Vannet’s Story

Creating a safe space for women with disabilities in Cambodia.

Vannet leads a women with disabilities group in Kampong Cham, Cambodia. Before Vannet established the group, its members were isolated, dependent on others and experiencing a lot of discrimination in their community. Through the group she has created a safe space for them to share their experiences and access support.

“I want women with disability to be more independent and able to earn their own money and decide about their own lives.”

Vannet outside the main organisation of persons with disability office in her community.

“I used to be very happy, but then I got in an accident and became a person with a disability. After this I faced many challenges.  

“I faced a lot of discrimination, from my peers. I wanted to drop out of school because of the discrimination from the teachers.  

“At first, I felt very hopeless and depressed. But after I joined a people with disabilities group and got to know about the rights for people with disability, and that discrimination against people with disability is wrong. Those people have a wrong concept of disability and I wanted to change their perspective of people with disability.

“I want to fight for people with disability. 

“But most people with disability organisation leaders are male. And some issues especially the sensitive topics about women and children are not included in the agenda. As a member, it’s not easy to bring up these issues.  

“So, we realised we needed a separate group for women and children with disabilities.  We are focused mainly on issues affecting women, for example, gender-based violence or domestic violence, as well as sexual reproductive health for women. 

Vannet meets with members of her group.

“We do trainings and hold meetings to learn about the rights of people with disability. Share about the support services the government provides for people with disability.

“Normally in the meetings we raise about the difficulties we are facing, and then the group they can support each other, if it’s a smaller issue or one they have in common. If it’s a bigger issue we will record the information and share with the local authority. The local council holds monthly meetings and I am the representative there for women with disabilities, so I will raise that issue to get more support. 

“The majority of women with disability are unemployed. The first reason is that they are illiterate, they did not go to school. This is because of discrimination in school, and poverty. Also, some employers, even for unskilled jobs, they discriminate against women with disability. For example, at the garment factory they would not select any women with disabilities.  

“From my observation, women with disability experience double or triple discrimination.

“Most women with disability stay at home and cannot earn money or get involved in income generation. Sometimes they become a nanny to look after relative’s children and have to be dependent on other family members. 

Vannet working for the women with disabilities group.

“I want women with disability to be more independent and able to earn their own money and decide about their own lives. When we are dependent on others we cannot live freely, we cannot be independent, and we experience a lot of discrimination. 

“I want to support women with disability to provide life skills to run a small business or vocational training so they can generate some income. I want them to be more active in society and have a voice at commune, district and provincial level.  

“I provided training on financial literacy to the group but it still isn’t very useful because we don’t have any money to provide a small grant for them to set up a small business. We just provided the training but there’s no ongoing support.”

Participatory grant-making. 

At times, the group has managed to apply for small grants, but they always come with conditions. The funder tells the group which activities they should do, meaning they can’t use the money for what they need most: 

“While these activities can benefit people with disability in some ways, for example by raising awareness about our rights, but it is not responding to the real needs of women with disability. What I can notice and observe is that they really need to generate income by themselves to live independently. 

“I need to assess the needs of my group to understand what they need and how we can respond to them, and then I think my group need support to improve their livelihoods – skills like how to grow vegetables, as well as ongoing support training and mentoring, like how to manage finances and save money for the future.” 

Unlock Independence.

Support Vannet and the women in her group by donating to our Unlock Independence Appeal. Your support could mean that leaders like Vannet are able to make their vision for disability justice a reality.