The sound of beer glasses knocking together and the laughter of young men and women is a common sound in the pubs and clubs around the capital. But now you will hear the same sounds at night in many restaurants across Phnom Penh, which have become very popular with young people. Many young people enjoy drinking beer with their friends or sangsa (boyfriend or girlfriend).
If you get to those restaurants, you will see girls sitting at a table drinking beer with boys. In the past you rarely saw girls drink beer in restaurants, but now a number of girls do.
Muon Malis, 23, who orders food and drinks at a restaurant in Phnom Penh, said lots of girls come to drink beer at her restaurant in the afternoon and at night, especially on the weekends and on holidays.
“They come here with their friends and boyfriends to enjoy drinking beer. Some of them drink beer like the boys do,” she said, adding that it is not good for girls to drink beer since they can be harassed by men, get into accidents, get scolded by their parents or be looked down on in society.
Sitting with her boyfriend and other friends in a drunken state at a restaurant along Mao Tse-tong Boulevard, a schoolgirl who did not want to named said she came to the restaurant to drink on holidays and special days because she finds it a good place to spend some time with her friends.
“Before I could not drink it [beer], but now I can and my friends admire me because I can drink like them. I have freedom and the right to drink like the men,” she said. “If I get drunk, my female friends will take me home and sometimes I will go with my boyfriend.”
Another girl sitting at an adjacent table, a student who also works at a dental clinic, said when she is bored, stressed with her work, unhappy and wants to chat with her friends, she always goes to drink beer.
“I feel happy and relieved to come here. I have equal rights like men,” but said, but added that she cannot drink like men since her parents keep a close eye on her.
“This generation of girls are not like previous ones. They are like Europeans. Men can go out for a drink with girls, why not girls?” she asked.
These girls we spoke to are a good example of how young women now feel free enough to drink beer in the open in restaurants. These days the girls who drink beer have put tradition and culture behind them – in the old days girls were not thought of highly if they drank beer. Young girls now want equal rights like men, who can go out at night to drink beer.
Recently the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, in cooperation with a number of NGOs and international organizations, conducted a survey on school age youth regarding the consumption of alcohol. The survey of more than 2,400 youths aged 10 to 24 included 1,236 girls. It showed that 70 percent of the girls said that they had consumed alcohol or alcoholic beverages, while 91 percent of the boys had consumed alcohol and alcoholic beverages.
According to a study by the People’s Centre for Development and Peace, or PCDP, of the 1,400 people surveyed across seven provinces, 58 percent aged between 15 and 25 said they drank every day.
Yong Kim Eng, the PCDC president, told Lift that the factors that lead young females to drink are because of joyfulness, experimenting, family problems, peer pressure or breaking up with a boyfriend. He added that beer promotions were also a main concern.
“They want to taste what is said on the advertisement. When they are unhappy, they go to meet friends who drink beer and then they try it,” he said. “They have the right to drink beer, but it can cause damage to a woman’s reputation and values and its culturally not right. They can also face sexual harassment.”
This was also echoed by Pung Chhiv Kek, the president of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO), who said: “When girls are drunk,they lose control and may do something not good, which can cause remorse in the future.”
She explained that it was common for girls to have a glass of wine when there was a party or if they met with friends, but it was not good if they drank a lot and became drunk and turned into alcoholics.
“They have the right to go to clubs and drink to entertain like men, but they should not drink too much and make it become their bad habit,” she said, adding that girls do not get used to drinking beer like men.
“We cannot stop them from doing this, and like girls around the world it is the current trend, but we just advise them not to drink too much and know how to protect themselves,” she said.