Gendered moral economies of protest: women, land grabs and rural resistance in authoritarian Cambodia
Cambodian women across the country have mobilized against land dispossession triggered by reforms introduced at the turn of the century. The 2001 Land Law enabled the state to transfer more than half the country’s arable land to private businesses, ceased customary practices of land access and dispossessed land-users “illegally” settled on what became state-held land. The effects of these new legalities unfolded in a period when the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) consolidated its authoritarian regime. This has implied that peasants’ efforts to (re)claim their lands have encountered a repressive state, quelling resistance through the use of formal and informal powers.
In this talk, I will discuss women’s resistance against land grabbing in contemporary Cambodia drawing on fieldwork conducted between 2016 and 2019. Combining insights from the Marxist notion of moral economy and moral order as defined in scholarship on rural socio-religious life in Cambodia, I explore the claims embedded in peasant women’s narratives of protest and negotiations with the state, to regain possession of lands from which they have been forcibly evicted in the last two decades. I argue that women are at the forefront of movements over land in many parts of the country because their claims over land that are moored to customary patterns of land use, local histories of settlement and gendered political economy of migration and inheritance. While also dynamically shaped by the pressures of present-day authoritarian politics, Cambodian women’s mobilizations are products of interactions between historical and contemporary forms of hierarchy and socio-political arrangements that structure rural life in the country.