Women leading the way against violence in Cambodia

Rachel Noble's picture
Rachel Noble Women's Rights Policy Adviser

Many governments talk about their plans to combat violence against women, but these often miss the vital ingredient – the women who work with these issues every day. Not so in Cambodia, where fearless women are fighting back against a cycle of violence and poverty – and are making the government’s plans better too.

Kunthea, a garment worker in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Kunthea, a garment worker in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Photo: Savann Oeurm/ActionAid

Kunthea’s story

“I need to earn more money so I make myself work until eight or ten at night. I feel very scared cycling home in the dark… Once, a gang followed me on their motorbikes… Some other garment workers I know have even been raped.”

Kunthea lives in Phnom Penh, where she works making clothes for major high-street brands. Poverty wages, bad working conditions and extremely long hours combine to leave her and many like her exposed to violence – including psychological violence used by employers to pressure them into working harder.

Because employers see them as more passive than men, women are the first choice of many factories, who believe they are less likely to challenge exploitation by joining unions or protesting.

But that’s exactly what many women in Cambodia are doing.

Organising to fight back

In 2014, thousands of garment workers took to the streets to demand an end to poverty wages. Government security forces responded brutally – dozens of protesters were injured, and the government banned public gatherings in an effort to instil fear.

But the women have continued their struggle and – despite facing brutal repression and a crackdown on their right to protest – they successfully pushed for the minimum wage to be raised in 2014. These wages are still not enough to live on, and their poor working conditions and exposure to violence continues, but so does their fight to counter it.

A better national plan on tackling violence

Women’s groups in Cambodia have helped to strengthen their country’s fight against violence too.

Our new report on violence against women finds that levels of violence are almost twice as high in countries where civil society, including women's organisations, is not free to flourish. In fact, the presence of women's organisations is the single most important thing in ensuring the government takes meaningful action to tackle violence against women. When policies are made without listening to the women themselves, it shows.

So when the Cambodian government set out their new National Action Plan on combatting violence against women last year, it was great to see women’s groups actively involved. The plan was launched after nine months of consultation with women’s organisations and civil society, including ActionAid Cambodia and local partners. And local women's organisations will keep playing a critical role in ensuring their goverment keeps to its promises.

Women's groups like these have been combating violence against women for decades, and they know what works. That’s why we’re calling for governments to put women at the centre of the fightback against violence.

Fearless: standing with women and girls to end violence Our Fearless report: Standing with women and girls to end violence

Read the full story in our report: 'Standing with women and girls to end violence'


Photo: Savann Oeurm/ActionAid


Meet Najiba, a fearless defender of women's rights

Daniel Hale's picture
Daniel Hale Women's Rights Campaign Manager

A shocking one in three women experience violence during their lifetimes. But at ActionAid, we see some of the thousands of fearless women leading the fight against violence. Najiba, from Afghanistan, works as a paralegal for women, giving hope to thousands in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. This is how she’s dedicated her life to defending women.

Najiba, right, with her family
Najiba, right, with her family
Photo: Lorenzo Tugnoli for ActionAid

Najiba’s story

Najiba grew up dreaming of working for women’s rights and empowerment, only to have her education cut short by forced marriage as a teenager. She was devastated to see the same thing happening to countless women around her:

“My dream was to be a good advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan. I saw parents who didn’t allow girls to go to school, or stopped girls at the early stages of their study, forcefully arranged marriages, continued abuse by husbands and other close relatives. It upset me a lot and I decided to work for them.”

Since then, Najiba has dedicated her life to supporting and representing the women in her country. Working with ActionAid and other human rights organisations, she gives legal help to women in Afghanistan, mediating thousands of disputes to protect women from violence. After starting a voluntary service counselling abused women in her area, she became the manager of a safe home, protecting many women from violence at great threat to her own personal safety.

Najiba, a fearless defender of women in rural AfghanistanNajiba, a fearless defender of women in rural Afghanistan

Nowadays, she continues to run the safe home, giving legal and psychological support to the women who stay there, all while studying law so that she can better represent the women in her country.

On her work at the safe home, she says: "I’m doing the right thing, we are the only one that can take care of them."

You can stand with Najiba

Najiba’s not the only one who runs great risk to herself by standing up for women’s human rights. In a recent survey for ActionAid, almost two thirds of women’s human rights defenders asked said they felt less safe now than they did two years ago.

This can’t go on. And this summer, we have a chance to make sure it doesn’t. World leaders are deciding on a target to end violence against women as part of the upcoming Sustainable Development Goalsso we need to make sure that the target stays, that governments put proper resources behind it, and that women like Najiba are involved from the start.

If we miss this moment, women and girls will pay with their bodies, their choices, their opportunity and their lives, for generations to come.

We’re standing with women like Najiba to end violence for good.

Check out the Global Week of Action for #TaxJustice

Ema Jackson's picture
Ema Jackson Campaigns Assistant

Today we, alongside Oxfam campaigners, were outside parliament to stand with people across the world in a global week of action calling for developing countries to be given an equal say on global tax rules. 

Global Tax Alliance posters
Campaigners across the world have gathered together to make tax fair.
Photo: Global Tax Alliance

Campaigners united around the word

It has been incredibly inspiring to be a small part of a huge global action and see so many people all across the world coming together to fight for a fairer tax system. It's been taking place since the 16 June and finishes on the 23 June - we are only half way through the week of action and already too much has happened to mention it all! There have been workshops in Senegal, social media actions in Peru, a film screening in Czech Republic, a rally in the Philippines, a press event in Indonesia and so much more.

Demand a fairer tax system 

Tax is a vital issue in the fight against global poverty. Developing countries lose more to tax dodging by multinational companies than they receive in aid each year. We need to fight for a fairer global tax system in which developing countries get an equal say.

This week of action is a vital step towards that. Country representatives are meeting at the UN right now to make final plans ahead of a big decision next month on how the world will finance the fight against poverty. A new global body on tax really needs to be part of that plan. So that’s why members of the world’s largest labour, NGO and faith organizations are uniting across borders in a global week of action to demand just that. 

Check out what else has been happening across the world!

ActionAid and Oxfam campaigners in London.ActionAid and Oxfam campaigners called for #TaxJustice outside Parliament in London

Peruvian campaignersCampaigners in Peru took to the streets to call for #TaxJustice.

Demonstrators in the Philippines take to the streets to demand #TaxJusticeDemonstrators in the Philippines waved flags for #TaxJustice. 

It's been a fantastic week of global campaigning - but more needs to be done to make tax fair. 




This webpage has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this page is the sole responsibility of ActionAid UK and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

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Exposed: the $43million tax dodge

Chisomo Manthalu's picture
Chisomo Manthalu Governance, ActionAid Malawi

Malawi is the poorest country in the world. Life expectancy here is 55 and on average there are just three nurses for every 10,000 people in the country. Our government urgently needs more money to pay for public services to change the lives of people living in poverty.

Fagness, 33, and 3 of her children.
Photo: ActionAid Malawi. Fagness, 33, has 7 children and works as a farmer in Malawi. She and her family lack access to many services that could be paid for if big companies paid their fair share of tax.
Photo: ActionAid Malawi

The extent of tax dodging in Malawi

A new investigation we have released today, An Extractive Affair, has found that our government has lost out on more than US$43 million in tax to just one company over the last six years.

The Australian mining multinational Paladin started operating in the country six years ago to mine uranium for sale in North America. However through using complex corporate structures to exploit loopholes in international tax rules and through negotiating a huge tax break from the Malawian government, the company managed to cut millions off its tax contributions.

To put that sum in context, in one year that US$43 million could have paid for one of the following:

In a country where an estimated 910,000 people are living with HIV, mostly women, this lost revenue could have had a huge impact on these people’s lives. More than half of this loss was down to the company’s use of international tax rules. And it was able to do this, in short, because the international tax system let them.

Changing the system

It’s no surprise that Malawi lost out to the international tax system – our government never got a say in shaping global tax rules. Instead the system has been created by the richest and most powerful countries, and as a result it represents their interests and the interests of the multinational companies that are headquartered there.

But the international tax system doesn’t have to be this way. In July, the world’s governments are meeting to agree on how to finance the fight against poverty and developing countries are pushing hard for them to be given a say in writing global tax rules. This summit is a rare and crucial opportunity to reshape the international tax system. 

Join the campaign!

To make this happen we need to put pressure on our governments to show that we want every country to be part of shaping the international tax system, and that we want a system that isn’t rigged against the poorest countries in the world. For more information please read our FAQs.

We’re working with campaigners around the world to push governments to act, and we need you to join us.





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This webpage has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of ActionAid UK and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union

It's time to speak up about climate change

Jon Date's picture
Jon Date Advocacy Officer

Climate change is already causing huge hardship for people around the world, including children like Mukta from Bangladesh. That’s why we’re joining the UK’s biggest ever meeting with MPs on climate change this Wednesday, to demand action.

Mukta and her mother planting rice in Bangladesh - one of the countries worst affected by climate change.
Mukta and her mother planting rice in Bangladesh - one of the countries worst affected by climate change.
Photo: Nicolas Axelrod/ActionAid

Climate change in Bangladesh

Sadly it’s the poorest people in the world that are being hit first and hardest by the effects of climate change. Mukta, 9, and her mother live in Sunamganj district in Bangladesh – the country that is most vulnerable, according to experts.

Where they live, flash flooding used to take place every four to six years, but large-scale deforestation and climate change means it’s happening much more often – eight times over the last 10 years.

These flash floods often wipe out crops, meaning widespread hunger which stops children like Mukta being able to go to school.

She told us: “I feel afraid. When the floods come, our houses fall – everything collapses. Strong floods suddenly rush down the mountains and that’s why when the water enters our homes, we run to the college building to take shelter.”

We need action

Thanks to money from child sponsorship, we’ve been working with Mukta’s community to cope with the floods, by helping them build embankments to defend against the floodwaters for example.

But helping communities to be more resilient is not enough – we need to tackle the root problem. We need action from governments to stop climate change so that more families don’t have their jobs or homes destroyed by flooding or other natural disasters.

Not only that, we need governments from rich countries (which have been responsible for carbon emissions which have led to climate change) to provide finance to help poorer countries adapt to the changing environment and to compensate the people and communities that have been affected.

That’s why we’ve joined The For The Love Of... campaign and are part of the UK’s biggest ever meeting with MPs on climate change this Wednesday (17th June).

What you can do

We’re coming together to show our love for all the things we could lose because of climate change – and to ask our MPs to:

  • Make it clean! We need to be getting all our energy from clean sources.
  • Make it fair! Support developing countries hardest hit by climate change.
  • Make it work! For the sake of people and the environment – locally, nationally and globally.

So, for the love of Bangladesh and all the things that could be lost to climate change, join the Climate Coalition campaign now.



Photo: Nicolas Axelrod/ActionAid


Fighting for freedom in Egypt: how you can help

Oriana Lauria's picture
Oriana Lauria Campaigns team

Women's rights defender Azza Soliman is back in court. Her crime? Witnessing a murder.  

She says, "I know I am at risk now. I do not feel safe. I have been advised to leave my country. Maybe tomorrow I will have to but today I can't stay silent."

Azza Soliman, a women's rights lawyer, is on trial for witnessing a murder in Egypt
Azza Soliman, a women's rights lawyer, is on trial for witnessing a murder in Egypt
Photo: ActionAid

As a high profile defender of women’s rights in the turbulent politics of post-revolution Egypt, Azza Soliman knew the risks she was taking.

But she had no idea the lengths the government would go to silence her.

After witnessing the killing of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh during a peaceful protest marking the fourth anniversary of the Arab Spring, Azza made a statement to police and promptly got charged under the repressive new protest law. It was the state’s chance to be rid of a well-argued and, scandalously, female critic.

Now Azza is taking on the might of the Egyptian state.

After a global outcry, which included more than 20,000 ActionAid supporters petitioning the UK Foreign Secretary, the judge threw the case out of court.

But victory was short-lived. The prosecutor appealed and Azza, along with 16 co-defendants, is back in front of a judge on Saturday 13 June.

The fight continues for Azza

Azza says, “This is about more than my own situation. This is about my need to protect the youth of my country. I need to send a political message to those in power. A lot of people have lost hope here in Egypt. We have to uphold the rule of law.

“The government, the regime is back. The revolution is gone. The government is trying to scare us.”

We support women around the world who are bravely speaking out against violence against women, including women’s rights activists like Azza.

Call for the charges to be dropped 

That’s why ActionAid UK is asking supporters to join with others across Europe to call on the EU human rights chief to do all he can to get the Egyptian government to drop the charges against Azza and the other defendants.

Azza says, “I have not lost hope. I am fighting for my rights and I fear for my life. But I am trying. If we stop trying we have nothing.

"If we do not take action it could be our sons, our daughters who are killed next. People in the UK can send a strong message.”

There's only four days left to get the charges dropped, so we need as many signatures as possible.