By Amy Fallon, with contributions from Chanroat Ra, Transparency International Cambodia
“Mobilising women to defend their community and culture”
30 November 2021
In Cambodia, while women and Indigenous people often bear the brunt mining, their opinions are too often ignored. Through workshops, Transparency International Cambodia is equipping them with information and skills to stand up for their rights.
In a village in Ratanakiri province in northeast Cambodia, a woman from the Tompun tribe prepares to speak to mining company representatives. She has heard claims that Indigenous women have been evicted from their homes and are facing relocation without consent or compensation, after mining licences have been awarded.
As an activist and community liaison officer challenging gender expectations and norms – behaviour not always welcomed by male leaders or local authorities – she helps other Indigenous women navigate mining impacts, she told TI Cambodia.
“Mining is especially disruptive for women and Indigenous people, who often bear the brunt of its impacts, like environmental damage and social disruption, often without benefiting from any of its advantages,” says Chanroat Ra, Programme Manager in Business Integrity and Accountable Mining at TI Cambodia.
“One of this activist’s major challenges is to mobilise women to defend their community and culture, which are under threat from growing mining exploration and exploitation in a region populated with Indigenous groups.”
In Ratanakiri and two other provinces, Preah Vihear in the country’s north and Mondulkiri in the east, TI Cambodia has heard allegations at meetings of incidents affecting women and Indigenous groups. These include claims about water pollution, and issues related to a lack of information that prevents citizens from defending their rights. Through TI Cambodia’s field work in 2020, it became clear that communities and local authorities lacked knowledge of the principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process.
To strengthen the ability of women and Indigenous people to participate as leaders, make decisions and share ideas in other prominent roles, TI Cambodia conducted two-day training sessions on both the EIA process and FPIC in January 2021. These were held in Preah Vihear, Ratanakiri, and Kratie, a province in the country’s east.
The workshops were attended by men and women, staff from Development and Partnership in Action (DPA), a local NGO working on gender equality and natural resource management, local authorities, Indigenous community representatives, human rights defenders (HRDs) and representatives from Greening Prey Lang (GPL), a USAID-funded project to conserve southeast Asia’s largest natural forest. A group from Cambodia’s Kuy Indigenous tribe also attended.
Women made up almost half of the participants at each of the workshops.
Participants learnt about the challenges encountered by women in leadership during community consultation for new mining projects. They also learnt how to improve their self-confidence in these positions. After the training, the participants – men and women – were able to develop their own monitoring activities to closely watch mining operations.
CREATING A MORE TRANSPARENT AND DEMOCRATIC CAMBODIA
During the discussions there was broad agreement that women needed to be more meaningfully engaged in the mining approvals process. Participants agreed that community leaders and representatives should lead negotiations with the country’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, as well as mining companies, to improve meaningful participation in the licensing process in order to enhance transparency and accountability.
“In evaluations and wrap-up discussions, most people demonstrated a better understanding of the training topics, especially meaningful participation in the EIA process,” says Chanroat.
“Indigenous participants also reported that they better understood FPIC principles. Attendants provided feedback that they better understood gender equity and the gendered effects of mining.”
In April, TI Cambodia and the Highlander Association (HA), a local Indigenous women-led organisation based in Ratankiri, held a meeting between the community and representatives of Angkor Resources Corp to discuss the company’s exploration and community development plan in Taing Se commune, in eastern Ratanakiri. More than half of the participants were women and included village chiefs, community councillors and company representatives. Lively discussions took place about community concerns about exploration and how Angkor Gold would share benefits from their mining activities with the Taing Se community.
A community development agreement (CDA) between the community and the company was signed with the community that same month, following the meeting.
“Our training has equipped them with valuable knowledge which will strengthen their rights,” says Chanroat.
“And our work won’t just help achieve more transparency in the mining sector, it will contribute towards a more just, equitable and democratic Cambodia overall.”