Organized Panel Session
After independence from French colonial rule in 1953, Cambodia’s nationalist discourses on gender emphasized the importance of dutiful female citizens contributing to national progress. While historical studies of gender during the era of decolonization oftentimes focus on rhetoric within the context of the nation-state, this presentation posits that transnational exchanges of people and ideas were a critical component to the development of gendered state-building imaginings. In this presentation, I ask: How did transnational discussions of feminism influence the nascent women’s movement in Cambodia? How do transnational exchanges illuminate gendered participation in state-building activities? From 1948 - 1952, the Khmer Women’s Association (KWA) fostered a sense of community amongst women within and beyond Cambodia’s borders. Discussions included the histories of feminism and women’s rights in Asia and Europe. In addition, members attended the 1952 Conference of the Women of the Pacific. These exchanges facilitated conversations about gender equality in Cambodia, and in 1955 women were granted equal rights in the constitution. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Head of State Prince Sihanouk directed women to become engaged citizens. All women were expected to raise children who would become productive members of society. For female leaders, responsibilities also ranged from attending international conferences on social affairs to acting as hosts in diplomatic visits and heading charitable associations, including the Red Cross. To that end, elite women’s participation in state-building activities continued to have a critical transnational component that shaped domestic state-building efforts and bolstered displays of progress to the international community.