We often hear people say “Men are gold and women are white clothes” or “Don’t be inferior, women.” We also often hear phrases such as “If you lose to women, you should jump into the plate” or “Sons should not cry as daughters should”, or “Housework is work of women”. Also, that “women should not go out; they should only stay at home”. And the list goes on…
These are phrases we often hear until now from our brothers and sisters at home, from our peers in school, and in public spaces. We have even memorized it, and have used it in our daily lives. It is understood that it was the “Code of Conduct” for women and everyone accepted it without demanding any explanations. At the same time, we also do not have the opportunity to discuss its meaning deeply.
Recently in CYWEN (Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network) we had the opportunity to discuss and debate over the question: Should these phrases and proverbs be accepted as “normal” speech or not?
We started discussing among our sisters in a safe space that we created. What’s the real use of Cambodian metaphors giving more value to men? Are these Cambodian metaphors discriminatory against women? Do women really lack or have no capacity and ability?
Here are some of the insights that members of CYWEN imparted: Ms. Kim Maly, a student of Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) and a member of CYWEN: “For me, I always thought that those words are impolite and inappropriate to use at all. These words clearly show the comparison between women and men by providing low value to women and urged men do something better than women.”
Ms. Prak Monirath, program officer of Khmer Youth Association (KYA) and a member of CYWEN: “I do not agree to those sayings. Those phrases do not respect and give value to both men and women. With those words, benefits for both sexes, for both parties become lost. In fact, women can do things as good as men can or even better. We recognize that some women may have physical limitations but this point we cannot and should not judge that women do not have enough capacity and ability.”
Ms. Sum Dany, a student of Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) and a member of CYWEN: “Women have equal rights with men. Women are able to participate in every activity that men participate in. So, all those words precisely show the oppression, suppression and discrimination against women. And this is one of the reasons that influence the next generation in society. Are you sure that men can do everything well and that women have no capacity to do great things? These words, it’s putting pressure to men as well. Some men do not attempt to ‘lose’ or ‘win’ because of difference in the sexes. But some also criticize other men who have good intentions and understand the value women.”
Mrs. Pin Marin, a staff of SILAKA organization and a member of CYWEN: “We also recognize that these concepts affect practically both men and women. It’s really difficult to make changes. Actually, we will face a lot of challenges if we really want to see other changes as well. It is very important that they need more explanation and interpretation without blaming any parties. The social structure have trained and influenced us since we were born. As we are women and already undergone this experience, we have great passion to see women and men have equal value, power, and respect. More importantly, that no one is discriminated against by virtue of his or her sex in our next generation.”
CYWEN, a young women’s alliance in Cambodia, has a strong commitment that sexes should not be compared. Women, especially, should not be an object for derogatory comparison. Women and men have equal rights as stipulated in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of Women. Women and men are eligible to join the development on all sectors such as agriculture, cultural and social tourism, economy, education, and politics.
Women comprise 52% of the total population and an important resource to contribute to society. Both women and men have a role to contribute to the development of society. And that includes housework, participating in training the next generation. Just like the Khmer proverb “SomnabYorng Dei SreyYorng Bros”.
Women do have the ability and potential in practical leadership in all sectors in the country like Princess Liv Yi and Indradevi, they were engraved in the history of admirable women. Currently, women have served almost sectors, even at top three levels: state, private sector, and non-governmental organizations from the local level up to the national level as well. Meanwhile, Cambodian women still face many problems in taking part in various fields as mentioned above, one of the problems is the mindset and social norms. Women’s Code of Conduct is still being followed by everyone to this day – a code that continues to unfairly compare and critique women.