant shift in role sharing in the family, and no violence has since been reported since these sessions. Chhunly is among hundreds of women seeking support from CHEC, a women-led and women’s rights organization working to protect and empower underserved women and girls in Cambodia through health services and education. With support from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund), CHEC is leading a three-year project to address three main barriers facing survivors of gender-based violence:  

  • lack of awareness within communities and local authorities about violence against women and girls; 
  • limited access to multisectoral services for survivors; and  
  • gaps in the law implementation. 

Community education 

Through training sessions, CHEC formed a network of community-based educators, including youth leaders and local authorities, equipped to raise awareness about violence against women and girls, and destigmatize people in marginalized communities. Community-led social media campaigns, events and public debates have progressively changed their mindset on gender-based violence, recognizing the need to respect women’s rights and to end victim blaming.  

In addition, CHEC has established youth-led and youth-friendly centres, which provide sexual and reproductive health and rights education as well as referrals and counselling. These activities focus on people with multiple, intersecting identities, such as LGBTIQ+ persons, people living with HIV or women from the lowest income group.  

Improved support services 

CHEC is committed to leaving no woman or girl behind by establishing peer referral support groups for survivors. Chhunly, upon completing her training, is now one of the community women leaders conducting bi-monthly meetings with women’s groups to share her knowledge on gender-based violence and provide counselling and referrals to other women experiencing violence. She encourages them to open discussions on women’s rights and gender equality within their households. In just one year, the network of community-based educators has referred over 400 women, including to health centres as well as the police and justice system.  

Investing in change 

The UN Trust Fund’s support so far has enabled CHEC to build crucial partnerships with other NGOs, such as NGO-CEDAW [1] . This close collaboration aims to promote the understanding and implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) through legal and policy reform at the local and national levels.  

Chhunly, sitting barefoot on a table, is talking to a group of women sitting in front of her
Group meeting led by Chhunly, woman leader and project participant.

Dr. Kasem Kolnary, Director of CHEC, said “Funding has the power to unlock opportunities that would otherwise remain out of reach. It is both a driving force and a catalyst for progress and growth [which] fosters commitment, promotes transparency, helps to identify roadblocks, encourages collaboration, and drives results”. 

 In collaboration with other NGOs and women’s rights activists, they advocate with the CEDAW committee on specific recommendations. Dr. Kasem Kolnary notes: “[CEDAW] has an effective advocacy tool and framework to hold the government accountable on their obligation to eliminate discrimination and promote substantive equality.” 

In Cambodia where one in five women has experienced physical violence at least once [2], the multi-pronged work led by CHEC, its partners and networks is creating tangible and sustainable changes in local communities. 

[1] NGO-CEDAW was founded in 1995 after several Cambodian women activists returned from the Beijing World Conference on Women. Their mission is to undertakes awareness-raising, monitoring, advocacy and other activities in favor of women’s rights and gender equality. 

[2] Royal Government of Cambodia (2020), “National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women 2019-2023"