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Thursday, 21 March 2013

Cambodia: Home as a Site of Struggle

Today I attended a captivating and highly informative seminar hosted by the Geography Department at the University of Leicester.

In the seminar, Dr Katherine Brickell, a Lecturer in Human Geography at Royal Holloway, talked about the research she has done (and is doing) in Cambodia with families that are being evicted from their lands and homes to make way for other land development projects.

I found the seminar captivating because it offered insight into the reasons behind the forced evictions and the effect that these evictions are having on relationships, on livelihoods and on families' sense of belonging.

Dr Brickell explained that her presentation was based on "Home S.O.S: Gender, Violence and Rights in Cambodia", a book that she is working on which looks at what we understand a home to be; the relationship between that space and gender; and the dynamics and pressures that are in play within that space which can lead to homes being made, unmade and remade. In the Cambodian context, the forced evictions and the manner in which women are responding to the evictions are part of the confluence of these pressures.

The presentation showed how Cambodian women are fighting back by organising, protesting, lobbying and campaigning against the evictions. Dr Brickell emphasised the peaceful nature of the protests and showed how the State (and the men in the women's lives) are responding to these protests.

The presentation had particular resonance for me because it reminded me of Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Drive Out Rubbish) where, in 2005, the Zimbabwean government demolished what it described as illegal structures but which, in fact, where people's homes and businesses. The exercise led to the destruction of several thousands of homes, displaced over 700,000 people and destroyed livelihoods at a time when the country was experiencing extremely severe economic challenges.

Although Dr Brickell's presentation was specific in that it focused on a particular group of women in Cambodia and showed some of the forms and ways in which they were trying to reclaim space, the presentation also made me think about activism and protest movements in general and about the place of music, song, dance and flowers in these movements. These elements were and/or are present in the Cambodian women's protest. They are also present in, for example, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) protests and demonstrations while the white poppy is increasingly beginning to be associated with the peace movement in the UK and beyond. And I remember Anna Cheetham and others singing Down By the Riverside outside the drones factory on Scudamore Road right here in Leicester. And I still think the designs, art and anti-war songs that came out of the protests against the Vietnam war are among some of the most powerful the world has ever seen. 

When, a few hours later, I got back home, I noticed that my friends at Her Zimbabwe had posted a set of photos on their facebook page from the launch of SheMurenga: The Zimbabwe Women's Movement 1995-2000 (Weaver Press, 2013), a book by Shereen Essof, which, as the title suggests, looks at the what happened in the women's movement in Zimbabwe from 1995 until 2000. Going over the photos and reading a review of the book got me thinking: Are there things the Zimbabwean women's movement can learn from Cambodian women and vice versa?

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