When Apsaras smile: women and development in Cambodia 1990-2000, cultural barriers to change

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Santry, Petre Ann (2005) When Apsaras smile: women and development in Cambodia 1990-2000, cultural barriers to change. PhD thesis, Victoria University.

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Due to a range of historical reasons, relatively few academic studies of Cambodian society and culture in relation to women have been available to inform researchers and Western aid workers. To assist in filling this gap, this thesis analyses Western understandings of the application of Women and Development (WID) and Gender and Development (GAD) policies in Cambodia against the backdrop of the reality of Cambodian culture and politics. The first three chapters provide the historical and cultural context for understanding the fate of WID/GAD policies introduced in the 1990s. Chapters Four and Five provide the personal context for the thesis, focussing on my role as a researcher and the sense I have made of Cambodian women's understanding of their own history and culture. Chapter Four provides a description of my acculturation into Cambodian society as an ethnographer through 'adoption' into a Cambodian family, and outlines the theoretical approaches and ethnographic procedures used in the collection and analysis of data. Chapter Five describes my understanding of how and why Cambodian women interpreted and adapted their culture and history in the way they did in the 1990s. Against these historical, cultural and personal contexts, Chapters Six to Eight describe and analyse the WID/GAD development process during this same decade. Chapter Nine concludes the thesis by drawing together the interconnecting threads of previous chapters. Its central argument is that Western concepts of gender equity remained alien to Cambodian culture in its specific historical manifestation in the 1990s. Given the combination of cultural barriers to change within both Cambodian society and the foreign aid community, the WID/GAD agenda introduced in the 1990s was destined to fail in its attempt to alleviate feminised poverty and empower Cambodian women. As the chapter describes, the agenda was largely pursued under the auspices of MOWA. However, government inability or unwillingness to prioritise the needs of its people combined with donor failure to monitor aid assistance and collaborate with local women in a culturally sensitive way inevitably meant that wealth and power increased at the top, while poverty and powerlessness increased at the bottom. But the chapter and the thesis overall conclude on a positive note, by considering the potential of a local community development model based on trust-building and Cambodian understandings of gender equity centred on the Buddhist wat.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/695
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 330000 Education
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Education
Keywords Cambodia, history, society and culture, women, development
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