By Hang Sokunthea
When my mother died, it changed me forever. She was surely the most beautiful and kind woman I have ever met who took great care of her husband and children’s well-being and tried to educate me to be the same. But at the end of the day, that was all she had and we mostly just took her love for granted. What we showed her, including my dad, was not gratitude but ignorance. At worst we treated her as a lousy old woman who just stayed at home being outdated from society, and someone who complained all the time.
After she passed away, I decided that it was time to step out of her influence; about just being a caretaker. I needed a transformation. I stepped out of the kitchen and into education where I focused on making my little dream come true.
Compared to my mother, who was born with little opportunity for education, my life and many other Cambodian women in the modern day, in particular those in the urban cities, are much more fortunate overall. We are able to focus on personal growth due to our exposure to education and globalization. Although this transformation is not an opportunity afforded all Cambodian women.
A 2016 baseline study by Urban Poor Women Development (UPWD) revealed that a majority of women in poor communities surveyed are solely responsible for taking care of the household, including preparing meals and caring for children and elderly family members. About 18 percent of women surveyed reported suffering some form of physical, verbal or psychological abuse at the hands of their partners. Some also referred to external factors that acted as drivers of domestic violence, such as threat of eviction, as severe strains placed on family structures and relationships.
When women remain in a vulnerable economic and social state, they are open to victim blaming.
A recent report conducted by three NGOs – Klahaan, UPWD and People in Need — studied about 200 households. Entitled “Experiences of Gender-Based Violence in Urban Poor Rental Housing Communities of Phnom Penh” it found women who experienced violence still face a significant degree of blame apportioned to them by some members of the community, including community leaders.
I think one major reason for persistent victim-blaming lies within Chbab Srey/Chbab Pros (the women and men’s code of conduct), a century-old poem that lays-out the rules for both genders, telling woman to follow their husband and to take care of the household at all costs, and for the husband to provide and be the family leader. The influence of Chbab Srey for the woman to be obedient, soft, and caring for the family while remaining inferior to the husband persists in today’s society, shaping our image to be the follower of men and to lack the confidence required to lead a life of our own.
All in all, it all boils down to the opportunity to receive an education that develops technical and critical thinking skills, and use that to develop a complete identity as a woman with the confidence to be able to make choices in life.
It can all start from having a dream to be anyone you want to be and to work towards making that come true. Even if your dream is to be a full-time housewife, or to become a photographer, an engineer, work towards having the chance to make choices.