Focus Group Discussions

As part of our ongoing commitment to reflective practice and research-based program development, Peace Bridges conducted focus group discussions during three presentations* of the case study research results. Of the over 100 attendees in these presentations, approximately 56 participants joined the discussions. The guiding questions were –

  1. Gender: In your experience, what is the impact of gender stereotypes on family conflict and violence in Cambodia?
  2. Traditional Reconciliation Process: In your experience, what are the strengths and limitations of the traditional reconciliation process on transforming family conflict?
  3. Biggest Challenges: From your perspective, what are the most significant obstacles for families in building healthy, violence-free relationships?
  4. Creating change: From your experience, what interventions are most needed now?
Some points of significance included –

Common presenting issues included sexual infidelity, alcoholism, and financial pressures/poverty. Low education level was also cited.

Verbal aggression (with psychological impacts) was the most common form of violence encountered, although destruction of property and physical abuse were also noted. In most cases, "they assume that the woman and children are victims."
o "Normally the women are the victims. They have physical and emotional pain. Some become disabled. Some become hopeless and even suicidal."
Males were more reluctant to seek help than females.
o "I find that the man would find it hard, mostly would not like any help. When the man calls, sometimes the wife is also like that, but they are more flexible to come. The man doesn’t want their problem to be told to others [and may] threaten the wife not to tell others. Sometimes the wife has to hide her appointment with me—its better than nothing/better than no support for her."

o "Females & children do not have the 'right' to question anything that they do not understand."

o "Abuse is then kept within the family-home."
Social and cultural structures present challenges to change, especially for males.
o "Tough guys are going to stay that way. I can help them try to see the consequences, how it affects other, and they [may] not care. It depends on the person.... One way I help is to help them to see how we learn this behavior as men—for example when men gather to drink, how other men feed that behavior and the influence they got. This helps show its part of being human, that’s how we have been taught as men— sharing personal experience. And also for the wife to know the step and the speed of the husband to change—for example, how person gets addicted to something. That is quite important for the wife to know, then her expectation."

o "The reason why the husband justified continued beating the woman was because she scolds the husband. She looked down on him and scolded him because he is drunk. The wife was comparing the husband. So the husband beats her because she complains, and she complains because the husband is drunk and beats her."

o "Girls are given a message that if they are too educated they will not be able to marry—they will be too powerful/be smarter than males & not submissive/not in their proper place in the family home. This view is reinforced by males and females."
Lack of resources for engaging with family conflict and violence is a major obstacle for third parties and families. Some peacebuilders also expressed anxiety over becoming involved.
o "Some peacebuilders noted fear of becoming physically endangered by becoming involved ... , fear of not being able to control the process, and concern that the parties will not change (attitudes or behavior)."
• Current conciliation strategies are often limited by lack of training, over-reliance on written agreements (without personal change or dealing with root issues), and conflicts of interest (e.g., financial interest for local authority).
o "People get angry. Sometimes, when they finish the intervention, the parties still want to take revenge on each other (begrudegement)."

o "Often it is not sustainable. The conflict happens again."

o "They rush to finish the conflict without any quality."

o "Normally, the parties are forced to reconcile without going through a proper process of grieving and forgiveness."

o "Many times, a mediator may also put off the beginning of the mediation in order to get more benefit from the party. They may wait for a bribe before beginning the mediation (Oh, I am too busy – but really waiting for money or gift to begin)."

o "When they put off the conflict, sometimes the conflict escalates and gets more complicated. When the issue is more serious, the official may also get more benefit. For example, if someone commits violence they may have to pay a larger bribe to avoid getting sent to the police."

o "Another thing they do is listen to judge (not to understand): they decide who is right, who is wrong, and what each party should do."

o "In one situation, the wife did not cook because she was gambling. The husband saw there was no food and beat his wife. The authorities said it was right for him to beat her because she did fulfill her responsibilities. They also encouraged the husband to divorce the wife."

o "Some respected elders in the community are also very strong in forcing others in the community to follow their ways."

o "In win-lose resolutions, the winners may also receive compensation. This compensation may also be shared with the mediator (e.g., rape payments)."

o "Mediators typically use the concept of power-over. They are in a powerful position. They solve problems with fear/coercion and the parties have no safety."
Suggested strategies included:
  • teaching children to think and reflect clearly about moral issues (not just giving blind obedience),
  • providing family mentors,
  • using training methodologies that focus on transformation (rather than just knowledge),
  • honoring successful conciliators,
  • developing more self-awareness and emotional literacy, and
  • teaching nonviolent parenting skills (especially encouraging positive discipline, as well as positive father-children interactions).
Thanks to everyone who participated!

*The first presentation was with graduates of long-term training at a Peacebuider Alliance meeting on 11 November 2009. Additionally, two presentations were given (one in English on 19 November 2009 and one in Khmer on 1 December 2009) with current and potential partners working with or interested in supporting families.