This Life uses Facebook to tackle domestic violence in Cambodia

Mention Cambodia to anyone who has been there and they’ll probably tell you about Angkor Wat at sunrise, smiling Buddhist monks, and cheap high-end resorts where Western tourists can live it up for peanuts. Lesser known is that this small Southeast Asian nation is hiding some deeply shocking domestic violence statistics. These are numbers that would be a national crisis if they were happening here in Australia. One in three men admits to having used violence against a woman. One in three. Factor in the ambiguity of admission and the real numbers are likely to be much higher. One in four women has been a victim, and of these victims, 40% consider domestic violence to be a normal part of family life. With numbers this high it’s easy, although tragic, to see how domestic violence has become normalised.

Australian charity This Life has been working in Cambodia for over a decade to turn the tables on these statistics. Through grassroots interventions and a relentless schedule of training sessions with high school students, This Life has reached thousands of young Khmers. However, with a problem as widespread and ingrained as domestic violence, they were keenly aware that the impact of traditional face-to-face program delivery would always be limited. In the last two years, This Life has taken its work in domestic violence to the masses through social media. For tragic historical reasons, Cambodia has a very young population with a median age of 25, compared to Australia’s 37. Few things are as widely embraced by this generation as Facebook, and given that 76% of Cambodians live in rural areas, using social media as a mode of delivery has obvious cost and reach benefits.

This Life’s 2019 campaign Honourable Warrior centred around a short film featuring revered Cambodian boxing champion, Chan Rothana, which opens with an excited crowd waiting to see the famous boxer compete. However, they are soon faced with a shocking twist – his opponent is revealed as a trembling, frightened woman played by Cambodian actress Nov Dana. The audience turns away, horrified until Rothana pulls off his boxing gloves and helps the woman to stand. He is then awarded the Honourable Warrior title belt to great applause. The Honourable Warrior campaign sought to confront men and change their attitudes and conduct. 

The 16-day campaign tapped into Cambodia’s pride in the ancient Khmer Empire, embodied in the proverb, ‘Cambodians carry the blood of warriors in their veins.’ This Life’s campaign drew on the proverb, adding emphasis to honourable conduct, arguing that the Empire was built by ‘Honourable Warriors’ who protected the vulnerable. This lost tradition was rediscovered, distilled into the slogan #BeAnHonourableWarrior. It deeply resonated across the country and was discussed widely in social and traditional media.

Honourable Warrior has just been announced as the winner of the 2020 Media and Marketing Global Awards in the category of Best Campaign Driven By a Low Budget. This Life was up against global brands including Priceline, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky. Incredibly, the Media and Marketing Global Awards Low Budget Category has a cap of 250,000 GBP or 442,846 AUD. This Life’s budget for the campaign was 6,150 AUD. Media and Marketing Global Awards judges were impressed by the Honourable Warrior campaign’s success in harnessing the power of social media to reach an audience of 2 million, or around 1 in every 8 Cambodians. 

Claire Backhouse, This Life’s Australian Communications Manager is based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. ‘Cambodia’s domestic violence statistics are staggeringly high. Cambodian women from all walks of life are facing violence from their partners on a daily basis. There is an urgent need to raise awareness and effect change. This Life works tirelessly to end domestic violence, and the Honourable Warrior campaign’s success is a big step in the right direction,’ she said.

The Honourable Warrior campaign has also been shortlisted for a number of other awards that will be announced later in the year. Hemmunind Hou, Senior Communications Officer at This Life said, ‘Winning this award inspires everyone in the organisation,’ she said. ‘The majority of the actors in the Honourable Warrior film are This Life staff members. They’re really proud to be part of something so powerful.’

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This Life asked women in Cambodia to submit their stories of harassment, violence and abuse
along with a description of the clothes they were wearing at the time.

Stories you will discover prove that it is #NotHerFault.