Women’s Learning in Cambodia
In Southeast Asia, I travelled to villages and suburbs of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where I talked with approximately 12 women who wanted to share their stories. Their ages ranged from 20 to 55 and their education levels ranged from illiterate to literate. Their narratives included their identity through their past and their imaginings of a future life different than the one they inhabit today.
Their life-fabric threads intertwined which made a tapestry of various colors, thicknesses, and strengths. Those that had endured the hardships and horrors of the 1975-79 war years of Pol Pot’s reign had a far-away look in their eyes from time to time as they recalled visions of their past lives and the losses they endured during the war and after it ended. Some of the younger women possessed more strength because they only knew the war and its affects through their mothers’ stories. The difficulty of staying focused may have lain in the stretching of their minds from the past to the future and telling their stories in the present tense. This ever present tension from past to future may cause difficulty for many women throughout the world, especially those who have difficulty in imagining a different life.
Most of the women that I talked with believed that they had no voice in local governance. In other words, they were controlled by the powers-that-be, often times the powers that derived their power from a higher power in the chain of commands. The village and suburban women continue to carry the burden of the oxen yolk to feed the family, raise farm vegetables, and tend to the animals. Yet, in my conversations, some women desired to speak about their imagined future through a learning experience that may lead them to a better life and one in which they could use their human capital potential to earn more money.
When women of similar experiences are given a voice, their collective strength is heard much clearer and louder. Meetings, such as round-table talks, may create excitable memories for the rural women because the outcome of the meetings represent progress and changes that may bring happiness into their lives. This possible change and betterment for happiness may lighten their mental and spiritual burdens. The importance of a meaningful meeting includes truth, rightness, and sincerity.
If the rural village women are given a voice, this may create the first step in their autonomy which would lead to new experiences in governance. Participation in the governing process moves the finding fault of and blame on others to self-acceptance of one’s actions. Kearney (1999:27) posits in Narrative and the Ethics of Remembrance that “[f]orgiveness is a sort of healing of memory, the completion of its mourning period. Delivered from the weight of debt, memory is liberated for great projects. Forgiveness gives memory a future.” Women who live in the rural villages and the leaders of the villages may need to forget and learn how to forgive each other for past actions so that the women may re-imagine their future life-world. Through forgiveness, the soul is liberated and may move forward.
Women’s Learning in Cambodia