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Attacks on beer girls persist

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090512_04a.jpg

A new initiative to reduce incidents of sexual harassment against beer girls aims to alter customers’ behaviour and encourage victims to file reports

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SOVANN PHILONG

A billboard at a beer garden in Phnom Penh calls on patrons to show respect to the women who serve them. The message is part of a new campaign to improve safety and security of female staff members.

DESPITE efforts by the government and NGOs to curtail sexual harassment, beer girls in Cambodia continue to be targeted by intoxicated customers who all too frequently resort to violence, the NGO Care in Cambodia noted in a press release issued last week announcing the launch of a new campaign against violence in the workplace.

"We still hear through all forms of media about incidences of sexual harassment and violence against beer promoters in working hours and on the way home," states the release announcing the Non-Violent Workplace Initiative, an effort spearheaded by Care and the Ministry of Women's Affairs.

The campaign, currently being piloted in six entertainment establishments in the capital, was designed to draw on Care's past experiences advocating on behalf of Cambodian beer girls - or, as Care refers to them, beer promoters.

Its goals include promoting a general "social behaviour change" among clients who frequent beer-selling establishments and also encouraging beer girls to report all incidents of violence and sexual harassment.

Slogan promotion

Six establishments have begun displaying the slogan "No violence in the workplace", said Minister of Women's Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi, who said she hoped efforts to popularise the slogan would help make the campaign a success.

"We have to spread this message in the workplace," she said. "I don't believe this slogan alone can reduce violence in our society or in the workplace, but we will use it along with other efforts to reduce violence."

Kong Lakhena, secretary general of the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre, which is helping to promote the slogan, said it would be displayed on walls and on boxes of tissue.

"There are still many guests who don't understand beer girls' work and think they can do whatever they want to beer girls," she said.

Meas Lin, 32, a beer girl for Angkor Beer Co at Singapore Night restaurant on Russian Boulevard, said the restaurant's decision to display the slogan had given her an added sense of security at work.

"I felt good when I saw this slogan because I am less afraid that guests will look down on me or use violence against me when they are drunk," she said.

Seng Nora, 23, a beer girl at Kampong Cham 111 restaurant in Prampi Makara district, said that restaurant was not participating in the slogan campaign, adding that she wished the message was on display.

She said she believed the slogan would encourage guests to respect beer girls as opposed to treating them "as their slaves because they have money and they can do whatever they want".

She described an incident last month in which a customer tried to grab her breasts.

"I turned away and told him not do to that, and then he put his gun on the table," she said. "I was scared then."

Though the incident did not escalate further, she said it had left her rattled.

"I want to suggest to all guests that they should please not use their power and money to threaten beer girls and other people who are weaker than them," she said.

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