LGBTI economic empowerment in rural Cambodia

MRI visited and consulted with the LGBTI community in Somroung Yong district, which is part of the Takeo Province to tackle poverty of LGBTI people by providing technical support and financial assistance.
LGBTI economic empowerment in rural Cambodia

On 20th January 2018, MRI made a third visit to the LGBTI community in Somroung Yong District. The area is part of Takeo Province which is about 50km from Phnom Penh City in Cambodia.

MRI visited the first LGBTI rights activist in the Takeo province, who transitioned from male to female. We discussed the situation of LGBTI people living in the area and their struggle for survival. After the discussion, the team visited five LGBTI people at their homes.  As a result we learnt more about their lives and livelihoods.  We also discussed a plan of how MRI could help them to step out of poverty.

In Takeo, some work focuses on promoting LGBTI rights, but there is a lack of action on poverty alleviation. The MRI team in Cambodia believes that economic empowerment is an important missing link in the fight for better LGBTI rights.  Improving the livelihoods of LGBTI people could lead to greater inclusion and acceptance in the community.

Pa Yun, an LGBTI activist in the Takeo community said:

“I have a job, I can feed my wife and my family, so the community does not dare to despise me. The community says that I have a good education, a decent job. They say I am better than some straight people in the community which are gangsters, who have no jobs and do bad things”.

Most of the people in Takeo live by farming and agriculture, but the area lacks water and has very dry land.  Farming and agriculture are therefore challenging. The livestock and rice fields need plenty of water, not too much heat, technical equipment, and technical support to deal with animal diseases and crop pests.

Given the challenges, MRI has worked very closely with those who want to farm.  The team tried to understand the viability of their propositions to ensure the success of their small income generating activities. This work involved consulting the village chief, LGBTI activists and people with technical expertise in farming and agriculture.

Next steps after the consultation

After the field visit, the team returned to Phnom Penh to discuss poverty alleviation strategies with a local microfinance institution (MFI). The MFI technical team is currently researching the area with a view to proposing a poverty reduction plan.

MRI will work hard to make sure that LGBTI people in Takeo set up successful income generating activities.  As a result not only they can have better livelihoods but also the community can recognise LGBTI people there. Province by province, MRI plans to contribute to increased acceptance of LGBTI people throughout Cambodia and to their recognition in the law.

This work is part of MRI’s plan to scale the project to other areas in Cambodia in addition to Phnom Penh, including rural ones like Takeo.

We found that same-sex couples in Takeo dream of stepping out of poverty.  In addition, they confirmed that technical support and financial assistance is a good way to build strong LGBTI voices. They believe that economic empowerment can lead to recognition and acceptance in the community.

Jhon (picture below) is a lesbian who lives with her wife. They are excited to start a small business, selling soft drinks and food in front of their house.

Phel Youk (picture below), also a lesbian, lives with her partner and their adopted child. They plan to buy a motorbike to go to the market, sell rice near the schools and to make their daily life easier.

For more background information on the issue of poverty of LGBTI people in Cambodia, please see MRI’s country report.