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The tough life of a beer girl

Besides thievery and swindling, are all jobs good? Being a beer girl in bars and karaokes is not commendable since the job provides neither benefits nor a high salary.

After a decade of working in a beer garden in Phnom Penh Thmey, Dany (name given by LIFT) receives only $80 per month. She has to drink extreme amounts of beer, sing, dance and satisfy costumers.

“I send my entire salary to my parents. I depend on tips for water and electricity costs and food, shelter, clothes and transportation,” Dany said.

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Poverty forced Dany to find work in Phnom Penh when she was 17. Most of her colleagues are here for the same reason.

As a beer girl, Dany can drink beer like water. Her co-workers have pills that quell nausea from the alcohol. However, dizziness often hits in the morning, and it hurts. Dany now has a stomach problem.

Like Dany, Tina, a beer girl at a Tuol Kork karaoke, faces two main challenges: terrible customers and an unreasonable manager.

She says, “My manager is money oriented who wants only money without caring about the staff,” Tina said adding that when she had the flu, her manager forced her to drink extreme amounts, disregarding her sickness entirely.

Tina and Dany have often been abused during working hours by drunk customers. Serving boozed out men is not an easy task. Beer girls are mocked by the costumers who touch their bodies inappropriately.

Besides physical abuse, mental abuse also occurs and the girls often do not dare tell their parents what they have to deal with.

Tun Meta, a factory worker, says that he never looks down on girls who work in bars or other entertainment places. However, he claims to know that none of the girls who work in such places are virgins.

“When I drive along the streets and see women working at night wearing revealing clothing in front of bars, I think they are not virgins,” Meta said.

With this reasoning, men often try to sleep with the girls. The purpose of the beer girl, hoping to get tips, is to satisfy the costumers. But often bars are mistaken for brothels.

Although we cannot assume that all girls are exposed to sexual activities with clients, we can learn from research organisations. According to the 2011 report National Centre for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD Control showed that among 2,600 women in brothels, serving beer and karaoke in 17 provinces, about 700 have a sexually transmitted disease.

Sao Chhoeun, executive director of AFESIP said that according to the survey, close to a million women work under such conditions. And they are also facing some problems.

“Most of the women had been involved in a sexual affair with clients. Of 10 people, four to five are fall victim to guests raping them or not paying the money agreed to,” he said.

Aside from poor living and working conditions and the contempt from society, beer girls also have a bigger personal issue – their future.

Today, Dany is 27 years old, has a lot of experience in this job, but she is not expected to be able to work at any a different place to better her future. She can only say that when she is no longer able continue this work, she will go home to take care of her parents.

For Tina, she just wants to save enough money to run a small business in Phnom Penh. She wants to open a beauty salon.

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