Background and Justification

Why is Peace Bridges developing a specialization on Family Conflict and Reconciliation?

A. Family Violence and the Mission of Peace Bridges

Peace Bridges is a small peacebuilding organization that follows-up training and services in conflict prevention and transformation by mobilizing community peacebuilders. In this way, Peace Bridges is involved in peace building on personal, interpersonal, and institutional levels. Ketchum et al (2009) summarized the relevance of family violence to the mission of Peace Bridges –

“In the process of providing conflict counseling and mediation training, Peace Bridges heard consistent requests for more resources that help transform family conflict and violence. We also learned that the training Peace Bridges offered in conflict counseling and mediation had significantly impacted peacebuilder perceptions of family conflict and their ability to engage it, and that some peacebuilders were now teaching these skills to other families in their communities.” (5)
The first steps in exploring programming options included: listening to staff and partners; completing an extensive literature review (Ketchum and Ketchum 2008); building staff capacity in family reconciliation issues; responding to an external evaluation that demonstrated the effectiveness and sustainability in Peace Bridges' programming in impacting the attitudes of participants; conducting a case study research project (Ketchum et al 2009); and designing a 6-unit pilot program training in family reconciliation.

Peace Bridges' rationale for developing programming in this area has been documented throughout that process. However, it is important to note that a 2005 study on domestic violence in Cambodia concluded that -

“There has been a wide range of donors, government agencies and NGOs working intensely to reduce domestic violence for the last nine years. ... this study demonstrates that these efforts have not lead to a signifcant change in attitude or behaviors, .... At their core, these past approaches were unconnected to Cambodian values and attitudes.” (Cecil 2005: 86)
Specifically, the study called for programs with the following characteristics:
1. Engages values and attitudes about power and control, specifically within the context of gender and family roles

2. Addresses men rather than focusing exclusively on human rights education of women

3. Engages widespread attitudes of acceptance of violence, abuse, and “men's entitlement to greater rights” rather than focusing exclusively on domestic violence as a crime

4. Operates with awareness of the importance of “keeping the family together at all costs” as a common value, including offering a wider range of possibilities that include “ conflict resolution and improved communication within the family, community based help structures, referral systems, counselling or working with violent men.” (Cecil 2005: 86-87)
Peace Bridges has attempted to design a pilot program that helps families, community peacebuilders, local authorities, and others meets these challenges through focusing on family reconciliation processes.

B. Focusing on Reconciliation

Peace Bridges has decided to focus on family reconciliation processes for two main reasons. First and as above, Peace Bridges already possesses motivation, resources and skills in areas of conciliation and mediation that can be applied in the family context. Second, current studies indicate both a weakness and an opportunity in this area.

Jorde et al (2008) investigated family reconciliation processes conducted by local authorities in eight villages. They discovered that somroh somruel (mediation or facilitation of conflicting parties) is not only widely used, but in many cases is preferred to other interventions, including going to court. This preference stems from: its low cost, convictions that "domestic conflicts should be managed locally," and confidence in its effectiveness. (49) However, they also identified several gaps that limit the process's effectiveness. These include:
• “Conciliators need more training in human rights as it relates to current laws against domestic violence.
• Conciliation methods are rather arbitrary and sometimes send mixed messages as traditional values clash with new principles.
• Best practices in conciliating cases of domestic violence are not being shared adequately.
• Basic recordkeeping of domestic violence cases is either nonexistent or poor at the village and commune level.
• Procedures for couples to separate and/or divorce are extremely confusing and few people understand them.
• The behaviour of the victim and/or the perpetrator of domestic violence sometimes derails [sic] the process.” (50-51)
The impacts of these and other limitations can be more clearly seen in Lim (2009). This study documented the results of 332 interviews in five Cambodian communities and illustrated the common processes used in reconciliation in domestic violence cases. Lim's conclusions included:

1) “[W]hether or not a community has been provided with a strong NGO presence or given training on domestic violence and relevant issues does not appear to impact on the resolution process itself. Cultural norms that emphasise the importance of the family, reconciliation and the shame of divorce continue to mould resolution processes in every community.”

2) “Authorities’ main method for resolving domestic violence cases involves meeting both parties, educating the parties not to commit violence and reconciling the couple so that they would not divorce.”

3) “Authorities continue to perpetuate cultural stereotypes that force a woman to submit to her husband. ... Traditional attitudes and cultural norms that discriminate against women on the basis of female inferiority and male superiority, prioritize the needs of the family and the family’s reputation over the needs of the survivor and of her safety.” (2-4)
Despite these shortcomings, and perhaps in part because of an increased awareness of them, there is also indication of willingness among authorities and families, including men, to engage and transform family conflict and violence in new ways. Brereton and Lim (2009) reported that men often rely on avoidance strategies for dealing with anger in family conflict but recognize that they "should express their feelings more openly and that if they did that, they would feel relieved. Men pointed out that if they do express their feelings more openly, their friends and/or family will be able to help them." (29) Significantly, they expressed an openness to learn and commit to new ways of handling family stress and conflict –
“The idea of being a ‘good man’ resonated strongly within the group. Being a good man meant being more “loving”, “tolerant” and “respectful of others”. Several men said they would start by “loving themselves, then their families and community”. Others said they now understood the need to behave in ‘good ways’ and made commitments to being ‘good men’.

“Participants in all the village discussion groups also spoke about being better husbands and fathers. They said they would support their wives by “helping with household tasks”, “listening to her”, understanding her point of view, and would be more “open and honest”.

"Men also spoke about handling issues better by discussing problems and decisions with their wives, and sharing “the suffering of family members”. Many men said they wanted to be better fathers by “giving [their children] happiness”, “encouraging them to study harder”, and “to hope for a good future for them”.” (34)
Similarly, Ketchum et al (2009) investigated the impacts of training in conciliation and mediation skills on participants' experience of family conflict. Support for learning effective communication skills, reflecting on gender stereotypes, understanding reconciliation processes, and building community resources were common experiences. This report also acknowledged the reality that –

"The social and cultural value of keeping a family together, even at great cost, is both a strength and a weakness. The great value is the motivation and commitment that families may bring to transforming family conflict, provided they have the willingness to acknowledge the issues. The great risk is that families will tolerate destructive patterns in the family relationships. These values and risks also apply to interventions by third parties, including peacebuilders and local authorities." (45)
And that -
"It may be common for families and third parties to fail to understand basic concepts of family violence or the reconciliation process. [Future programming] should include helping participants look deeply at their own family habits of reconciliation, as well as construct culturally appropriate models of family reconciliation that honors everyone involved, protects basic rights, and is founded on a solid understanding of family violence issues." (45)
A similar theory of change is also put forward by Jorde et al (2008) –
“… one possible explanation for the perceived success of NGO programs is that they challenge traditional customs, values and ways of thinking that may condone or even perpetuate domestic violence while working within the long-established and trusted somroh somruel system.” (42)
It is important to note that these studies highlight both the great need (to reduce and prevent instances where family conciliators may overlook or encourage destructive patterns enshrined in “traditional customs, values and ways of thinking”) and the opportunity (to strengthen and expand resources and skills available to families and conciliators “while working within the … somroh somruel system”) facing Cambodian families.


Brereton, Helen and Vannak Lim (2009 October). Men's Talk: Men's Attitudes Towards Men, Women and Violence Against Women in Cambodia. Melbourne: International Women’s Development Agency.

Cecil, Catherine et al (2005). Violence Against Women – A Baseline Survey (Phnom Penh: MOWA).

Jorde, Alanna, Ian Ramage, Gabriel Pictet, and Chhy Sophearith (2008). Somroh Somruel & Violence Against Women. Cambodia: Domrei Research & Consulting.

Ketchum, David, Holly Ketchum and Ma Somethea (2009). Transforming Family Conflict: An Exploration of the Contexts, Skills and Perceptions of Four Community Peacebuilders. (Phnom Penh: Peace Bridges). Available online.

Ketchum, David and Holly Ketchum (2008). Understanding Family Violence in Cambodia: A Background Study (Phnom Penh: Peace Bridges). Available online.

Lim, Jo-Ann. (2009 June) Out of Court Resolutions of Violence Against Women: Practices and Issues in Cambodia. DanChurchAid. Available online.