I live in a society where “gender inequality” has been thoroughly discussed, learned, taught, yet, equality among genders has not yet become a reality in Cambodian society. I believe we have been, in our small but fast-paced steps, working towards women’s empowerment. We are indeed striving for political, social, economic, personal equity between genders.
I, as a woman myself, have encountered many prejudices and social norms.
When I was seven, I heard and was told about “Chbab Srey” (rules to be a proper woman). When I was in school, once again, I was taught about it. Even now, I am reminded constantly to behave according to this ‘rule’. These rules and norms for women dictated by society are deeply rooted in people’s minds since ages and will highly likely continue to influence the paths of the next generation of girls and women.
Even though girls’ education in Cambodia has shown progress, women are not supposed to achieve higher education or have better income. Society expects a woman to stay home managing households and looking after her husband and children.
A house is her school; a kitchen is her classroom; and being a perfect wife and bearing a child is her triumph.
A woman is expected to marry in early age. Those who stay unmarried over the age of 28 would face disparagement and unease from the family and a meddlesome group of people. A daughter’s image — tied to her marriage status- is prioritized higher than her education and career achievements.
The #MeToo movement, which encourages survivors of sexual abuse and harassment to speak up and expose what’s behind the curtain, also sheds some light on a disappointing-but-not-surprising reality in Cambodian society. Does society encourage us enough to speak up against sexual abuse and harassment offenders? No. Rather, we are taught to “avoid” those misconducts.
Cambodian girls and women who are victims of sexual assault, abuse, harassment and exploitation may not be able to demand justice and emotional support from the public. Instead, the crowd would put blame on women for wearing revealing clothes, going out late at night, drinking, and the list goes on. This victim blaming is another barrier that discourages women from standing up for themselves.
Girls and women do not deserve all these discriminatory rules and societal expectations. We deserve better.
It is 2018, so telling women that they belong in the kitchen is totally out of date. Many social norms related to gender have created barriers that hinder girls from getting the opportunities they deserve.
Women are not a piece of white cloth for society to compare them with. Let women live their lives to the fullest.
The International Woman’s day celebrated on 8 March is just around the corner as I am writing this. The day is a reminder that women, just like men, are human beings with the same rights and value.
A nation where sexism vanishes is a nation where everyone can live together peacefully.
Views expressed here are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of UNICEF.