Diakonia - People change the world
Tep Vanny is a true changemaker with a passion for change. She will not rest until all her neighbours get back the land that has been stolen from them. Photo: Stephen Welch

Cambodia: Tep Vanny receives the Global Leadership Award

For several years, Tep Vanny have been protesting against the way she have been treated in regards to land rights. Now she receives the Global Leadership Award for her continuous struggle.


The symbol of a successful struggle

"It feels great to get this award, it is a symbol of our successful struggle. And it gives me and the other women power and motivation to continue to fight for justice," says Tep Vanny.

Want the right form of development

It was in 2007 that powerful politicians sold land around the Boeung Kak lake, just outside the capital Pnomh Penh. Eventually, they began to evict the residents who refused to move and turned filled the lake with sand.

Their houses were razed to the ground and many were displaced to locations outside the capital, where it is not possible to make a living due to the lack of jobs and customers. Tep Vanny and several other women who lived around the lake had nothing to lose, so they used what they had: their bodies, their voices, their commitment and began to demonstrate to get their land back.

Equitable Cambodia's training instrumental

The more Vanny and the others learned about their rights through Diakonia's partner organizations, Equitable Cambodia and LICADHO, the angrier they became. The training that Equitable Cambodia has been providing Vanny and the other women with is partly possible thanks to the support of Diakonia.

"Equitable Cambodia came to empower the community frequently so I know about my rights and law more clearly and this made me and my community more brave and dare to unite. That’s how the resistance came into existence," says Tep Vanny.

Has been imprisoned for her enthusiasm

Traditionally, women in Cambodia are not supposed to take up any space, but now they go to the streets and demonstrate, demanding that their human rights must be respected. From having run a small business and being an at home housewife, Tep Vanny has become one of the leaders among the "women of the lake." When they got too loud, Vanny and 11 other women were imprisoned for over a month. But the protests - both within and outside Cambodia - continued to grow and could not be ignored.

During Vanny's imprisonment, Equitable Cambodia ran a loud campaign where they demanded the women's release. The campaign was successful, and after the release, the women have continued to fight for their rights to be recognized as land owners. And their efforts have made a difference. Their protests convinced the World Bank to stop future payments meant to map land rights in the country. This has never happened before.

Willing to sacrifice her life

Just a month later, over 600 families received land rights on paper around the Boeung Kak lake.

"I'm not scared, I am ready to sacrifice my life for us to get our land back," says Tep Vanny who continue to protest.

There are still many families around the lake that do not have a right to their homes. Also, human rights violations and land grabbing continue to be a huge problem in Cambodia.

Acknowledgement that her work is important

The price that Tep Vanny has received - the Global Leadership Award - was founded by former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Vanny says that the price is proof that what she and the other women are doing is important and she hopes that the price can inspire others.

"I am extremely proud of our work, I never even dreamed that I would get this kind of recognition and encouragement," she says in a comment regarding the price.