STORIES OF CHANGE
Reclaiming Her Life
*This story contains sensitive content and distressing themes of acid attacks and assault. The content may be triggering for individuals who have experienced or are sensitive to violence, abuse or related topics.
Chhean was a cook in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a widow and sole provider of four children when she discovered one day, that her brother-in-law had sold his two year old daughter to a trafficking ring. She confronted him and demanded he get his daughter back otherwise she would report him. In response, a week after the confrontation, he drove by on his motorcycle while Chhean was working and threw acid on her. It burned her face, eyes, shoulders, left hand and entire left side of her back.
Another woman, Ponleu, experienced a similar form of violence. At 18, she married an older man who was emotionally and physically abusive. After years of enduring his abuse, she gave birth to a daughter. When she finally found the courage to ask for a divorce, the man doused Ponleu with gasoline and lit her on fire in front of their three year old daughter.
In Cambodia, acid attacks and burns violence against women are common and widespread, however the survivors often find themselves without adequate legal, medical and psychological support.
Chhean couldn’t afford medical care and thinking she would never be able to work again and support her family, she battled with thoughts of suicide. Ponleu spent her entire savings on medical treatment and was so ashamed of how she looked, she avoided leaving the house.
Both women eventually found the support they needed through Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC), a local organization receiving funding from the UN Trust Fund. CASC offers holistic support to survivors of acid burns violence and runs a commune where survivors can access a range of services and support ranging from medical and legal assistance to skills training and peer support.
At a national level, CASC has contributed to draft legislation to regulate the sale of acid and to provide harsher criminal sentences to perpetrators.
Chhen believes if a law had been in place prior to her attack, it would have saved her, “He would not have dared to throw acid on me because he would have been afraid to be sent to prison.”
Both Chhean and Ponleu receive ongoing medical care and employment support at CASC today. The two woman have also become powerful pillars in the community through their support for other survivors of burn violence.
Efforts to End Child Marriage
20 year old Malti Tudu is from Simalbari village in India and is part of a group of young women leaders dedicated to ending child marriage in their communities. In the Santhal Scheduled caste and tribe where Malti belongs, an overwhelming 74% of girls are forced to marry before the age of 18, which is significantly higher than the 42% in other communities.
Globally, an estimated 650 million girls alive today were married under 18. Child marriage often results in early pregnancy, interrupted schooling, limited work opportunities and an increased risk of experiencing domestic violence.
Determined to stamp out child marriage, Malti is one of the many leading young activists working with the Pragya program funded by UN Trust Fund in India. The program focuses on raising awareness, educating communities on the harmful impacts of child marriage and ensuring effective support services for survivors of violence.
Having received training on psychosocial support through the Pragya program, Malti gained confidence in building her skills in counselling. Unafraid of confrontational measures, she once visited the parents of a 16 year old girl whose marriage was being arranged. “Her parents shouted at us, saying that they are in-charge of their daughter’s future… that they had done it before and the wedding was attended by many people.”
Faced with their resistance, Malti and the local women’s group asked everyone they could in the village not to attend the wedding. With persistent efforts, they eventually convinced the girl’s parents to call off the marriage, allowing the young girl to continue her studies.
“I saved a life from getting destroyed,” Malti proudly declares.
The Pragya program stands as a beacon of hope, working towards a future where every girl can grow up free from the shackles of child marriage.
Change is Brewing
Every 35 hours, a woman is killed in Argentina. Cisgender, lesbian and transgender (CLT) women all face high levels of stigma, marginalisation and violence, and their access to justice is limited.
Claudinna, a trans woman survivor of violence in Tucúman, Argentina, says filing complaints of violence to the police almost systematically leads to more violence, and almost never to justice.
“The police take on the role of judges and decide [which] complaints are taken.”
For many trans woman survivors like Claudinna, local women’s rights organisations have become their first point of contact. Fundación Andhes is one such organisation that provides legal support in cases of institutional violence against marginalised groups.
Supported by the UN Trust Fund, Fundación Andhes also works to address discrimination and violence against women by creating safe spaces (in-person and virtual) for CLT women to share their stories and experience with the purpose of informing the organisation’s advocacy strategy to influence structural change in the region.
Claudinna is hopeful for the future, “There is greater visibility of the problem, based on collective work and struggles. Change is brewing.”
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