Youth in the spotlight as agents of change at 16 Days event in Phnom Penh

Youth take action every day to positively transform themselves and foster a more equal and inclusive world. This year, on Human Rights Day (10 December), two youth movements united to demonstrate the power of youth as catalysts for change in Cambodia.


Phnom Penh, Cambodia — On 10 December in Phnom Penh, two influential Cambodian youth movements, Breakthrough and Love is Diversity, united to shine a spotlight on innovative youth projects dedicated to advancing gender equality and inclusion in Cambodia.

Photo: Courtesy of Breakthrough, Cambodia
Photo: Courtesy of Breakthrough, Cambodia

“This year, for the 16 Days [of Activism against Gender-based Violence], we decided to collaborate with Love is Diversity and other youth initiatives,” explains Huy Sambath, one of the founders of the Breakthrough movement. “Together, we are all working to challenge social norms and discrimination that lead to gender-based violence. This solidarity shows how youth, especially young women, can lead the way when it comes to ending gender-based violence.”

Aligned with the 2023 global theme “UNiTE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls,” the event featured seven youth networks, predominantly founded by young women. These included Art and Mental Health, Code for Girls, SEED Cambodia, Young SEAkers Cambodia, Techno Beverages, Baykork, and RULErs. During the event, organizers emphasized the importance of supporting and investing in youth groups that are working to promote gender equality as a crucial step towards ending violence against women and girls.

“Our aim was to stage an event where we could collectively showcase our commitment to ending gender-based violence and elevate the work of other youth groups. Investment in prevention doesn’t only mean money but also our time and effort,” said event co-organizer and Breakthrough co-founder Van Chankanha.

Breakthrough is a feminist media movement promoting women’s empowerment through storytelling, while Love is Diversity champions lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other (LGBTQI+) rights through social media, community engagement and advocacy at all levels. Initially supported by UN Women Cambodia, both Breakthrough and Love is Diversity have evolved into entirely self-sustaining youth groups.

Emphasizing the importance of adopting an intersectional perspective when addressing gender-based violence, it featured Kuy Thida, the founder of the Love is Diversity, who shared his personal story: “When I was young, I had a dream – to be able to be myself. As a member of the LGBTQI+ community, the first challenge is within me. I hope Love is Diversity can continue to be a safe space for LGBTQI+ individuals to be themselves.”

Breakthrough X 16-Days 2023. Video: Courtesy of Breakthrough

With a turnout of 100 participants from diverse backgrounds, including a significant number of youth and representatives from the British Embassy, various civil society organizations and the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the event garnered broad support.

The event showcased a diverse array of art and photo exhibitions, films and powerful first-person storytelling that highlighted the experiences of youth, people with disabilities and the LGBTQI+ community. It also featured an LGBTQI+ fashion show, interactive youth panel discussions, performances and film screenings.

“The event left me with a voice calling for an end to violence against women and girls still humming in my heart. It made me feel like it’s something we must fight for now,” described youth participant Bona Maryneth.

Participant Moeurn Sreyka echoed this sentiment, saying: “This event both impressed and moved me; the LGBTQI+ themed fashion show made me emotional. I was delighted to be a part of it.”

To mark Breakthrough’s 3-year anniversary, organizers also reflected on and celebrated their accomplishments, including hosting numerous large-scale film events, conducting film and storytelling workshops for youth, organizing roadshows across Cambodia, and producing over 40 films.

Looking ahead, future events for both movements include a film festival, campaigning for marriage equality, and continuing to emphasize that a future free from violence against women starts with us.

Learn more about Breakthrough by visiting their website and stay connected with them here.

For more on the Love is Diversity movement, follow their journey here.