The Cambodian Women's Oral History Project: Surviving Genocide preserves for the historical record life stories of women survivors of the nefarious Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), including as victims of sexual and gender-based violence. This is a story that has been neglected for close to 40 years.
The project aims to collect 25 testimonies by the end of 2013 to cover the whole of the country. The $2500 raised through Kickstarter will be used to collect another 5 interviews in the Khmer Rouge strongholds of northwest Cambodia--but the more generous backers can be, the more interviews can be collected so that at least 20 testimonies will have been collected and processed for preservation by the end of the year.
Five interviews have already been collected as a pilot using my own start up funds, and excerpts have been posted to a project website so women can share testimonies with their family in local villages, while international researchers and practitioners can have access to first-hand accounts of how conflict and oppression distinctly impact women. The testimonies as posted are selected by the narrators themselves: they are shocking and painful and not easy to watch, and may be especially painful for victims of gender-based violence and other torture. All viewers are asked to exercise self-care. Yet, the testimonies demand our witness, and the website responds to the call of the testifiers to share their stories will a global audience. Above all, the website, and the Cambodian Women's Oral History Project as a whole, demonstrates the courage and power of the testifiers themselves, each of whom is self-reported to be motivated in sharing her story of a painful remembered past so as to end an end to violence and gender discrimination against women today.
The website will continue to grow as the Oral History Project progresses. It is maintained in both Khmer and English, and I encourage you to see for yourself the power of the testimonies posted to the site by clicking on the image below:
In addition to the website, archives of video and transcripts of full interviews will be preserved for public access in Cambodia and the United States. It will be the first archive collection of its kind presented as as a holistic and cohesive body of work on the genocide from the perspective of women for public access in Cambodia and globally.
My goal is to collect another 15 interviews by the end of the 2013, and only your support will help make this possible. I have been committed to self-funding the project during interview collection--rather than apply for international donor funding--in order to maintain the flexibility needed to allow narrators themselves to shape and control the use of their stories. A $2500 budget is enough to fund 5 additional interviews, with each interview taking place in the home of the narrator in the provinces. I am assisted by two young and amazing Khmer young adults (recent university graduates, both male and female) during and following interviews for translation and transcription.Our next five interviews will take place in the Northwest (Palin, Battambang, Oddar Meanchey, Siem Reap), and if enough money is raised we will move onto the Northeast (Rattanakiri, Mondolkiri). These areas are remote from the capital of Phnom Penh and experienced especially harsh famine, frequent political purges, and prolonged occupation by Khmer Rouge forces. I have applied for fellowship support for myself in 2014 to spend the year analyzing and organizing the full life-story interviews for publication to an interested and very well-respected oral history publisher to general and academic audiences.
Kickstarter comes with it good news and bad news. The bad news is I receive no money if I do not raise the total $2500. The good news is I can exceed the $2500 goal depending on the generosity, interest and enthusiasm of backers like yourself. I hope you will read on to see why this project is important and why your support matters.
The rule of the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge resulted in one of the worst mass atrocities in contemporary history. Close to one-quarter of the total population is estimated to have died during the period, from forced displacement, forced labor, starvation, illness, religious persecution, and execution. The family unit was abolished and family loyalties and affection prohibited; children were separated from parents, and marriages were arranged and forced by the regime, often between complete strangers. Women in particular experienced these social shifts in dramatic ways, and they were also subjected to widespread sexual violence as a means of punishing "enemies" and terrorizing entire communities.
Today, a UN-backed Tribunal is adjudicating charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the most senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge who are still alive and healthy enough to face trial. After much advocacy, forced marriage and rape within forced marriage are included among the charges. In contrast, sexual violence and other types of gender-based violations are conspicuously absent. This is despite a growing body of research that shows sexual violence was a too common occurrence under the regime, primarily against women, and included rape, gang rape and mass rape, sexual mutilation, sexual slavery, rape as a form of torture, and other horrific violations.
In 2011, a local human rights organization, Cambodia Defenders Project, organized a non-judicial truth telling forum, the Cambodian Women's Hearing of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence under the Khmer Rouge Regime. Witnesses and survivors shared their stories in front of a public audience at the historic event. As I was visiting Cambodia at the time, I was honored to serve as an informal advisory member for the Hearing--and the follow up Hearings in subsequent years. From these events, it is clear that survivors are eager to come forward to share and preserve their stories for the next generation, with the aim of ending violence against women today. Other calls from high officials in the United Nations have also stressed the urgent need to document these stories so they are not lost to history forever.
The Cambodian Women's Oral History Project interviews women from throughout Cambodia on their experiences of survival under the Khmer Rouge regime. Because the project takes a life story approach, interviews span as far back as the French colonial period, cover the civil war and U.S. bombardments in the early 1970s, include the harrowing transition post-genocide, and end in present-day context of rapid development often at the cost of human dignity and basic needs. A life story methodology also helps to establish the cultural context--and its ruptures--for better understanding how armed conflict and oppression impact women in unique ways, as well as the continuum of violence women experience in public and private spaces, in times of war and in times of peace, due to their subordinate social status.
In the midst of these tragic stories is the potential for transformative power. The courage and dedication of the women in breaking a near universal silence about sexual violence and its lingering stigma is as important to Cambodia as it is to the global phenomena of shaming and blaming victims while perpetrators go unpunished. I am deeply honored to serve as conduit, and I thank you for supporting me in whatever amount you can so you too can contribute to preserving past history as a means to correct present and future violence against women.
Risks and challenges
There are real risks and potential challenges to the project, yet these have been pre-identified and addressed due to my 15+ years as a specialist on women's human rights, most recently focusing on conflict and post-conflict scenarios. By definition, all of the narrators for the project will have been exposed to traumatic events, of which sexual violence is a particularly acute form due to its lingering effects--including community stigma, familial rejection, and a culture of silence for victims and impunity for perpetrators. The Cambodian Oral History project uses a rigorous informed consent and do-no-harm approach, as well as a shared authority methodology that collaborates with narrators on the design and use of testimonies. I also work in close cooperation with an amazing universe of non-governmental organizations providing human rights, legal and psycho-social support to participants, to ensure that narrators understand the implications--including both risks and rewards--in recording and sharing their stories. Of the five interviews already collected, all of the women report feeling relive and empowerment from telling their stories, especially to the next generation and to a global audience.
The biggest challenge right now is to continue to collect testimony. Indeed, demand from women wanting to share their stories is greater than the supply or human and financial resources I have on hand. As such, your support truly makes possible the continuation of interview collection through 2013, and I hope you will give as generously as you can.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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