The Gender Agenda

NGOs, Simplifications, and Capitalist Relations in Highland Cambodia

Author: Timothy Frewer


Cambodia's mountainous northeastern province of Ratanakiri, which only twenty years ago was home to mainly indigenous minority groups largely focused on subsistence production, has undergone rapid ecological, social, and economic transformation. Deforestation and land alienation in the context of large-scale plantation agriculture, land speculation, and smallholder cash cropping have led to concerns that indigenous communities are being alienated from their land and not benefitting from economic changes. This has resulted in a significant number of NGO and government programs that attempt protect and "empower" indigenous people, particularly women. This article examines a one-year research project which explored the relationship between indigenous women and land change in two indigenous villages. It discusses how indigenous women as well as Khmer and landless Cham immigrants have dealt with the commoditization of land and labor. It focuses on the differentiated way capitalist relations have pushed men, women, landless laborers, and increasingly wealthy landowners on increasingly divergent life trajectories. Compelled by donors to focus on gender and indigenous women as an object of governance, the NGO that directed this project struggled to keep up with the realities of capitalist relations on the ground.

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© Arthur Jones, PhD